Gift Cards Really Piss Me Off

by derek on December 29, 2007 · 16 comments

Tonight I need to get on my soapbox and rant for a few minutes about the use of gift cards and the aspects of gift cards that really piss me off.
With the Christmas holiday having come and gone, many of you likely have a stack of gift cards to a variety of stores. The gift card has almost become the standard gift – particularly for those that you might not be very close to and know what they would want as a gift.
Some of the gift cards might be for stores that you regularly shop at but most likely you have a few that are for stores that you rarely visit. These are the cards that normally present the greatest amount of frustration.
Now I am well aware that there are online services where one can sell or exchange gift cards. Personally I’ve never used such a service as it seems like far too much of a hassle – plus I wouldn’t have anything to complain about then. 😛
Assuming that you keep all of the gift cards that you received, you now have to deal with some cards that charge you a fee if you do not use the card by a certain date. This is something that bothers me as the store has already received the equivalent value of money from the person that purchased the gift card. If I want to hold onto my gift card for two years until I find something that I want, I shouldn’t be penalized for doing so.
Hell, I will already be penalized by inflation as the $25.00 gift card today will not buy as much in two years. But this aspect of gift cards is not the thing that really gets me mad about the use of gift cards.
The number one complaint that I have with gift cards is when the store has a policy where they will not give you cash back once you have used the card. Don’t get me wrong – I understand why these stores are following these policies but that doesn’t mean that I have to like it.
The gift card industry has turned into a cash cow for retailers as cards are purchased and never used, or cards sit with credits of only a few dollars never to be used again. Add that up over the number of gift cards that are sold each year and you can see why the retailers are in love with these cards.
But the fact that a store requires me to keep a gift card with a credit balance of $1.63 because they have a policy not to refund cash is insane. This might not be a huge deal for the stores that you shop at regularly, as you will likely have numerous opportunities to use up the remainder of the balance.
It is when you have a store that you rarely visit that you really get burned by the store credit on the gift card. As I’ve mentioned before, I will never spend another penny of my money at Best Buy. When I have received a gift card and used as much of the card as possible, I will normally give the gift card with the remaining balance to the person behind me in line.
The other day we used a few gift cards that we had received for Burger King. We never eat at Burger King but had been out shopping and decided to use the gift cards. The total bill resulted in a difference of less than $2.00 and the cashier handed us back the card with a balance instead of giving us cash. Since we do not eat there, we would be giving free money to Burger King by holding onto this card.
As much as I like the convenience of gift cards, I hate this practice of refusing to give cash back after a purchase. For some reason giving cash has been labeled as an impersonal gift while gift cards are completely acceptable.
Who is behind that movement? Retailers?
From now on I am going to seriously consider giving cash in lieu of gift cards, as that will give the person receiving the gift the freedom to do as they wish with the gift. They will not be required to spend the entire amount within 90 days or face the possibility of losing 2% of the balance for each 30 days the card is not used. They will not be required to buy something at Barnes & Noble when they prefer to shop online at Amazon.
Cash is king!

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

rick December 29, 2007 at 7:58 am

Send them to me I love gift cards!


Home Recording Studio December 29, 2007 at 8:11 am

I entirely agree with you. If I had a choice, I would opt to receive cash rather than a gift card. Giving cash gifts makes more sense than these cards. Cash is indeed king and the rest is you know what!


Stephen December 29, 2007 at 11:58 am

There’s nothing wrong with a gift card to a place that you always shop at. I’m quite happy with my grocery store gift card. A man has to eat and my panini maker requires copious amounts of ingredients 😉


Damien December 29, 2007 at 4:10 pm

There’s apparently a bunch of ways online now to get cash for them:
We got an Olive Garden one and tonight we use it 🙂


Austin Homes December 30, 2007 at 6:18 pm

Sweet. I am going to use that site to sell back some of my gift cards.


Forrest December 31, 2007 at 3:08 pm

This was a subject of griping on NPR this morning. Apparently a little more than 10 % of gift cards go unused … so it’s definitely a cash cow of “unearned revenue.”
There are a few web sites springing up to let people trade or sell the cards. You can probably imagine some of the troubles that brings up – I can tell you the Starbucks gift card a coworker got me has $500 on it, but that’s pretty hard to verify. At least BART tickets have their value printed on them…


Male Pattern Baldness January 1, 2008 at 10:59 pm

I love gift cards. It’s fun shopping on gift cards.


Futon-Matt January 2, 2008 at 9:51 am

I agree with everything in your post, maybe I should sell futon gift cards this year. 🙂
BTW, my wife and I didn’t do gifts this year, it was way less stressful.


Furniture Stores January 6, 2008 at 6:35 am

Hmm i cant say that i am too keen on gift cards either.


Dan January 7, 2008 at 1:44 pm

I find it annoying to get gift cards to stores I shop at on a regular basis. When I graduated I received some gift cards to Kohl’s, a regional department store, where I buy a large amount of my “professional” clothes. By using the gift cards I couldn’t use the 10% -30% discount I would have received by using my store charge card.
I’d much rather received gift cards to small local stores or independently operated restaurants that other people enjoy so I have a reason to expand my horizons, but maybe that is just me.


derek January 7, 2008 at 11:15 pm

@MPF :: Great point, all about perspective!
@Rick :: I’ve managed to use them all. 🙂
@HRS :: Cash is the way to go for me.
@Stephen :: Panini! The cafeteria at my office has Panini Tuesdays and I love them – where are some photos of your panini creations?
@Damien :: Thanks for linking that site, good stuff.
@Forrest :: There is a reason that just about every store offers a gift card now and it is because they make money from them.
@Matt :: You’d likely find the futon gift card to be a money maker for you, lol. My wife and I usually don’t do gifts either, or keep them to something under $10 or so. This year we obviously splurged.
@FS :: The problem is having a wallet full of cards that all have less than $5.00 left on them because nobody will give you cash back.
@Dan :: That is a really interesting point of view on the gift cards. As someone that uses (and pays off the credit card) for as much as possible to earn rewards, that is a good point. However, my primary issue is when you have that card for a small store or independent restaurant and don’t use the entire card – now you either have to go back again (which you may not want to do) or let the remaining money slip away into the pockets of the store. Thanks for the additional thoughts though!
@MPB :: It is always more fun shopping when you don’t have to spend your own money. 🙂


Steve Elliott May 13, 2008 at 5:08 pm

Bah humbug Derek 🙂
Interesting to note that you and your better half don’t do gifts….pans forward a few months to her birthday….


derek May 13, 2008 at 8:06 pm

When it is an occasion where we would exchange gifts, we tend to lean towards skipping individual gifts. With birthdays or things like Mothers/Fathers Day, we tend to do gifts.


Peter September 12, 2008 at 6:06 pm

Well, in California at least stores now HAVE to give you cash back if the card has under $10 on it. My biggest problem was with Visa/Mastercard type gift cards. I could never get merchants to run charges on these cards if they had just a little (less than $5 or $10) left on them. The CA law doesn’t apply to these cards; Doh!
My solution was to create a website where people can transfer their Visa, Mastercard, Amex, or Discover gift card balance to PayPal –


Kristel Marine April 14, 2011 at 12:05 pm

I think it depends on the person who’s giving the gift. In my case, I’d rather receive cash gifts from my mother rather than a gift card. But if I receive a gift card from the guy I truly love, what do you think will happen? Of course this is a very sweet and romantic way of giving gift. Does it make sense? I do believe that it is really a good to receive a gift card. I always enjoy reading blogs about gift cards. Take a look at this blog, You might be convinced of what Gift Cards really do.


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