Prepaid Calling Cards

Written by Kevin Tavolaro
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In the mid 70s, a European vending machine company introduced phone cards as a means for individuals to easily make toll calls from any phone via a pre-selected long distance carrier. The popularity of phone cards, or prepaid calling cards, spread throughout Europe, and eventually to the United States in the late 80s. Prepaid calling cards were initially intended as a cost efficient way to place toll calls from pay phones or hotel rooms. However, in recent years their popularity has extended to residential use as well, as the long distance rates offered by many cards are preferable to the cost of monthly long distance phone service.

Defining Prepaid Cards

Prepaid calling cards are generally defined as telecommunications credit cards enabled to access a predetermined amount of service from a specific long distance provider. A unique PIN (personal identification number) imprinted on each card acts as an identification code, and monitors the time available to the account. This allows you to pick up virtually any phone, such as a payphone, hotel phone, or residential phone without long distance service, and place a prepaid call. You can do this by simply dialing a toll free access number and providing the card's identification code.

Prepaid calling cards can usually be purchased in increments ranging from $5 to $100. The cards are then divided into units, which can either apply the value directly to the long distance service, or function as a flat number of minutes. In addition to long distance minutes, many cards also apply these units to other charges as well. A lot of prepaid calling cards carry an additional connection charge, which can vary in size depending on the type of phone the call is being placed from. This connection charge is usually largest with payphones, and can amount to several units. For example, a $5 phone card might be good for 60 minutes/units, but the card might entail a four unit payphone connection fee, so a six-minute call from a payphone would deduct ten minutes from the card.

The value of prepaid calling card units might also vary according to when the call is placed. Many card providers double the value of units at night and on weekends. Using a prepaid calling card during peak hours or from specific locations may also diminish the amount of available units. Before placing too many calls with your prepaid card, it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the provider's terms and rates so you will be able to maximize the prepaid minutes available to you.

Why Use Prepaid Calling Cards?

Prepaid calling cards have also become a popular alternative for people who don't have a traditional residential long distance provider. They can be purchased by anyone, and don't require a credit check, authorization, complicated registration, or even a permanent address. A person whose profession demands a lot of travel may find it preferable to use a prepaid card from their hotel room, rather than use their cell phone minutes. College students are another prime market for prepaid phone cards. Dorms and off-campus housing are often not equipped with long distance service. College students also often lack the financial security to consistently cover a monthly long distance bill. Prepaid calling cards provide a good alternative by allowing students to purchase their long distance time beforehand, and place calls from anywhere they choose.

Prepaid calling cards are also invaluable to travelers. The cards provide an automated and standardized means for making international calls from various countries. What used to be a complicated process involving the international operator, and an assortment of confusing, ever changing rates and hidden fees has become somewhat regulated thanks to prepaid calling cards.

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