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What are the Different Toll-Free Area Codes, and is there Any Real Difference?

Everyone pretty much knows today that a 1-800 code means toll-free—and that’s easy: it’s been around forever (well, at least since 1967). But even though a 2006 survey reported that 85% of respondents recognized 866 as a toll-free prefix [1], the internet still gets flooded with hundreds of monthly search queries asking ‘are 866 numbers toll free ‘are 888 numbers toll free’... so evidently, some confusion still persists.

What Are Toll-Free Numbers?

First, let’s get this one out of the way. Toll-free numbers are phone numbers that, when called, get the charges routed to the subscriber rather than to the caller. You can learn more about their origin and evolution in our Brief History of Toll-Free Phone Numbers.

How to Recognize a Toll-Free Prefix/Area Code?

There are 5 active toll-free prefixes in use at the time of this writing: 800, 888, 877, 866, and 855.

You’ll notice that all codes start with the number 8, followed by a double digit—00, 88, 77, 66, and 55. It’s likely that future codes will follow the same pattern.

What will happen after the 8-- series is exhausted is a good question and anybody’s best guess. Maybe a new series will be introduced, or the processing might be tweaked to allow for another digit. Perhaps something completely new will come around. One way or another, there’s still plenty of time before that happens.

Is There Any Real Difference?

That’s a good question. From a strictly utilitarian viewpoint, all toll-free prefixes are equal: they all serve a single function, to facilitate auto-collect-calling, and they all do so in the same manner.

Where there is some practical difference is when things come to people and people's awareness, which is where we started this whole discussion.

The 800 code is by far the most popular. It has had some 30 years to percolate into our collective consciousness and to become virtually synonymous with the idea of toll-free calling. But bona-fide 800 numbers are in short supply nowadays and you’d be hard-pressed to get one.

As for the other contenders, you could follow the same reasoning and assume that an older prefix like 888 has had more exposure and therefore more likely to be recognized—or you could follow other metrics like the 2006 survey mentioned above that suggested 866 experienced a gradual boon. But honestly, these differences are marginal at best and will likely get only more so—so it’s probably not even worth the effort.

Just think about it, how long can it reasonably take before people realize all 8-- codes are simply toll-free, especially when the answer is only a Google search away?

Not very long I reckon, and that day is already overdue.

So the main matter is getting a toll-free number. What number it's going to be is of leaser concern and you may just as well go with whatever the virtual number dispenser happens to spit out. Unless you're in the market for a vanity number; then you should definitely be more picky. Check out Does Your Business Need a Vanity Phone Number? for more information.

Related Articles:

  1. Why Your Business Needs a Toll-Free Phone Number
  2. Does Your Business Need a Vanity Phone Number?
  3. A Brief History of Toll-Free Phone Numbers



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posted by Maty Grosman @ 10:36 AM