Gift cards Gift cards – use them or lose them
Retailers’ gift cards are slowly becoming as popular a present as ill-fitting sweaters and socks - however these products aren’t without their pitfalls.
Lost and stolen gift cards
Although some can be registered with the recipient in case the card is lost or stolen, most will advise you to treat their gift cards like cash, and won’t be able to refund you if disaster strikes. This is quite surprising, given that Dixons’ gift card can carry as much as £5000 without allowing you to register it. Habitat can carry £2000, while JJB Sports cards can hold £1000.
Expiry dates can also vary widely across products - so use them before you lose them. When we checked gift cards offered by some of Britain’s biggest shopping centres – Bluewater, MetroCentre, Meadowhall and the Trafford Centre - all expired as soon as 12 months after purchase – meaning your money could vanish into thin air within a year. IKEA and iTunes gift cards have no expiry date, and Tesco and B&Q cards expire five years after their last use.
Gift card restrictions
You might also check where and how cards can be redeemed before making a gift. With a few exceptions, most of the retailers’ gift cards we checked cannot be spent online, and there may occasionally be restrictions on what can and can’t be bought – groceries, gambling and travel money are just some prohibited purchases.
Danger: money on gift cards isn't always protected
Importantly, most retailers cards aren’t regulated by the FSA, meaning there may be no measures in place to protect your money if the company behind the gift card fails. When high street store Zavvi went into administration during Christmas 2008, many customers were unable to spend their gift cards. Administrators Ernst and Young told us that 12,500 Zavvi gift card holders should expect to get 10% to 20% of their card’s initial value.
Action point: Our guide explains your rights about using gift vouchers and gift cards if a company goes bust.
Buying and selling unwanted gift cards
A hefty chunk of unwanted retailers’ gift cards will go unused, and it’s common for unwanted cards to be sold at a discount on eBay.
If you’re looking to buy second hand bargain gift cards from eBay, remember - there’s no way of checking whether the gift card on sale is loaded with funds. eBay’s payment system – Paypal – will not provide purchasing protection if it turns out the money on the gift card you purchase has already been spent or has expired. See our advice pages for more tips when buying and selling on eBay
Gift Card Convertor (as recently featured on TV show Dragon’s Den) bill themselves as a marketplace where users can trade gift cards, with the company taking a 10% commission on sales. Bear in mind a number of stores - Next, Waterstones, Mothercare and iTunes – will not allow their gift cards to be resold, so check in advance.