What is a Toll Free Number
A toll free number is a phone number with reverse charges. That is, it is the callee that pays for the call, not the caller. In other words, it allows one to make a collect call without having to ask permission first.
In the US and Canada, traditionally toll free numbers used the 800 area code, i.e., the numbers were in the 1-800-555-1212 format. Thus, people commonly referred to toll free numbers as 800 numbers. The terms toll free number and 800 number were synonyms.
Due to the popularity of toll free numbers, eventually all 800 numbers were taken. To allow for more toll free numbers, the area codes 888, 877, and 866 are now also in use, with 855 coming up soon.
However, 800 numbers are still available, as they are "recycled" when an 800 customer no longer wants or needs the number. The 800 numbers are to toll free numbers what the .com TLD is to the web. Everyone (in the US and Canada) knows that an 800 number is a toll free number. They will not hesitate to call that number.
But people are not necessarily sure about the other toll free area codes. Not every area code that starts with the digit 8 is toll free. Hence, at least some people will not call a non-800 toll free number, simply because they are not sure.
Alas, 800 numbers are not without a disadvantage. If you get an 800 number and someone calls it because he thinks it still belongs to someone they dealt with 10 years ago, you will have to pay for that call even though, technically, it is the wrong number. Still, most businesses opt for an 800 number because of their recognizability. Individuals, however, often opt for a different number to lower the risk of misdirected calls.
Why Have a Toll Free Number
Business Toll Free Numbers
Businesses have toll free numbers because a prospective customer is much more likely to call them if he does not have to pay the long distance charges. Assuming they can convert many such incoming calls into sales and make more money than the cost of all the toll free calls, the business moves ahead financially.
With some toll free number providers, it is possible to let the number ring to any number in the world. So, a business can be located anywhere in the world, but accept toll free calls from prospective customers in the US and Canada. The customers will think the business is located in the US or Canada.
Because the business has to pay for the phone calls, having a toll free number gives the business the semblance of success. Surely, people think, the business is big and prosperous if they have a toll free number.
Because toll free numbers are independent of geography, it is possible to route the call according to where the caller is located. So, for example, people calling from the West Coast of the US may be connected to someone in California, people calling from the East Coast to someone in New York, etc.
Personal Toll Free Numbers
Individuals (including families) get a toll free number for a number of reasons:
Calling home while on the road is typically cheaper using the toll free number than using whatever long distance company your hotel (or your phone booth) has struck a deal with.
In case of an emergency, you can always call home even if you are left without any money.
Families can give their toll free number to their children. If the child is lost, kidnapped, or otherwise on his own, he can call his parents from anywhere (plus, the parents will have the phone number from which he has called, so the police can find the child).
All in all, having a toll free number is something everyone should have these days. You can get one for as little as $1/month. You do not have to use it, except in the situations mentioned above, yet your $1/month keeps that number reserved to you. It is a lot cheaper than having a cell phone.