A costly call from Costa Rica


Q: During a recent trip to Costa Rica I decided to call my housemate on her birthday. I knew I should have used a calling card, but decided just to make a quick call with my credit card instead. I used one of those ‘international long distance’ phones that are in hotel lobbies.

So, I made phone call number one. No answer, so I tried to track her down on her cell phone. Call two – no answer. Call number three – oops, wrong number.

OK, here we go. Call number four. Finally, an answer. I sing “Happy Birthday” in Spanish, we have our conversation, and all is well.

Or is it?

I fully expected that the actual conversation was going to cost a fair bit. What I didn’t expect was to come back and see that I got charged $43.31 for each of the three calls where I didn’t even make a connection.

My credit-card statement has a company called NCIC listed on it. I’m a bit apprehensive contacting them directly for fear that I could get dinged with even more outrageous long-distance charges or hidden charges.

In the end, it cost me $190.49 – that’s three times $43.31 for no connections and $60.56 for the one actual call. Can you help me get rid of the extra charges?

— Ian Rosenfeldt

A: It’s no secret that calls made from your hotel are more costly. But $43.31 for a call that didn’t even go through? Come on.

I’ve experienced the same thing in Europe, particularly Eastern Europe (my phone bill for two nights in a Warsaw hotel set me back $500 once). It turns out that every call – even the attempted calls, were subject to a ridiculous markup.

Thanks to Poland, I came up with a rule that’s served me well on my travels: Don’t even look at the phone in your hotel room. Pretend it doesn’t exist. (I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the more entrepreneurial hotels one day began charging for incoming calls, too.)

Your situation is slightly different, because the hotel had nothing to do with the pricey calls. You were dealing with Network Communications International Corp. of Longview, Tex., which bills itself as the largest privately-owned operator service company in the United States. A look at its rates suggests that your credit-card charges were far too high.

I asked company representative Donna Sumrow to take a look at your record. She did and determined that indeed, a mistake was made when you placed the calls. Network Communications International credited your account for $129.93, leaving you with only a charge for the call you actually made.

So what went wrong? “The technicians are researching that,” Sumrow told me. “They are really not sure.”

Well, I am sure of this – next time you need to make a call, either use a card or get a cell phone. There’s only one reason I can think of to pick up an ‘international long distance’ phone, and that’s in a life-or-death-emergency.

Next time, try writing a postcard.