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This works on British Telecom lines. Other phone companies may have systems which are different/equivalent. It's worth finding out about.

*411# and #411#

CHARGE ADVICE

This is very useful and saves a lot of money.

Dial *411# to turn on CHARGE ADVICE

Dial #411# to turn off CHARGE ADVICE

You can also dial *#411# to find out what state the Charge Advice is in (ON/OFF)

Plus, you can also get one-off charge advice for the next call only. How to do this: There are two methods, so try them both and see which works in your area. 1. Dial *40* then the phone number then # , or 2. Dial *40# then the phone number then #

It's FREE! (well done British Telecom!)

What happens is, when this is turned on, every time you finish making a call, the phone rings and the friendly voice tells you "Your call lasted for <????> minutes, and cost <????> pence, exclusive of V A T and any call discounts you may be entitled to". Because of this it is possible soon to get an idea of how much calls cost in general and what type of calls cost the most. You soon become aware of phone call charges, so you can make better choices about what kind of phone call making behaviour to have. It's like having a miles-per-gallon meter in the car, you soon start to drive more economically and save money!

Also:

* If someone says "Mind if I use your phone?" and leaves you 10p, you can inform them of how much the phone company is going to charge you and then a more reasonable amicable arrangement can be made. (VAT (UK) is currently (2001/05) 17.5%, so you multiply the figure by 1.175).

* If you want to use someone else's phone, and they say NO because they think it's going to cost them more than you might pay, you can point out that you can turn on the CHARGE ADVICE and then pay the correct price for the call.

* If someone hacks into your cordless phone wireless link, or makes a call on one of your extensions, then unless they know about CHARGE ADVICE, you will be informed immediately. If you leave your computer linked to the phone all the time and some rogue process makes an outgoing call, then it is likely you will get to find out about it right away, before it happens again.

* Internet calls are especially well suited to CHARGE ADVICE. After being on for a few hours, you will be in no doubt on the question of how much the call has cost. If you find this so useful that you decide to set up a CYBER CAFE, let me know and I'll include you on the list of cyber cafes. Also, CHARGE ADVICE can help you to decide whether you can save money by having an unmetered access Internet connection. (If you're spending more than 33p/day on Internet calls, the answer is YES, you can save money by having SurfTime).

* Hidden charges are no longer hidden! For example, you discover that you are charged for getting the automated BT answer-machine which some people have, and that various mobile "announcements" also cost money, even though you might assume they are free! Also, odd pricing policy at BT where bank holidays are charged at normal business rate, all become known. See BT odd charge policies on Bank Holidays!

Now a few of the drawbacks and possible reasons why BT doesn't make a big fuss about it:

* The quote for the call is not 100% accurate. It can be as much as FIVE PENCE out. Well, that certainly doesn't worry me. How about you? If BT is worried about being sued for the missing 2p, they could easily get the voice to say "Your call cost ABOUT <????> pence NEAR ENOUGH..." or something like that.

* The CHARGE ADVICE is not recommended if you've got BT CALL MINDER. That's because the phone answering robot records the voice of the charge advice robot. Robots talking to robots like this isn't just frightening to technophobes - it's also a problem because it can fill up your virtual mailbox and you can lose messages from actual people! No problem; If you've got CALL MINDER, don't have CHARGE ADVICE unless you understand exactly what's going on and can cope with it.

* CHARGE ADVICE is also not recommended if you've got various types of "Unlimited Calls" options, as there is a glitch which can end up costing you money! I'm hoping to get more info on this. If in doubt, check!

* Also, I'm not sure what happens if you're on a long call and have CHARGE ADVICE, and while you're on, someone tries to phone you, gets engaged tone, and then presses 5 and gets Ringback Request. As soon as you put the phone down, both CHARGE ADVICE and RINGBACK will try to access the same line. What happens? If you know the answer to this, please e-mail me here and let me know so I can publish the answer on the next issue of this site.

Also worth mentioning: *411# and #411# is nothing to do with 411Vegas, 411Web, or any of the other 411 type of services.


Mark Bowden writes of a incompatibility between Charge Advice and Unmetered Calls...

We signed up to the BT unlimited evening and weekend calls deal and found that we were still being charged for any calls that went through Charge Advice, regardless of what time of day they were. The reason BT gave was that they aren't direct-dialled calls! We use Charge Advice because we are a shared house and note down what we spend on 'phone calls as we go along, then makes sorting out the bill easier. So now we need to remember to turn Charge Advice on in the morning and off at 6.00pm. Why BT can't just rejig their software so that Charge Advice doesn't cause the billing to activate? You wouldn't have thought it was all that difficult . . .

It took BT nearly three weeks and five calls from me to admit there was a problem. At first, they said there was nothing they could do to rebill us. Then they referred the matter to a manager, who didn't call us back, even after I 'phoned them. Then I was left hanging on waiting to be transferred to the manager for 10 minutes without any explanation before I got fed up and hung up. Finally I was told that we'd "opened up a can of worms" and that it hadn't been made clear to people taking up the unlimited calls deal that this was a glitch. So they rebilled us. But although we did encounter some very polite and helpful BT staff along the way, there was no recompense or allowance for the almost four hours in total time I spent on the 'phone sorting it out. Not impressed ...

Mark Bowden