Gift cards Gift cards – use them or lose them

Woman shopping online

Many retailers don't allow you to use a gift card for online purchases

Retailers’ gift cards are slowly becoming as popular a present as ill-fitting sweaters and socks. However, they aren’t without their pitfalls.

Here, we explain why it may be worth spending the money stored on gift cards sooner rather than later.

Lost and stolen gift cards

Although some gift cards can be registered  in case the card is lost or stolen, most retailers will advise you to treat their gift cards like cash. This means they can’t refund you if disaster strikes. 

This is quite surprising, given that some retailers can let you put over a thousand pounds on a gift card.

If you're looking for an ideal gift, you can get access to our full expert reviews - from coffee makers to cameras - if you try a £1 trial to Which?

Expiry dates

Expiry dates can also vary widely across products - so use them before you lose them. Some run out as little as a year after purchase, so always check the expiry date so you know how much time you've got left.

When we compared the expiry dates of gift cards and vouchers from 20 of the biggest retail chains, we found that John Lewis and Ikea gift cards last the longest as they don't expire. Most expired after two years. 

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.

Go further: Prepaid cards - learn more about this alternative to gift cards

Danger: money on gift cards isn't always protected

Importantly, most retailers cards aren’t regulated by the FCA, meaning there may be no measures in place to protect your money if the company behind the gift card fails. 

Know your rights: Using gift cards - learn what to do if a retailer refuses to honour its gift card

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. 

Go further: Buying and selling on eBay - a host of useful hints and tips

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