How to Shop for Gift Cards

How to Shop for Gift Cards

credit card advice

Alexandra Leslie
By: Alexandra Leslie
Posted: August 14, 2014
Our personal finance experts dish out the most trusted credit card advice on the web, including juicy tips, tricks and secrets from inside the credit card industry.

Gift cards make the perfect gift for nearly anyone, especially those who are hard to shop for.

They may not be the most creative gifts, but they are easy to buy, easy to use and allow the gift recipient to spend it their way.

1. Types of gift cards

Do you have no idea what to shop for? Consider getting a Visa or American Express gift card, which can be used just like a debit or credit card for nearly anything under the sun.

Does the recipient love to shop or need new clothes? A gift card to a department store, a Simon Mall gift card or their favorite local store will do the trick.

If this person loves travel, consider giving a gift card for an airline, hotel, car rental company or even their favorite bed and breakfast.

If the person loves food, you can get them a gift card for a grocery store, a restaurant or a cooking class.

There are countless other gift card options — spas, movie theaters, yoga studios, boutiques, online retailers and thousands of other businesses that offer gift cards.

Most gift cards can be ordered online. Some ship via mail, but many now have the option to send digital cards.

2. CARD Act impact

It used to be common for gift cards to come with restrictions and fees, but the CARD Act, passed by Congress in 2009, legally required gift cards to become friendlier for consumers.

As you begin comparing gift cards, make sure to look for cards that avoid the following:

  • Loss of value

Some gift cards are still allowed to lose value over time if the card hasn’t been used in a 12-month period.

The loss of value each month after 12 months may be minor, such as $1.50 per month, but this can eat into the card’s value over time.

If you are giving a Visa or Amazon gift card the recipient will probably use quickly, you likely won’t have to worry about this.

If you give them a travel-related gift card they may not be able to use within one year, try to avoid one that loses value.

“When shopping for gift cards,

avoid cards that come with pitfalls.”

  • Expiration date

Since the CARD Act went into effect, gift cards are supposed to not expire until five years after activation. Some small businesses still put expiration dates on their gift cards for less time, such as one year.

If you are purchasing a gift card and it says the expiration date is less than five years, inquire to see if it can be extended to five years to meet the CARD Act rules.

  • Service fees

While the CARD Act reduced the amount of service fees that retailers are allowed to require for gift cards, some cards still have service fees of some type.

When it is time to shop for gift cards, do the recipient a favor and try to avoid cards that come with these pitfalls. The more flexibility and fewer fees, the better the gift will be.

3. Score a deal

Are you on a tight budget? You can purchase unwanted gift cards at a discount on websites such as

Inventory is limited, but you may be able to snag a great deal on a gift card that someone didn’t want and is willing to resell for less.

You can also shop for discounted gift cards on, though you run the risk of a card not being legitimate.

Photo source: