NCIC Airport Payphones Are A Ripoff

Reader Victor wrote to alert us to NCIC payphones which are charging outrageous rates and fees in various airports across the country. At first, Victor used some spare change in an NCIC payphone and received a reasonable long distance rate of about $1 for 4 minutes. But Victor ran out of change and used his credit card to make 3 more quick calls. When Victor received his bill he discovered that he’d been charged $11 per call. He directed us over to and as far as we can tell, he got off easy. We read numerous reports of customers being charged exorbitant rates for local and long distance calls. The amounts that their customers are being charged vary so wildly that we’re not even sure what NCIC’s rates are supposed to be. Victor’s letter, inside…

I found myself in the airport waiting for a friend, and my cellphone ran out of battery. My friend couldn’t catch the plane, so I had to make some calls from the payphones next to the baggage claim.

I dial the number in, and I am asked to enter $1 or swipe a card. I happened to have 4 quarters, and for $1 I got 4 minutes of long distance call. I had to do 3 more calls, so, instead of getting more change, I decided to swipe instead my credit card, that I thought it was more convenient.

So far it looks like something quite a normal scenario, one I am sure many other people have found themselves in.

Well, after swiping the card, I get instructions for entering my exp date, and that’s all. I can call. No other message. ‘Quite convenient’, I thought, and I assumed that I would get the same 4min/$1 dollar rate, with maybe a charge fee of some cents for using the phone. I made three calls, of around 1 min and half each.

I just checked my credit card invoice: $11 each call.

This is simply put a scam. There is no visible notice of a $8 connection charge + $1.5/min – at least visible enough for me. Nobody charges $8 for using a credit card. I have used this credit card overseas and they charge me less than $1 for it, at most. And it’s not a one time connection fee; each call incurs on it. Their business model is one time users, getting the most they can out of them.

I called them up. They say that they have to cover expenses, and that was all. Only after telling them that I was going to file a complaint, they said that they will give me 50% back. I’ve seen other people who complaint getting just $11 back.

This is a ripoff and even they know that, so they reimburse you some money just to make you think that they are sorry… They got $15 out of me for nothing! They claim to have 20,000 payphones in the US. I can’t imagine the number of people that fall on this scam each day.

Seattle, Washington

Like Victor, some of their other customers were credited a partial amount of their bill. The fact that so many customers were able to haggle over the questionable fees on their bill is evidence to us that this company is less than legit. In case you have been ripped off by NCIC and you’re in the mood to haggle, their customer service number is 800-382-2887. We also learned of a customer who successfully disputed their NCIC bill with Chase, so don’t forget about the chargeback.


Edit Your Comment

  1. jamar0303 says:

    Oh wow- even roaming in with my current SIM is cheaper than that.

  2. TechnoDestructo says:

    EVERYTHING in US airports is a rip-off.

    I recall paying about 10 bucks for some phone card at Sea-Tac (don’t recall the company) which was the only way I was able to use the pay phones there. It charged a fee every time I ATTEMPTED to call my mom (who never PICKS UP THE DAMN PHONE)…something like 1 or two bucks whether I connected or not. So I ended up getting about 2 or 3 minutes talk time out of that 10 dollar card.

    The call was to let her know about my indefinite delay in Seattle. At least I got to wait at the gate (for 8 hours of ANY MINUTE NOW!) instead of on the plane.

    GOD I hate flying in the US. Everything about the experience is just BETTER elsewhere.

  3. unleashed says:

    My parents called me from their Las Vegas hotel once, two 10-15min calls resulted in an $80+ bill.

  4. acknight says:

    I think even those sat-phones in airplanes might be cheaper than that per call…

  5. kepler11 says:

    expensive lesson learned. Use and their access numbers for cheap calls everywhere (ok, there is a small surcharge from payphones, but still reasonable compared to this…)

  6. MonkeyMonk says:

    Would NCIC be violating their credit card agreement for charging such excessively high prices for credit card usage over cash?

    • sonneillon says:

      @MonkeyMonk: No because you can offer a cash discount, but I am pretty sure they have to tell you how much the call is going to cost before you make it as part of their credit card agreement.

  7. TechnoElf says:

    At least you are not paying for a cellphone every month apparently…

  8. timmus says:

    Pay phone companies are scum. I remember in the 1990s when some pay phones would not even allow you to connect to AT&T to place a calling card call, even though it was illegal.

  9. brettt says:

    The last time I tried to use a payphone at the airport was in January, when my cell phone broke. I was in Houston, and was trying to call a number in the same area code. A recorded message told me the call could not be completed as dialed without using an area code. When I called with the area code, a recorded message then told me I needed to dial without the area code.

    I had to call someone else I knew in another area code, ask them to call the party for me, and then have them call my payphone.

  10. scooby76 says:

    Whats sad was when I was in Geneva calling home from a nice hotel, I got charge about 5$ for a 15 minute call. I live in New Hampshire. If I tried that from New York the same call from a hotel would have cost me about 40$.

    The US has the art of rip offs down pat.

  11. caj11 says:

    @scooby76: Never ever call long distance or international from a hotel room phone… even the front desk people at the hotel will tell you its a major ripoff and suggest you buy a phone card (sometimes available from their own gift shop), then use the payphone in the lobby or nearby, which will be cheaper.

  12. jamar0303 says:

    @jamar0303: To be more specific-
    I have a China Mobile SIM. A call to tell the person picking me up in Nashville that I was stuck in O’Hare overnight because of a delay cost me about US$.60-70. Apparently I would have paid about $.30 more to call using the payphone.

  13. Impius says:

    Victor isn’t alone in this. I recently had to take a trip from Portland OR, to Nashville TN. Due to several factors I missed my flight, I used the payphones at the airport 3 times. My charges for my calls ranged anywhere from $11 to $25.
    Anyway long story short, I called the customer service line for the phones and was credited back 1/2 of what I was charged.

  14. donkeyjote says:

    Maybe his credit card treated it like a cash advance.

  15. scooby76 says:

    @caj11: actually my point is that calling to the US from Europe is a lot cheaper than calling in the US to someplace else in the US. Not sure if you understood or not.

    Its a reason work pays for my cell phone, so I can just call on that whenever needed if I am traveling.

  16. Mollyg says:

    The pay phones in the Albuquerque airport are the same way. The fees to use credit cards were not posted and you were not told what the fees were. The phones violate a few federal and state laws. The company is not even registered in the state like they are supposed to. I called the state public utilities regulator, but they did not care.

  17. Yep,

    Captive Audience Marketing 101: Charge as much as you can, ’cause you can.

    I offer no defense. It Sux. It is also expected.

  18. dunnowhat says:

    When I was in an airport in Spain, I used my credit card to make a phone call to the US. It was an emergency and I did not have coins to make calls…plus I just didn’t know any better. I used the instructions on the sticker on the phone. When I looked at my statement a week later, I discovered that I was charged $150 for about 20 minutes worth of phone calls. For instance, for a call that went to voicemail (<1 min) I was charged $15. Eventually I disputed the charge but got nowhere. I found out this company does this to people all the time, operating under several different names, and I contacted them myself. I was able to negotiate the charge to half, or $75 which was awful but still better.

  19. incognit000 says:

    NCIC isn’t the only company that does this, ALL airport payphone companies do this, and probably all payphones that accept credit cards. Before I got my cell phone (I was a slow and reluctant adapter and I still hate having to own one) I often found myself delayed in an airport and needing to place a call, and since the machines don’t accept paper money sometimes I was forced to use a credit card. Not once was the call more than a minute (all I ever did was leave voicemail saying I’d be late) and not once was the charge less than $7, and most were over $10.

  20. seamer says:

    I had to buy a $20 phone card at SFO to call my wife in San Jose, less than an hour away. It lasted maybe 4 minutes.

    As recently as 2006/2007.

  21. oregongal says:

    Or do what we do and buy a pre-paid card from [] that can be used anywhere. Then just remember to write down your pin and 1-800 access number and tuck it in your wallet. Your good to go!

  22. JiminyChristmas says:

    I had a similar experience in Chicago O’Hare about three months ago. Swipe my card, dial the number, and much to my surprise I get a live operator, who then completes the call. Get my CC statement three weeks later and a 5 minute call cost me $9.75.

    Now, I neither have nor want a cell phone. However, the next time I travel I am not leaving without a phone card or a prepaid cell phone.

  23. bobosgirl says:

    This happened to a friend a few weeks ago, and she has exploded with Consumerism after being ripped off for almost $70 for 3 minutes and 23 seconds worth of phone calls. Not only did the PDX airport give her her money back, they started an internal investigation into this company. She also filed complaints with all the appropriate agencies and with the State of OR atty. gen. office. This company operates under 3 different business names in southern CA, and there is a huge post about them on

  24. bobosgirl says:

    @incognit000: only the pay phones that take credit cards are like this, and they’re almost all owned by this company- payphones that take change are about $1 for 5 minutes.

  25. tneria01 says:

    most local phone companies have gotten totally out of the payphone business because of the proliferation of cell phones. They just couldn’t make any money on them. I’m sure that is the reason it cost an arm and a leg to make any phone call from a payphone in an airport—and I’ll bet those private payphone companies aren’t making a lot of money, even while charging such high prices.