Pay phones can be a convenience or a necessity depending on your situation. But when you use them, it pays to keep  these tips in mind.

Check the Rate Posted on the Phone

Rates and call length may vary from one phone to another. Before making a local call, read carefully the information posted on or near the pay phone. For instance, the pay phone should have a notice saying whether it can provide change or not.

Ask How Much

If you use a calling card, credit card or place a collect call, ask for rate information before you complete the call. Charges, even for directory assistance, vary widely.

Plan in Advance

Using a public pay phone can be confusing and occasionally expensive. Determine in advance how to contact your preferred long-distance company from a pay phone. Keep toll-free numbers or access codes handy for emergencies.
 
A "preferred” long-distance company is one you regularly use because you trust the carrier or believe it provides good service and rates. When shopping for a long-distance provider, compare rates for calls made from a pay phone since they will likely vary from the rates you are charged from your home phone.

Calling from a hotel, motel, or hospital room

You may have some difficulty reaching your preferred long-distance provider from some locations, such as hotel, motel or hospital rooms. If this is the case, contact the manager and ask how to make this type of call from your room. Also ask what other charges might apply. Some hotels will add a surcharge to your room bill for each call.

Accepting Collect Calls

When you accept a collect call, you agree to pay the charges—even if you don’t know what you will be paying. You have the right to ask for the rate of the call before accepting it. If it is an automated operator, wait until the live operator answers to ask for the rates. Collect calls are usually more expensive than a direct-dialed pay phone call. Even advertised collect call services, while better than some, can be expensive.

Calling Cards 

Pay phones often accept calling cards as a form of payment, particularly cards from local telephone companies. If you simply dial zero, instead of the access number on the card, the call will be handled by the long-distance provider preset on that particular phone. Your calling card carrier will bill you, but the rates will not be the rates advertised by your calling card company. You can count on that call being expensive!

Toll-free Numbers

While you can still make a toll-free call from a pay phone, federal rules require toll-free number owners to compensate the pay phone owner for the call. Some calling card companies pass that cost on in the form of a surcharge to their customers when they use their calling cards from a pay phone. Some pay phones restrict the use of toll free numbers and are not required to offer this service.

Look, Listen and Ask

Look for the posted consumer information and read the fine print. Wait for a dial tone before putting your money into the machine.
 
Listen to the operator’s message (live or automated) when making a calling card or any other type of operator assisted call.
 
Ask for rates, if you do not know them, before placing or receiving the call. All operators are required to provide you with a rate quote upon request.
 
Federal and state rules require that pay phones provide access to all available carriers. If your preferred company’s access code is not working, the pay phone may be in violation of UTC and federal rules.

Filing a Complaint

Posted on each pay phone is a repair/refund number, as well as phone numbers of the pay phone owner and the operator service provider(s). If you have a problem with the pay phone (i.e., coins not returned, access to preferred company blocked, no phone book), call the repair/refund number from that phone and report the problem. The pay phone owner should offer to repair the problem quickly. If the problem is on your bill, call the company’s toll-free number listed on the bill and discuss your concerns.
 
If necessary, ask for a supervisor or manager.