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November 4, 2006 12:03 AM

Broken: Adding airtime on Tracfone website

TracfoneAlex B writes in:

I use a pre-paid phone from Tracfone. To add minutes, you buy a card that includes a PIN, then you go to their website to enter the PIN and add the minutes to your account (some phones let you do this on the phone instead of the web, but not my phone).


Once you start the "add minutes" process on their site, not only do you enter the PIN from the card, but you also have to enter a lot more number sequences into your phone (each ranging from 15-28 digits). This is certainly a pain, but maybe it's necessary, so it's arguable whether the fact that you have to enter these sequences itself is broken.

The attached picture shows how it works - the next sequence you must enter is shown in blue, and sequences you've already entered appear above it, crossed out. Each time you confirm you entered a sequence, that sequence is crossed out and a new one appears below it.

But what is undeniably broken is this: Before you start, you aren't told how many sequences you'll have to enter, and each time you enter a sequence, the site never tells you how many sequences are left.

You just have to enter each sequence it tells you to enter, until you're done. It's a tedious process and by the time you're near the end, you aren't sure if it'll ever tell you to stop. This violates a basic principle of user interface design, which is that when you need the user to go through a sequence of steps, you must always tell them how many steps there are before they begin, and once they are in the process, tell them what step they are on.


First! :)

... I have nothing interesting to say :P

Posted by: Daniel15 at November 4, 2006 06:57 AM

When I got a tracphone several years ago, I thought the whole process was actually pretty intuitive. It allows them to automate the process completely, which means that you can do it at any time of the day without any help. It lets you know what the phone should say, and if it doesn't say the right thing, you know you need to repeat the step. To me, it seems like a pretty error-proof process.

Posted by: Jonathan Johnson at November 4, 2006 08:21 AM

Why on Earth do you have to enter all those numbers? That's insanity.

Where do you get them from? The card? Or is that them posted at the top of the website?

This is sick.

Posted by: DavesBrain at November 4, 2006 11:47 AM

I have a pre-paid t-mobile and I can add balance by credit card or with a card in store with no issue or long sequence because they tie and online account to your phone, worked the same when I had cingular's pre-paid

Posted by: PIe4Weebl at November 4, 2006 12:56 PM

That really sucks.

Posted by: Gabriel J. Smolnycki at November 4, 2006 01:26 PM

i used to sell tracphone - they are crazy insane. wayyyy to much work - its worth $200 for a deposit on any other carrier to avoid the hassel - the only ppl that can get thru the pin codes painlessly are the gamers that should have credit anyway boo trackphone come on make it easy

Posted by: n1nj4 at November 4, 2006 06:44 PM

This is definitely broken. It's bad that they don't let you know how many numbers you have left, but it's even worse that you have to put in so many numbers.

The definition of broken, as I think it used in this site, is something that frusterates users. Such a long list of such long codes is extremely frusterating, especially since it seems like the whole thing could be made 200000000 times easier if you only had to put in 1 or 2 numbers. I fail to see how so many numbers may be nessacary; it appears to me like they're being used as a kind of "password," and we generally need only one password to protect even the most important information. A lack of something showing progress is just the icing in the cake, not the actual problem.

Posted by: The Pondermatic at November 4, 2006 07:25 PM

This has been fixed, sort of.

Now you can add airtime directly from your phone. All you have to key in is the serial number of your phone and the "PIN#" on the card (IMO, the "PIN#" designation is confusing - it really should be called the card number or some such), and your phone sends a shout-out to Tracfone.

After a while, the added time shows up on your phone's display.


The one time I've tried it, it didn't take. Their website says that if your added airtime doesn't show up within a certain time, you need to go back to and add your airtime manually. I had to go back and punch in all those numbers anyway.

Oh, well. Generally I've been satisfied with my Tracfone. I use the phone so little (300-400 minutes a year) that I only have to add airtime once, occasionally twice, a year. On a per-minute basis it's expensive, but in actual cost terms, it works out to about $10-$12 a month.

Posted by: anomalous4 at February 10, 2007 11:55 AM

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