Gift Cards – What a bad idea!

There is only one type of gift certificate/card/coupon that I must confess to really liking. That’s an gift certificate. You can apply it against your account, see the balance and then use it for any purchase from Amazon or any of their affiliates. For me, this is a good thing because I’m always buying stuff from Amazon.

Otherwise, I cannot think of a more terrible idea than taking good, honest money and exchanging it for something that is more limited. Gift certificates are typically good in only one brand of store, can expire, are often forgotten about and frequently obligate the user to spend their own money in an effort to use the complete value of the certificate. Store brand gift cards are in the same boat.

The newer “Visa” gift cards (I presume MasterCard, AMEX and the rest have similar deals) are supposedly as versatile as a regular Visa card but they aren’t. I have a $60 Visa gift card that I received as part of a promotion for switching my natural gas provider.

My first attempt to use it was in a gas pump. That failed miserably since it’s not a real Visa card and there isn’t any PIN associated with it to allow you to use it like a debit card.

I then was able to successfully use it to purchase lunch one day. So I stuck with restaurants as they seem to know how to cajole the cash out of them.

Keeping my receipts so that I’d know how much was left on the card I went for lunch one day and tried to use the remaining balance on the card and found it was declined (not a great hardship as I was already going to have to pay for about 1/2 the meal cash anyway). The waiter was pretty good about it, he tried several different amounts on my behalf knowing that I was just trying to drain the card but to no avail.

Just now I checked the card balance and last 5 transactions and find there’s a charge on the card that brings the balance down to about 87 cents. I can tell you that I’m not about to bother trying to use the card to claim 87 cents! I’m also a little dismayed that I can’t pinpoint that extra charge. It was only for $8.40 and I have some other receipts that I want to go through, but the novelty of the card is such that I’m pretty sure I remember every time I used it (3 times)…

Anyway, that’s where I’m back to my Amazon gift certificate or just cash (giving or receiving).  As I think about it, I suppose for other folks who shop at a particular store a lot maybe it’s like Amazon is for me. They’ll use the value of the card in a couple of weeks and be the happier for it.

But I suggest that, for the vast majority of cards and certificates, they will be lost, forgotten, expired or otherwise unusable benefiting only the retailer and not your intended gift recipient.

Clark Howard was also warning that some of the gift card suppliers actually charge you to let you know your remaining card balance.

2 thoughts on “Gift Cards – What a bad idea!”

  1. I agree that ‘gift cards’ are a bad buy, but on the point that they can expire, that’s only because you have spineless politicians. Come back to Ontario, where the Great McGinty has come to the rescue of gift card holders. They are no longer alowed to expire in this provence. (At least I believe that law was passed, since it did not impact me, I did not follow it that closely.

  2. Perhaps gift cards as a whole aren’t the greatest idea. They are similar to giving cash – something thoughtless, cold and an easy way out for those too lazy, or perhaps too wrapped up, to get a real gift. Hence maybe they’re not an idea at all.
    It is too bad that they’ve become so popular. Tells you the direction this world is heading. Depending on the situation, a gift card can be very fitting: A new house – home store. A new baby – baby store. A new diet – candy store! Never tried a Visa gift card but thanks for revealing the hidden catch(es)! Those !

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