How to Buy a Long-Distance Phone Service

Updated April 30, 2013

What the best long-distance phone service has

  • Clear plans and pricing. Phone service providers should be upfront about the cost per minute and any limitations in terms of the days and times of making a call.
  • All fees and charges upfront. Beyond the per minute cost, some companies add a monthly fee and may also charge for paper billing.
  • Responsive customer support. Most long-distance phone service providers offer phone support as well as email, though the times these are available differ from one company to another.

Know before you go

  • Evaluate your needs. Track your current calling patterns for a month. Keep track of your long-distance calls: how often you call long-distance, how long your calls last and at what times of which days you place long-distance calls.
  • Consider a flat-rate plan if you make more than 15 hours or so of long-distance calls per month. For example, AT&T's All Distance Online plan (Est. $44 per month) includes unlimited local calls, plus in-state and state-to-state long-distance.
  • Think about making long-distance phone calls from your computer or cell phone. VoIP is an Internet alternative to land-line long-distance phone service. VoIP plans include both local and long-distance calls, along with lots of extras such as voicemail and call waiting. Starting at about $25 per month, most VoIP services are cheaper than traditional bundled local/long-distance plans. Most cell phone plans include long-distance calling in the monthly bill. See our reports on VoIP and cell phone plans for more information.
  • Be aware of the carrier's billing increments. Some companies (such as AT&T and Pioneer) bill in one-minute increments. If your call lasts one minute and one second, you're charged for two minutes. This unused time can add up, especially if you make many short long-distance calls. Programs that bill at six-second increments, or even one-second intervals, more accurately reflect your actual calling time.
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