Sprint Charges Customer For Calling His Own Voicemail

Everyone in America can call Chris’s Sprint voicemail for free, except for Chris. He gets charged for it, and in fact, doing so made him go over his airtime minutes.

After fussing with customer support, they issued him a credit and told him he was checking his voicemail wrong. Instead of calling himself, like one does on every other service, you’re supposed to “hit OK on the little envelope.”

And that’s it. No explanation or desire to report as a problem. Just punch the letter.

He says, “I hate when the only answer to my question is, “Oh, that’s easy, sir. It’s greed. And we’ll be blatantly greedy until you find a way to make us stop, thank you very much.”

Sprint users: don’t call yourself from your own phone. Hit OK on the little envelope. Somehow that phrase strikes us as funny. Say it out loud.

Full letter inside…

“For my favorite consumer advocates:

Having gone over my Sprint airtime minutes for the first time in what seems like forever, I took a close look at my online billing details. Sprint provides its customers with easy-to-interpret icons on their bills for calls of particular types; two little phones to represent PCS to PCS calls, for example, which are included in my plan, airtime free, for five dollars a month. There is another symbol, a “VM,” that indicates calls to voicemail.

Not a single “VM” appears on my bill though I had, quite obviously, called to check my own voicemail a number of times over the course of my billing cycle. Also, at the bottom of my bill, after the point in time at which I had exhausted my anytime minutes, I had been charged for calls to my own number. These were calls made to voicemail, with no indication that Sprint considered them such. I assumed there was an oversight, and called Customer Care, as it seemed impossible that I would be charged airtime minutes for calls to my own number, from my own number.

Customer Care informed me that I was improperly dialing my voicemail. I was told that I had to, ‘hit ok on the little envelope,’ to be connected to voicemail free-of-charge. Without going into too many inane details here, suffice it to say that I have called my voicemail in the same manner since the beginning of time and I have never taken notice of being charged for it. In an experiment after the call, my phone interprets the three possible manners of connecting to my voicemail in the identical fashion, unsurprisingly.

My representative was friendly and helpful, if not the most astute. I had re-directed the conversation from discussion of small envelopes to what I felt was the more applicable phenomenon, that of calls to my Sprint number not falling under the umbrella of PCS to PCS calling. He took the time to speak with his supervisor, informed me that neither he nor the supervisor had ever considered the PCS to PCS thing, gave me a service credit and passed me on to Technical Support, who swiftly told me that calls to voicemail are charged against anytime minutes, that she had no idea why, and that there was not only no explanation, but no solution.

To clarify: There are millions of people nationwide who can call my voicemail for free. I am not one of them.

This is Sprint, and this information is verified through my own experience. What follows is a bit of research.

From T-Mobile’s website:

“T-Mobile VoiceMail
We make it easy for you to check voice mail messages and manage your calls while you are on the go. Enhanced VoiceMail is included free on all plans $34.99 and higher. You will not be charged unless you go over the included minutes in your rate plan. The minute charge is the same as your rate plan minute charge.”

From Verizon’s website:

“12. Am I charged airtime when I check my wireless voicemail messages from my wireless phone?

If you check your messages from your wireless phone, normal airtime charges are incurred.”

From Cingular’s website:

“You will be charged airtime minutes for listening to your voicemail messages from your wireless phone. Airtime charges are based on your calling plan. When listening to your voicemail on your wireless phone while outside of your home calling area, you may also be charged for long distance and roaming, if applicable. “

Obviously, this is an industry-wide practice. My expectation that it will change is non-existent, as there is no existing motivation for any of the major wireless carriers to change it. This becomes, unfortunately, a consumer standing on a mountain yelling down into the valley that it’s simply not fair, that it’s unconscionable. Wireless CEO’s don’t live in this valley, though. And their underlings are deaf.

My point is this: The only number a wireless company can be assured their customers will call is those customers’ own numbers. And every single one of them is charging us for it and costing us overage fees or increasing the size of our bills by increasing the number of included minutes per month.

I believe that prior to the inception of PCS to PCS calling, or Verizon’s IN, or Cingular’s Mobile to Mobile, there was a valid argument to charging for any and all outgoing calls at the standard rate agreed to by the customer. Once we’re paying for free in-network calls, how can we logically, or fairly, be charged for calls to our own in-network numbers?

My apologies for the long-winded-ness of my email. I’m a bit worked up today, because I hate when the only answer to my question is, “Oh, that’s easy, sir. It’s greed. And we’ll be blatantly greedy until you find a way to make us stop, thank you very much.”

Anyway, thanks for reading if you’ve made it this far.

-Chris M.
Chronic Voicemail Caller”


Edit Your Comment

  1. something_amazing says:

    Even stranger because I know my model phone when you hit the voice mail button it clearly is a shortcut to dial yourself…

    Curse you sprint.

  2. Triteon says:

    I have Sprint and have always operated under the assumption that the envelope was just a shortcut too.
    Chris, question: did you dial *2 (or whatever that is) to call customer support? Or did you call the actual 1-888 number? Wonder if they charge for that too… Great thinking about the PCS to PCS calling as well; I would have missed that.
    I’ve now been with Sprint for 8 years and hated them for the past 6. These days, however, they seem to be just as bad as anyone. at least this issue was resolved. Thanks!

  3. DeeJayQueue says:

    So what’s the complaint? That every major cell phone company charges you to call your voicemail? That’s like saying “Damn, I have to pay to park any time I drive into the city.”

    It’s also worth noting that your voicemail isn’t on your phone. It’s on a computer in a building somewhere. When you dial your own number it sees that and connects you to the computer. So really it’s not mobile to mobile you’re using, you’re calling a land line technically, and that’s what you’re getting charged for.

    The Free Mobile to Mobile plans are promo plans, they won’t last forever and they’re mostly due to the fact that you’re paying a high rate for a low pool of peak minutes to use, and you’re in a 1 or 2 year contract.

  4. gvonk says:

    A hint-
    If you have a family plan, or even live with anyone who has a cell on your network (and free mobile-to-mobile), you can check your own voicemail for free by calling your phone from your friend’s (or wife’s, etc.) phone. (Or, of course, a landline.) At the voicemail prompt, hit # or * (whichever says “It’s me, let me check my voicemail”), and you can check your own messages for free.

  5. billhelm says:

    Non Story. Sprint has done this since I became a customer in 1998.

    get enough minutes to not go over or call from a land line. simple enough.

  6. foolgladly says:

    @Triteon: Customer service calls, whether toll-free or *2 are completely free. The wireless companies are getting this much right and it’s one thing we don’t have to worry about, price-wise.

    @DeeJayQueue: I think it’s a little more like saying, “I can’t believe they put a parking meter in my garage.”

    @billhelm: The amount of time an unfair practice has been in effect doesn’t really affect the degree to which I, personally, consider it fair business. And it certainly wasn’t a non-story to me. I was surprised.

    Thanks to all, by the way, for reading, and to Consumerist, again, for posting my little tale.

  7. Mythgarr says:

    [quote]It’s also worth noting that your voicemail isn’t on your phone. It’s on a computer in a building somewhere.[/quote]

    True, but my wife isn’t even on a computer somewhere (well, technically…). She’s on a cell phone, yet calling HER does not incur [strike]the wrath[/strike] additional airtime. As a matter of fact, as pointed out, ANYBODY other than myself on the sprint network that knows my name & password can check my voicemail for free. Anyone but me. Doesn’t that seem just a tad odd?
    I actually ran into this same situation this past month. My wife and I are in the process of purchasing a home. Anybody who’s ever done that knows just how much time and how many phone calls it can take (especially since it’s a FSBO!). We were close to our limit and even went over it by a good chunk, but the extra 40 minutes of airtime they charged for me calling my voice mail (I didn’t even check my wife’s minutes for voicemail) pushed us up into yet another pricing bracket. They’re not nearly as crooked as they used to be (anybody else remember paying $0.75 per minute for overages?) but they still have a LONG way to go before I can consider any of the phone companies consumer-friendly.