Telecom Tips - Saving Money On Directory Assistance

by Brian McConnell

Directory assistance is a billion dollar industry. The typical mobile phone user calls 411 a few times per year. Doesn't sound like much, but multiply $1.25 by hundreds of millions of calls per year and pretty soon you're talking real money.

Why is directory assistance so expensive? (on a per minute basis, it's more costly than phone sex). Because the cellular phone companies have determined that $1.00 to $1.50 per call is what the market will bear. They know that most people don't read their phone bills that closely, and that a few dollars here or there won't be missed.

Fortunately there are three ways you can reduce your directory assistance fees.

Use SMS instead

Google offers an SMS search service that is tuned to return phone numbers and addresses. You can also use it to find movie showtimes, weather, stock quotes and product prices.

To use it, send a text message formatted as follows to 46645:

[business name] [city] [state]

See Google's SMS Site ( for more information.

COST: the usual cost to send an SMS, typically about 10 to 15 cents, free if you have SMS messaging bundled in your cellphone rate plan.

I use this method almost exclusively. SMS is especially useful because the information is persistent. No need to jot a number down or try to remember it as an operator reads it to me.

Use co-workers (great for driving directions)

Pretty much anybody in an office has access to the same information as a directory assistance operator, and they probably know a lot more about the local environs than an operator in the Phillipines does.

An obvious money saving trick is to call co-workers when you're in a bind and need directions somewhere. The downside.. this can be annoying, and your co-workers may not always be around.

COST: nada, but don't abuse the privilege.

Use a third-party information service

Several companies provide directory assistance independently of the telephone companies. They provide essentially the same service as 411, but because they cut the cellular company out of the loop, they can do so for 30-40% less per call. One company, Infone (, offers directory assistance, driving directions and other services for 89 cents per call.


2005-04-05 13:28:08
Done this
A few years back a fraternity brother and I were trying to find the house of our fraternity at a different college. We thought we knew the address but couldn't find it.

Our solution: Call back to the house at our school and bounce around the phone system until we found someone and have them look in our chapter house directory.

It worked. It even worked a weke later when we couldn't find it again. ;)

2005-04-05 15:05:12
Don't forget
Assuming you aren't driving, you can also use from your wireless-web enabled phone.

It gives you white pages, yellow pages, directions, and even reverse lookup.

I have other useful WAP-like sites linked at (no ads, no spyware, just links)

2005-04-07 11:41:50
What, you don't type while you drive?
I had a similar thought to yours. I use myself, 'cause I like the localization and mapping features. There are others, but I like this one.

Granted, the mapping is kind of useless on some small-screened browsers, but being able to get yellow page results sorted by distance from a configurable address is amazingly useful.