Have you ever seen a TV commercial with a catchy toll-free 800 number? Perhaps one of the most iconic examples is 1-800-FLOWERS, which became synonymous with ordering flowers. 1-800-Giant-Men was a brilliant way to market The Gentle Giant moving company. Even though fewer people make phone calls today, there’s just something magical about these 800 numbers that makes them so useful.
Believe it or not, it’s actually extremely easy to get a toll-free number. You don’t even need to get your phone company involved. We’ll show you some services that can have you up and running with a toll-free number in as little as a few minutes. Before we do that, let’s take a closer look at what numbers you can get and how toll-free numbers work.
What Is a Toll-Free Number?
Simply put, a toll-free number is a phone number that exonerates the caller from any per-minute calling costs. toll-free numbers never require you to pay long-distance fees. Whenever someone calls your toll-free number, they are automatically redirected to a traditional landline or other virtual number. The toll-free number acts as a special VIP access path to your regular phone number.
Toll-free numbers came to exist in the 1960s as a response to the increasing number of people making collect calls. You might remember 1-800-CONNECT commercials with their catchy jingle. Collect calling is when the recipient of the call pays for your calling costs and was a common way to make an emergency call from a payphone or for business calls. However, back in the day, an operator had to call the recipient and confirm that they would accept charges.
Naturally, this was slow and cumbersome to phone companies. The toll-free 800 number was invented as a way to automate collect calling. By registering an 800 number, a company could consent to pay for any calls that were dialed to that number, thus eliminating the need for an operator to confirm the call. Today, toll-free numbers have become even more useful.
What Prefixes Can toll-free Numbers Have?
When we think of toll-free numbers, we usually think of the classic 1-800 number. However, in the North American Numbering Plan, there are seven different prefixes that can be used for toll-free numbers. Those are 800, 888, 877, 866, 855, 844, and 833. They all operate in exactly the same way, with one exception being the 833 numbers, which we’ll get to in a minute.
Toll-free numbers must have one of these prefixes. After that, they must have 7 numbers like any other phone number. Of course, you can get a vanity toll-free number that uses letters that represent numbers. So, how do you get these magic toll-free numbers?
The FCC determines who can issue a toll-free number in the United States. These “responsible organizations” or RespOrgs are basically licensed toll-free number dealers. It’s basically the same as when you try to buy a domain for a website. If the number is available, any RespOrg can assign it to you. But let’s talk about that 833 exception.
The 833 Auction
The FCC decided to try something different with the 833 prefix. Instead of letting any RespOrg issue these numbers freely, they auction off 833 numbers. By rule, nobody is allowed to hoard or warehouse toll-free numbers. That means that no RespOrg or issuer is allowed to simply buy up tons of numbers and hold onto them, because this could make prices skyrocket due to number scarcity.
The same is true in the 833 auction. Anyone who wants to buy a number must fill out an application and place a bid for the number. It’s a blind auction, so you won’t necessarily know if other people are bidding on the same number. But here’s the crazy part: You might actually be able to use this to get a free toll-free number!
Can You Get a Free 800 Number?
Ignoring the fact that a free toll-free number is something of a logical paradox (somebody has to pay for this call eventually), it technically is possible to get a toll-free number without paying for it. The 833 auction doesn’t charge you if no one else bids on your toll-free number. You can actually see the results of last year’s auction and see that some people got numbers for free. How did they do it?
After filing an application, the 833 auction requires you to put down a deposit to back up your bid. But if no one else bids on that number, then your deposit will be refunded in full and you’ll get to keep the number! You don’t need to be a big business to participate either. There are plenty of individuals acting independently on the 833 auction.
Now, if you’re looking for a free 800 number or a free toll-free number from one of the other prefixes, you’re out of luck. Your only option for a “free” toll-free number is to get one from a provider. They might tell you the number is free, but in reality, you’re paying for their services.
Are There International Toll-free Numbers?
So far we’ve only been talking about North American toll-free numbers. Toll-free numbers issued US and Canada, as well as participating Caribbean countries, can generally be called without incurring any sort of international calling penalty. But what if you want a toll-free number in, say, Germany?
Other countries use slightly different prefixes for toll-free numbers, although many are similar to the US and involve an 8 somewhere in there. If you order a toll-free number from another country, it’ll only be toll-free if you’re calling from a number in the same country. Otherwise, you’d have to pay international calling costs to connect the call.
But there is a way to get a truly international toll-free number. The International Telecommunication Union, or ITU, can issue a Universal International Freephone Number (UIFN). Only recognized agencies can ask for these numbers, and it costs a whopping 300 Swiss francs plus 100 francs a year to maintain. Expect your bill to be high for this one. But, if you want anyone in the world to be able to call you for free, it is possible.
Why Do Businesses Use Toll-Free Numbers?
Now that you know basically all there is to know about toll-free numbers and how they work, why would you want to get one? Do businesses really need a toll-free number these days? Most phone services don’t charge for long distance anymore and mobile phones typically have unlimited calling on most of their plans, so what’s the advantage of a toll-free number?
Business owners can take advantage of toll-free numbers in a variety of ways. Many of these are subtle details that benefit your business. Let’s take a look.
Make Your Business Look Legit
There’s something reassuring about a toll-free 800 number. It subconsciously convinces people that your business is legitimate before they have even heard what you sell. Most people have no idea how easy it is to get a toll-free 800 number and so they assume that if you have one, you must have done some paperwork or gotten a permit or something more complex.
Admit it, when you see a 1-800 number, you automatically see that company as more trustworthy. It also gives the impression that your business is bigger than it may really be. Since a 1-800 number is a national number, not a local number, it makes your business seem like a large national company.
Use a 1-800 Number for Marketing
We mentioned a couple of examples already, but just think of how many successful businesses have been built on the back of a 1-800 number. 1-800-CONTACTS or 1-800-Mattress are memorable phone numbers. You probably don’t remember the full name of the business that operates those numbers, because the number itself is the business.
If you get a vanity 1-800 number, you can come up with some pretty creative phone numbers. Granted, for best results you should only have 7 letters after the 1-800 prefix. But still, there are plenty of ways to make a vanity number with 7 letters. For example, McAfee’s antivirus software used 1-800-VIRUS-NO to market its products.
You can even use toll-free vanity numbers for some laughs. 1-800-DOG-POOP marketed a dog walking agency and promised to always pick up the poop, and the phone. Start a virtual megachurch with 1-800-CALL-GOD or launch 1-800-HOT-YOGA for your new yoga class business. With vanity numbers, the only limit is your imagination.
How Do I Get a Toll-Free Number?
Okay, we get it. You’re convinced. You want a toll-free number and you want it now. We can already see the gears turning in your head, you’ve started dreaming of your toll-free vanity number in bright neon lights, exploding like Dirk Diggler’s name in Boogie Nights. How do you make those dreams come true?
It’s actually incredibly easy. While you could call your local telephone company and pay their exorbitant rates for toll-free numbers, it’s much easier to use a virtual phone service or a VoIP provider. Remember, all toll-free numbers do is use call forwarding to deliver a call to your regular number through the toll-free number. So you don’t need to rely on the phone company to do that. Any provider will work.
In fact, that’s why many VoIP providers will include a “free” toll-free number with your virtual phone number. That toll-free number was probably sitting around doing nothing. You’ll have to pay extra if you want a toll-free vanity number, but what price wouldn’t you pay for 1-800-AWESOME?
Toll-Free Services to Choose From
With all that preamble out of the way, let’s look at some of the leading providers of toll-free numbers. The majority of these are VoIP providers dedicated to virtual phone services, but they can also hook you up with toll-free numbers. Some of them are dedicated specifically to toll-free 800 numbers, such as 800.com which couldn’t possibly be more upfront about what it does.
We’ve reviewed a lot of these services in other articles, so if you want to know more about their full services, check out those articles. This time, we’re only going to look at how they handle toll-free numbers.
We talk a lot about RingCentral here on VoIPVirtual, and for good reason. They’re one of the leading VoIP services on the market, and when it comes to virtual calling, they can do it all. If you get a toll-free number from RingCentral, you’ll be able to receive calls on any device. You can configure call forwarding to send any calls that come from your toll-free number to whatever device or user you desire.
RingCentral’s plans all include a toll-free number. The difference is in how many toll-free minutes you get from each plan. At the most basic level, you won’t get more than a couple of toll-free hours to use.
If you don’t want to waste all of your minutes, you can control how many people can call your toll-free number using RingCentral’s app. You can dictate all kinds of calling restrictions. For example, maybe you really don’t like people from Wyoming. Block all calls from Wyoming area codes and keep them from using your precious toll-free time.
Like RingCentral, Nextiva is one of the industry’s best VoIP providers, so they know a thing or two about toll-free numbers. You’ll get one no matter what plan you opt for, so for just $18 a month you could have your very own toll-free number. How many minutes do you get with Nextiva?
A hefty 1,500 minutes are included with the essentials plan. That’s 25 hours of call time! Nextiva can get you a number from any of the toll-free number prefixes we mentioned before, including 800 numbers and the 888, 877, 866, 855, and 844 range. With all the other professional calling features of Nextiva, your toll-free number will be able to do it all.
Nextiva’s app lets you use your toll-free number on any device, including your cell phone. With Nextiva, your toll-free number is always with you.
Grasshopper is a company focused on helping small businesses to become big businesses. Their virtual phone service is unique because of how its plans are priced and how easy to use their software is. Your cell phone becomes a call center, and you can easily manage your calls from any device.
Unlike RingCentral or Nextiva, a toll-free number isn’t automatically included. When you sign up, you can choose from a toll-free number, a vanity number, or a regular local number. If you opt for a better plan, you can get one of each. However, if you choose a toll-free number, you get unlimited minutes. If you expect to get a lot of calls to your toll-free number, this could be a great option.
Grasshopper’s app is excellent and easy to use. You can also use extensions with your toll-free number. That lets your callers dial the extension after connecting so they can reach a specific person or device in your organization. They also let you send automated texts to callers if you don’t pick up the phone. Grasshopper gives you a toll-free number on steroids!
Here’s a company that focuses more on 800 numbers than anything else. You love to see it! They were the first virtual 1-800 number provider on the market. In business since 1996, FreedomVoice knows what they’re doing. You can choose from vanity numbers or 1-800 numbers, however, the vanity options are a bit more limited than other providers.
If you need a cheap toll-free number, it’s hard to beat FreedomVoice’s START plan. 400 minutes for $9.95 per month is a solid offer. However, at $19.95, their EDGE plan comes up short of Nextiva’s cheapest plan. You will get a couple of nice features with FreedomVoice, including an auto attendant to handle calls for you professionally.
You’ll also get unlimited texting on the mobile app, so you can use your toll-free number for more than just phone calls. We’d recommend FreedomVoice if you just want a cheap toll-free number that you don’t think will get heavy use. However, for more frequent use, you can get better deals elsewhere.
While Ooma is by no means the cheapest option for a toll-free number, we love their service for small business customers. Ooma Office is highly rated for its customer service. In fact, Ooma has the highest customer satisfaction of any VoIP provider.
You can get a toll-free number from Ooma and use it as your main number, but you’ll only get 500 free minutes. If you need more than that, you’ll have to pay another $15 per month on top of your Ooma subscription. You’ll get 1,500 minutes for about $35 per month. Again, not the cheapest, but it’s a great service.
Like other options on our list, you’ll get a mobile app that lets your cell phone do the talking. You can also link up Ooma to your landline phones if you have them, making them all ring when your toll-free number receives a call. If you’re a small business owner looking for a reliable phone system with great customer support, Ooma is an excellent option for your toll-free number needs.
With a name like 800.com, it’s hard not to put your faith in these guys for your toll-free number. However, they’re actually much more expensive than other solutions here. At $23 per month for 1,000 toll-free minutes, they struggle to compete against the likes of FreedomVoice or even Nextiva and RingCentral. Does 800.com have anything else to redeem itself?
They sure do! While RingCentral and Nextiva keep more of their fun features locked behind more expensive plans, 800.com delivers a buffet of calling features. Call recording is included in all plans. You’ll get voicemail to email, a useful feature that transcribes voicemails left on your toll-free number. You can even get Canadian numbers from 800.com.
Caller ID is standard, something that FreedomVoice charges extra for. So while you will have to pay more, you’re getting a lot more for your dollar. If you pay annually, the monthly rate drops to $19 for the basic plan on 800.com. If you think those features are necessary for your business, then head over to 800.com for a solid deal.
Kall8 has been in business even longer than FreedomVoice, although back in 1993 they weren’t doing this exact kind of work. Today they specialize in toll-free numbers and have a unique pricing model that makes numbers accessible to everyone. You could have a toll-free number for as little as $5 per month!
See, where Kall8 differs from the competition is in how it prices its numbers. The prices vary depending on how attractive the number might be to a particular business. For example, 888-685-BEER is considered more valuable than 833-NEW-2021, a number sure to seem outdated in less than a year. Beer will never be outdated.
Kall8 then charges you this price every month, so be aware that this is not a one-time payment. You do get 100 minutes for free, so you could theoretically grab a cheap number and have at least a few minutes to use. You won’t get a fancy app, but you do get plenty of call management tools.
Hippos are among the deadliest animals in the world. Is CallHippo a deadly service for toll-free numbers? You bet it is. You get unified communications through CallHippo’s top-quality app. You can set up teams for instant messaging and use call forwarding to get your call to whoever can handle it best.
With their Silver plan, you can use call queues to run a proper call center off your toll-free number. They even have analytics and gamification to help you keep people on the line and reward employees for handling calls efficiently. At $24 a month, it’s a pretty outstanding package.
With regards to toll-free minutes, CallHippo simply treats them as incoming minutes that are charged at $0.02/min. This means your bill could jump quite a bit if you take a lot of calls to your toll-free number. If all of the advanced features of CallHippo are important to you, they might be a great choice for your toll-free number.
The cheapest toll-free number that money can buy comes from Sonetel. This is the one true “pay as you go” solution. They charge just $2.99 per month for toll-free numbers, which is about the best deal online you can find. So, what’s the catch? One downside is that you cannot get 800 numbers. There’s another issue as well.
Sonetel only forwards your calls to another number of your choice. You’ll have to pay both a fee for your incoming call time, plus a call forward fee. For instance, let’s say you get a call from the US to your toll-free number. You forward your calls to your cell phone in the US. You’ll pay $0.03 per minute for the incoming call, plus $0.011 per minute for call forwarding, making your call cost $0.041 per minute.
This means that Sonetel is really only a great option for people who just want to have a toll-free number, but don’t expect to get many calls on it. You can bring down the per-minute cost by prepaying with a subscription plan, however, so there are options for more frequent users.
What Is the Best 800 Number Provider?
Now that we’ve looked at a bunch of options, what’s the best toll-free number provider for your business? We’re going to dish out three awards: Cheapest Provider, The Best Features, and the Best Value award. Of course, which one works best for you will depend on your business’s needs and what features are most important to you, as well as your expected call volume.
For a cheap toll-free 800 number, Sonetel wins our Cheapest Provider category handily. For the Best Features, we love CallHippo. Their toll-free number service comes with the best business phone features on the planet, and at a price that every company can afford. Our Best Value goes to Nextiva. You can send and receive messages and make calls on an advanced system, all for less than $20 a month.
For vanity toll-free numbers, you’ll want to shop around to get the perfect business phone number. If you’re dead set on a particular number, make sure the provider you choose can actually give it to you before you sign up. And that’s everything you need to know about toll-free numbers.