Tips on Calling Card Pricing

Dozens of companies sell hundreds of calling cards - all with complicated pricing. How do you know which card to buy?

The short answer is you want a card with a fee structure that is well matched to the kinds of calls you make. And you want that fee structure packaged with a nice set of advanced dialing and billing features.

Unfortunately because of the complex mechanics of calling card pricing, the only way to know which card is the best match for you is with a detailed pricing model. We've got one of those, but it isn't online yet, so in the meantime...

The next best thing is some rules of thumb. These aren't perfect, but they should help.

  • Rule 1: Choose 1-min or 3-min Billing Increment
  • Rule 2: Add Carrier Service Fees into the Per Minute Rate
  • Rule 3: Guesstimate Required Phone Card Value

Rule 1: Choose 1-min or 3-min Billing Increment

As shown in the table below, you generally want to choose either a 1-minute card or a 3-minute card. Pick a 1-minute card if you usually make calls shorter than 10-11 minutes. Pick a 3-minute card if your calls are usually 12 minutes or longer.

Though card marketers will try to convince you otherwise, 1-second and 6-second cards are generally not cost effective because the higher per minute rates offset the more accurate metering benefits.

Best Call Lengths for Common Billing Increments

Billing Increment Average
Call Length
1-second not recommended*
6-second not recommended*
1-minute 0-11 minutes
3-minute 12+ minutes*

* In some cases, 1- and 6-second cards can be more cost effective for calls that are consistently 0-2 minutes long, but generally higher rates offset more accurate metering. These shorter increments are generally not cheaper for longer calls.

To further drive the point home, we've assembled some actual pricing data for some real calling cards using our in-house calling card pricing model. The table below shows the estimated total cost to make 5 calls per week of varying average length for 4 weeks running using 3 different cards from the same well known online vendor. These results factor in advertised per minute rates and all other applicable fees and surcharges.

Figures in red are total card cost over 4 weeks. Cells shaded in yellow are the lowest cost options.

Calling Card Cost Comparison for Different Billing Increments

Call Length
Billing Increment
1-sec 1-min 3-min
1:30 $2.79 $2.84 $7.19
5:00 $9.30 $7.10 $10.14
9:00 $16.74 $12.78 $13.64
12:00 $22.32 $17.04 $16.86
18:00 $33.48 $25.56 $23.31

Figures in red are the estimated total cost in US$ of making 5 calls of stated duration each week for 4 weeks. Results generated by our in-house pricing model based on actual rates and fees for 3 phone cards sold by a well known calling card vendor

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Rule 2: Add Carrier Service Fees into the Per Minute Rate

Some cards advertise low per minutes rates and then jam you with high or very high carrier service fees. Comparing the per minute rates of two cards, one that has a fee and one that doesn't, is not an apples-to-apples comparison.

The table below shows the substantial impact that carrier service fees have on per minute calling rates. Figures in red are the adjusted per minute rates. If you are comparing two cards, these are the rates you should use.

Impact of Carrier Service Fees on Per Minute Rates

Per Minute Rate
Carrier Service Fee
15% 25% 35% 45%
4.0¢ 4.6¢ 5.0¢ 5.4¢ 5.8¢
6.0¢ 6.9¢ 7.5¢ 8.1¢ 8.7¢
8.0¢ 9.2¢ 10.0¢ 10.8¢ 11.6¢

Carrier services fees are also called 'taxes and surcharges', 'communication fee', and various other things. In all cases, they are a straight percentage fee that is added directly onto your per minute rate and/or the call length. These fees should be treated as part of the basic per minute rate.

Rule 3: Guesstimate Required Phone Card Value

To accurately guesstimate how big a card you need is a challenge, but here are some rough calculations you can make for 3 types of cards.

These calculations yield a rough weekly estimate of how much you need. Multiply by number of weeks to get total card value required. Then round to the closest available card value.

  • For cards with no fees: Multiply total weekly minutes x per minute rate (in ¢) and divide by 100
  • For cards with connection and/or maintenance fees (but no carrier charges): Multiply total weekly minutes x per minute rate (in ¢) x 1.5 and divide by 100
  • For cards with connection fees, maintenance fees and carrier charges: Multiply total weekly minutes x per minute rate (in ¢) x 1.65 x (1 + carrier service percentage) and divide by 100

Please bear in mind that these are rough estimates only. Monitor your actual consumption and recharge your card as necessary.

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