Shop at the right place or time, ask the right questions and a free gift card could be yours.
Retailers routinely offer promotional gift cards to customers as part of ongoing marketing programs. These incentives may go by different names, such as rewards cards, extra bucks or store credits, but they can spend just the same. Here are ways you can collect a few bonus gift cards as a loyal customer.
1. Return old inkjet cartridges
Some office supply stores have programs where they collect old ink cartridges from customers, and in return, issue store rewards. For example, Office Depot allows members of its Worklife Rewards affinity program to receive $3 credits for each turned-in cartridge (membership in the program is free).
The credits are tallied each quarter and sent to customers in the form of a reward card, and customers can use them to purchase merchandise. The cards expire at the end of the calendar year, and they can’t be worth more money than what the customer has cumulatively spent at Office Depot.
Staples has a somewhat similar recycling program. Leticia B., who blogs about electronics accessories at Tech Savvy Mama, says that she’s been dropping off used ink cartridges at her local Staples store for three years. Each time, she’s given a $3 credit that she can use during that shopping trip.
“The documentation says the coupon is good only for future ink purchases, but I’ve found my local store to be more lenient about what I can buy,” she says.
2. Use drugstore rewards programs
Another way to gain bonus gift cards is to take advantage of drugstore rebate programs. You have to spend some money upfront to buy the qualifying merchandise, but if you were planning to purchase it anyway, you could stock up and receive a significant amount back.
That’s what Frances Liberto of Charlotte, N.C., does when she submits rebates in the Walgreens EasySaver rebate program. She says that each month, she picks up a rebate booklet from her local store, purchases the qualifying items she wants, then enters her receipt information online at the store’s website. A few weeks later, the rebate is added to her reloadable Walgreens gift card.
“I chose the option to receive the reimbursement on the card (as opposed to receiving a mailed check) because Walgreens gives a 10 percent bonus on the gift cards,” she says. “I end up getting stuff for free or nearly free.”
Rachel Permuth-Levine of Potomac, Md., says she recently received a $20 rebate from CVS drugstore. “I had to buy a heck of a lot of lotion at one time (to get the deal), but I was so elated, I called my sister in Florida and told her to do the same thing,” she says.
The CVS program, called ExtraCare Rewards, doesn’t typically offer the store rebate on a plastic gift card. Instead, the rebate amount is printed on a product purchase receipt, along with a bar code and expiration date.
CVS and Walgreens are just two businesses that have ongoing rebate programs. Talk to your local drugstore to see if it offers something similar.
3. Start or transfer a prescription
If you or a family member has been prescribed a new medicine, ask your pharmacist if they have a gift card promotion. From time to time, some drugstores offer coupons for $25 gift cards to customers who bring in new or transferred prescriptions.
You can find these coupons on drugstores’ websites, Sunday circulars or in-store ads. If you find a pharmacy that’s running a promotion, but you don’t necessarily want to shop there, print out the ad anyway and take it to your preferred pharmacist. They might match their competitor’s offer.
4. Open a bank account or set up direct deposit
If you’re thinking about switching banks — or signing up for direct deposit at your current one — do an online search for “gift card offer” and the names of banks in your local area.
Many financial institutions offer gift cards worth about $50 to businesses and individuals who open new accounts.
Some institutions are also giving gift cards to customers who add a new service, such as direct deposit, to their banking portfolio.
The gift card could be for a single store, such as a supermarket, or it could be a prepaid credit card. It may be handed out immediately upon opening the account or starting the service, or the customer may have to fill out paperwork to receive the card. In the latter case, it could take several weeks for the card to be mailed at the address on the account.
The gift card amount could be considered taxable income, so the bank may issue you a 1099 at the beginning of next year. Check with the institution you’re considering doing business with for more details.
Gift card trends
As retailers fight to retain or grow market share, consumers will probably see more offers, predicts Scott Testa , a marketing professor at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. “Gift cards allow retailers to reach consumers who might not have historically shopped at their stores. Because of the economy, retailers are looking for every type of marketing advantage they can get,” he says.
If you’re concerned about the financial stability of a store that gave you a gift card, redeem it quickly. Otherwise, if the store goes bankrupt, it may not be honored.
Retailers that are on more solid footing may be using bonus cards as a way to gain a competitive advantage. “These offers are a way to get customers to walk through the store’s doors,” says Testa.
Permuth-Levine says the strategy works. “I go to the drugstore at least once per week, which is something I never did before,” she says.
Ask the businesses you frequent if they give bonus cards to their customers. While it may still be better to give than to receive, it’s even more fun to receive a gift card from a retailer for free, or at least a deep discount.