Saturday, November 29, 2008

Shop and Compare International Calling Plans

The holidays are fast approaching and many people will want to call family and friends in far away places. Many people who make international calls infrequently will be shocked when they find out how much their home phone or mobile phone service provider charges for making international calls. The total cost will include a high per minute rate charged by the service provider and additional taxes and fees levied by the government. Large phone companies like AT&T and Verizon offer lower cost international calling plans but even the rates they charge under these plans are outrageous when compared to other low cost options for making international calls.

Many consumers have turned to VoIP providers such as Vonage in order to save money on international calls. This may be a good choice if it is purchased as a replacement for home phone service but it is not the best option for international calling. Vonage includes long distance service to Canada, Puerto Rico, Ireland, Italy, Spain and the UK with their basic service but calls to these locations are typically very cheap. Vonage also uses VoIP technology so international call quality tends to vary from good to poor. Vonage may seem like a good deal but it costs $24.95 per month and a long-term contract is required. International rates are also relatively expensive when compared to other low cost options.

Other consumers, especially techies, save money by making international calls with PC to Phone providers like Skype. This can be a great option since Skype features free PC-to-PC calls. However, in order to make free calls, each party needs to have a PC, an INTERNET connection, and have a Skype account. Many people live with these inconveniences and make free calls with Skype. However, many others want an international calling plan where they can call landlines and cell phones. Skype can be used to make calls to phones but it is inconvenient since a PC and INTERNET connection is required and it is not as cheap as other, more convenient options.

One option for making international calls that is convenient, flexible and low cost is prepaid long distance. These virtual calling plans evolved from phone cards but they have become more sophisticated. Most come with free user accounts where callers can monitor activity (even the details of each call) and make account changes. They also typically have other features like PIN free dialing and speed dial so they are more convenient to use than standard phone cards. A few of these prepaid international calling plans offer high quality and low rates on calls to almost any location in the world. We are very familiar with two of these plans, Tel3Advantage and Continental. We have used both of these to make low cost international phone calls for several years. Tel3Advatage is an especially good calling plan that features high quality connections and rates that beat Skype’s PC-to-Phone rates to many locations. Both Tel3Advantage and Continental are virtual prepaid calling plans that do not require a contract or other long-term obligation. They also do not charge an activation fee or any fees for maintaining or terminating an account. They are both ideal calling plans for short-term use over the holidays or long-term use all year long. Either one of these prepaid calling plans are a good option for consumers who want to save money on long distance calling and still want convenience, flexibility and high quality.

For illustrative purposes, the Table below compares the rates charged by these calling plans to some popular international locations. These rates are in cents per minute for calls made from the USA. They are the rates advertised on the service provider’s website and may not include all fees and taxes. They include rates from two traditional international calling plans (AT&T and Verizon), one VoIP provider (Vonage), one PC-to-Phone provider (Skype) and two prepaid long distance provider (Tel3Advantage and Continental).

International Calling Plan Rate Comparison

Calls Originating in the USA (cents/min)

Location Called/Service Provider

Vonage

Skype

Verizon Choice Plan

AT&T Int’l Plan

Tel3Advantage

Continental

Egypt

21

18.5

35

35

14

19.6

Germany

5

2.1

10

9

2

6.5

Ghana

13

15.3

45

45

7

11.9

Jamaica

20

12.6

38

36

9.5

12.1

Mexico

8

2.1

8

9

2

6.4

Nigeria

11

11.7

52

52

11

10.7

Philippines

18

19.8

16

16

12.5

16.9

Moscow (RU)

7

2.1

15

16

1.5

6

Conclusions

The above table illustrates a few things:

  1. International rates vary significantly between companies and countries. It pays to shop for the best deal to the locations you call the most.
  2. It is not hard to beat the rates on international calls offered by the traditional long distance providers. They are not even trying to compete on price.
  3. Skype provides free PC-to-PC calls. Their rates to landlines or cell phones are low but not the lowest.
  4. Vonage may save consumers money on home phone service but their international rates are not cheap relative to the competition.
  5. Consumers who plan to make frequent international calls should consider using a prepaid long distance provider like Tel3Advantage.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Calling Card Tips: How to Find the Best Phone Card for You?

The calling card market can be confusing because calling card carriers have been creative in devising hidden fees and other tricks so they can advertise extremely low per minute rates and still make money. We have tried to list, define and explain the technical terms here so a calling card shopper can at least make an informed purchase and have a basic understanding of the market.

First, we would suggest purchasing calling cards from websites where all of the fees are fully disclosed in an easy to read format and where calling cards are rated by users. These sites do exist because there are still honest calling card vendors, carriers and marketers (web sites like Smart Global Call Phone Cards International display customer ratings for all of the cards they sell).

  • Check the rate (usually cents/min) to the destination you want to call. Remember that the rates listed or advertised are normally to house phones (land lines). Calls made to cell phones often have higher rates. Also, the advertised rates do not include calling card fees or taxes that can significantly increase the cost of a call.
  • Look for added fees, taxes and hidden costs. These should be listed in an easy to read format but can also be buried in the fine print. Remember you will likely pay more than the advertised rate when using a calling card so the trick is to minimize the added fees. Added fees will be called things like connection fee, disconnection fee, taxes, maintenance fee, pay phone fee and long call fee. These fees will vary between calling cards. Some calling cards will have all or most of these added fees and others will not have any of them.
  • Calling cards will also have different rounding or billing increments. These are often in 1, 3 or 6 minute increments. The billing increment can have a significant impact on the calling cost depending on how the calling card is used. A calling card with a one minute billing increment will charge a customer 4 minutes for a 3.5 minute call while a calling card with a 3 minute billing increment will charge a customer 6 minutes for the same call. The cost of a call is rounded up to the next billing increment so; in general, a lower billing increment is better.
  • Calling card fees are typically minimized if calling cards are purchased in smaller denominations and used for one call or over a short period of time. In general, calling card fees do not start until the calling card is used the first time. Many companies offer calling cards in denominations of $5, 10, 20, 50 and 100. We recommend trying a small denomination card ($5 to $10) before making a large purchase. Also, it is generally better to buy several small denomination cards than to purchase one with a big denomination.
  • Calling card call quality depends on the international carrier used and is not always equal between vendors to a given location. There are many international telecom carriers and call quality will vary between carriers. There are generally three levels of call quality (referred to as Tier 1, 2 and 3) with regard to telecom carriers. Tier 1 carriers offer the best quality but they also charge the highest rates. Therefore, in general, calling cards with the lowest advertised rates also tend to have the lowest call quality because they use lower Tier carriers.
  • Check for local access number availability. Many cheap calling cards have low per minute rates but have few local access numbers and charge 1 or 2 cents per minute for using a toll free access number.
  • All calling cards carry an FCC imposed fee for using a pay phone. However, the rate will vary between calling cards (it ranges from around $0.49 to $1) so check this rate if you plan to use a pay phone.
  • Calling cards typically have an expiration date so be sure and use the card before it expires.
  • Purchase calling cards from vendors that have 24/7 customer service. If nothing else you may have a question.

So, how to use this information? There are a few things to consider. First, try to compare calling cards on the same basis. When calling card rates are adjusted for the above mentioned fees, taxes and billing tricks, many calling cards with very cheap advertised rates actually cost as much or more to use than a moderately priced card with higher call quality. Remember, a calling card that cannot be used or has extremely poor quality is really worthless to the user. Any money spent on a purchase is lost.

Consumers have become wise to many of the hidden fees and tricks discussed above and, as a result, there are several newer calling cards on the market that have high call quality at reasonable rates. They also tend to have minimal added fees so the advertised rate per minute is closer to the actual rate charged when the card is used. Many of these are hybrid calling cards that are really a virtual calling plan with features like PIN-less dialing, online call history, speed dial and a large network of local access numbers. They are also re-chargeable for customer convenience but also because calling card vendors are trying to build brand loyalty. By offering low cost, quality and convenience they hope to retain customers. It seems that some calling card carriers have rightly concluded that it is better to make a little money off a large number of satisfied users over the long haul than to make some quick money ripping off a few customers one time. Alas, the free market even works with respect to calling cards.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Tel3 Advantage Thanksgiving Promotion

Tel3 announced this week that they will have a Thanksgiving promotion for New Customers. People who sign up using a special link (below) from November 21 - November 28, 2008 will get twice the normal sign-up bonus. Therefore, New Customers will get the following bonus if they use the special link and sign-up during the promotion period:

Open an account for $10 and get $2 in free calls.
Open an account for $25 and get a $10 bonus.
Open an account for $50 and get a $14 bonus.
Open an account for $100 and get an $18 bonus.

Tel3Advantage has great international rates and this offer makes them even better. If you ever wanted to try Tel3 Advantage now is the time. Just use the special link below and get this special bonus.

Tel3 Advantage Special Bonus

Friday, November 14, 2008

Tel3 Affiliate Program - A Ready-Made Home Business Opportunity

Tel3 offers the following prepaid calling products that are sold exclusively by Tel3 affiliates. These are easy to sell and offer a potential for significant current income and a continuous stream of residual (long-term) income.

Tel3 Advantage Flex Plan – a high quality prepaid long distance plan that can be used to make low cost long distance calls from any phone in the USA or Canada.

Tel3 Mobile – An international calling plan for cell phone users. Users get free access to Tel3’s SmartPlug technology that allows Smart Phone users to make “direct dial” international calls. They can complete international calls without dialing an access number or PIN code and use the new Tel3 Mobile international plan with any cell phone service provider.

Tel3 Business Plan – A new calling plan that has been designed to meet the needs of businesses. It includes great rates, high quality and special on-line reporting and account management tools that business needs for managing expenses.


Tel3 provides a Free, Customized website that can be used as an on-line sales platform. They also provide access to professionally designed banners and videos for on-line advertising campaigns along with a variety of off-line marketing materials.

Earn a Continuous Stream of Income from Tel3

Earn a bounty on each new account opened (up to $50 per account) and continue to earn commissions when customers recharge their accounts. Commissions on usage (recharges) go up to 16%. Unlike many phone card programs, Tel3 pays their agents each week so if you work hard this week you can get a good paycheck next week.


Tel3 also features numerous special offers for consumers and marketing incentives for agents during the year. These all translate to higher commissions and earnings for agents. The affiliates are the marketing arm of Tel3 so they are treated as true partners in the business.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Tel3 Mobile: Cell Phone Quality International Calls at Calling Card Rates

Tel3 has just introduced a new low cost prepaid international calling plan specifically designed for Smart Phone users. This plan combines the convenience, flexibility and low cost of the traditional Tel3Advantage Flex Plan with high-grade mobile service. The result, Smart Phone users can make cheap international calls with no loss in call quality or convenience. Use Tel3 Mobile service with any existing mobile service provider without changing anything. There is also no contract or other long-term obligation.

Tel3 has been in the prepaid calling business since 1994 and is a leader in marketing low cost prepaid calling products. They are an innovative leader in the industry who introduced the revolutionary Tel3Advantage Flex plan nearly 5 years ago. Now they have targeted the fast growing Smart phone market with an innovative new product that allows users to make low cost, direct dial international calls from their phones without changing service providers. Tel3 Mobile users get free access to Tel3 SmartPlug, a small piece of software that is loaded onto a Smart Phone that will automatically direct international calls over the low cost Tel3 network. With SmartPlug, users can make direct dial international calls from their address book and not even know they are using Tel3 and saving 80% on their calls when compared to the rates charge by AT&T, Verizon or T-Mobile. If fact, users will pay rates similar to Skype but have the convenience of using a cell phone and extremely high call quality. Tel3 uses special carriers for this service so users will not experience a loss in call quality. They guarantee call quality.

Sign up now for Tel3 Mobile service and get $10 in Free Calls or take a free trial.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Phone Card Fraud: Are there any Honest Phone Cards?

A recent article published by MSNBC indicted that the phone card industry is plagued by fraud and other abuses. They cite a recent investigation by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and other consumer groups that found the “bad actors in this industry use false or misleading advertising and ding customers with all sorts of junk fees….” They went on to say that, some phone card companies charge hidden fees that are often only vaguely disclosed. These fees add to the advertised cost of making calls so many phone cards do not deliver the advertised minutes. In fact, in a testimony before Congress in September, the FTC Chairman, William E. Kovacic, reported that they had filed law suites against two major phone card distributors in the spring who had deceptively marketed their calling cards. The FTC alleged that the defendants did not adequately disclose fees and charges associated with their cards. In the first case, the phone cards on average only delivered 43% of the advertised minutes while in the second case the cards only delivered 50.4% of the minutes advertised.

MSNBC reports that Congress is also getting into the act. A new law called the Calling Card Protection Act passed the House last month and the Senate is now considering a similar bill.

We applaud these actions and feel it is about time the government has done something to regulate this industry. We have been trying to educate consumers on Phone Card hidden fees for the last 4 years. We have done this through numerous articles, blog entries and through tips on our websites like those found on the Phone Card Shop. Phone Card shopping is simply too complex for consumers right now due to all of the hidden fees associated with most calling cards. We feel there should be an industry standard that requires that all phone card distributors to include all applicable fees in their advertised per minute rates. In this way, potential customers can compare the cost of making calls with various phone cards on the same basis. The market is so confusing now that even experienced individuals in the industry have a trouble comparing rates between phone cards with different cost structures.


Are there Honest Phone Card Companies?

Yes, some phone cards and other prepaid calling products are honestly marketed today. We have been pointing these out to consumers for over 4 years. There are calling cards on the market that feature high quality and low or even no fees. Our phone card website, Smart Global Call Prepaid Phone Cards, contains a full range of international phone cards with honest rates, good quality and low fees. We know this because we have tested the cards we sell. We also have 100’s of customers that come back month after month to re-charge their phone cards. If they were being ripped-off they would not come back and make another purchase. We also tend to favor products like Tel3Advantage which we feel which we know is an honest product. Tel3Advantage is the only low cost product we know of that has no hidden fees. Consumers pay the advertised rates with Tel3Advatage. We have tested this over-and-over again over the past 4 years. Phone Cards like the AT&T Card or MCI are also honest but their per-minute rates are also high. We hope the phone card industry will soon have new regulations so those who use false or fraudulent advertising no longer punish the honest companies.