How to Choose the Best Long Distance Calling Plan
What sounds like the cheapest plan may not be the cheapest for your particular calling patterns, so it's important to determine what time of day you make the majority of your calls and whether they are out of state (interstate) or within the state (intrastate).
1. First, sit down with your phone bills from the last two to three months and determine your calling patterns.
- How much is my total long distance bill (including in-state toll calls)?
- How many minutes do I use on in-state toll calls?
- How many minutes do I use on out-of-state calls?
- How many minutes are peak (7:00 am to 7:00 pm Monday through Friday) calls and how many are off-peak (evening or weekend calls)?
2. Call the toll-free customer service number on your phone bill and ask your current carrier if you're on their least expensive calling plan. They should review your records to determine if another plan would save you money.
3. Use the internet to scope out the best rates offered in your area. There are a number of online tools that will compare several plans based on your calling patterns and give you the details of each plan. For most of these tools, you'll need the information from step 1. Here are just a few of the comparison tools that can help you save money.
4. Choose the plan you think sounds best-suited to your personal calling habits and call the carrier to confirm the details of the plan before signing up. You may find that your current plan IS the best plan for you, but many people will find they're paying more than they need to for long distance service. So-called 10-10 plans (where you dial an access code starting with 10-10) often have hidden charges or call minimums. To evaluate these plans, visit the 10-10 Phone Rates page.
Features that can make a difference in your overall costs include:
Billing increments--most companies bill in one-minute increments, but some bill in 30-second or 6-second increments. If your plan charges in one-minute increments and you make a call that lasts two minutes and three seconds, you'll be charged for three full minutes.
Minimums--some plans charge a minimum for the first five or ten minutes, then charge the lower per-minute rate for any minutes after that. Be wary of these plans unless most of your calls are lengthy, or you may end up paying as much as 50 cents a minute for your shorter calls. Other plans have a minimum call volume you must reach before you get the lower rates (for instance, you must have calls totalling over $25).
Monthly Fee--many plans charge a flat per-minute rate for a set monthly fee, which may range from $1.00 to $8.95 and up. Other plans don't include a monthly fee but have a variable per-minute rate, typically higher during the day (7:00 am to 7:00 pm) Monday through Friday and lower on evenings (after 7:00 pm) and weekends, especially Sundays. See the illustration at the bottom of this page.
Calling card rates--don't turn down a plan just because the calling card rates are high. Instead, look for one of the independent calling card companies that offer lower rates. You no longer have to have your calling card with the same company that provides your long distance service.
You've probably known people who have been "slammed" by phone companies. Slamming means that a long distance company switches you to their service without your authorization. Review your phone bill each month to ensure that you're still receiving services from the company you signed up with. Also watch for these ploys: Cramming: a company other than your local phone company somehow places charges on your local phone bill for products or services you didn't order. Scamming: Unauthorized charges, services, or products appear on your phone bill.
Long distance plans are constantly changing, so it pays to do a long distance check-up every six months or so to ensure you're still getting the best deal, or if your calling patterns change or you move to a new city. To save money, you have to keep up with the constantly changing long distance market.
Monthly Fee and Flat Rate Plans
|Calling Plan||1 Hour||2 Hours||4 Hours|
|$0/month fee + 25¢/minute rate||$15.00||$30.00||$60.00|
|$4.95/month fee + 10¢/minute||$10.95||$16.95||$28.95|
|$15/month fee + 5¢/minute rate||$18.00||$21.00||$27.00|