Few gifts can beat the ease and appeal of a gift card – small enough to slip in an envelope and flexible enough to please the a finicky friend or relative. Indeed, 56 percent of Americans are projected to give gift cards in 2016, according to the National Retail Federation.
While many gift card buyers pay face value, savvy shoppers know that there are plenty of ways to get more bang for their buck – whether it’s saving cash through a discount on the card’s face value or defraying costs by earning extra rewards from gift card purchases. Check out these ways to boost your gift-card buying power:
1. Gift-card exchange sites. MonsterGiftCard.com, GiftCardZen.com and Cardpool.com are a few of the niche sites that cater to people looking to buy and sell gift cards. You might find bigger discounts at online auction sites such as eBay, but these sites guarantee the gift card’s value.
You’ll tend to find a flood of new cards – and likely bigger bargains – after major gift-giving holidays such as Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, says Mark Ellwood, author of “Bargain Fever: How to Shop in a Discounted World.” “There are different times of year that you’re going to get better deals,” Ellwood says. “Think of it as a yearlong project.”
A good place to start is GiftCardGranny.com. The website does not sell gift cards but rather aggregates offerings from a number of gift card resale sites, so you can see thousands of deals in one place, Ellwood says. As you shop among all of the gift cards on offer, consider both the discount on the card and the price of goods sold in the store, he advises. For instance, he once saw Target gift cards listed on GiftCardGranny.com at a 32 percent discount. Wal-Mart gift cards were selling for only a 3.9 percent discount. “Even if the prices at Target are 10 percent more, you’re creating a bigger savings for yourself with a Target gift card,” he says.
On the flip side, don’t get seduced by a mediocre discount at a high-end store with inflated prices.
2. Warehouse and club stores. Stores such as Costco and Sam’s Club offer more than just 20-gallon vats of peanut butter – they sell gift cards well below retail price. Recently at Costco.com, members could grab a 10 AMC movie tickets for $89.99 and five $20 gift cards for Peet’s Tea and coffee for $79.99. Sam’s Club offered a $100 iTunes gift cards for $84.47 and a five-pack of $10 Cold Stone Creamery gift cards for $39.98.
3. Specialized restaurant sites. Sites such as Restaurant.com offer gift certificates at steeply discounted prices. On one recent search in Chicago, $15 gift cards at multiple restaurants were available for $6. A minimum purchase is required, usually about two times the certificate value, says Tania German, former Restaurant.com marketing director.
Other sites, including OpenTable.com and iDine.com, will send you a check or gift card redeemable at participating restaurants once you’ve used their services frequently enough.
For example, iDine.com allows you to earn up to 15 percent in benefits based on the meal total including tax and tip. At OpenTable.com, every time you book you earn points, which are redeemable for an OpenTable Dining Check that can be used toward your bill at any restaurant participating in the OpenTable network, says Tiffany Fox, senior director of corporate communications. Be sure to check restrictions before you buy or give these as gifts.
There are different times of year that you’re going to get better deals. Think of it as a yearlong project.
|\u2014 Mark Ellwood|
Author, “Bargain Fever”
4. Employee sites. Check to see if your employer offers access to discounts specifically for employees, says Brian Preston, certified financial planner, CPA and host of the Money Guy podcast. “I know a lot of Fortune 500 companies that offer movie tickets and gift cards at significantly discounted deals,” he says. These deals are often available to family and friends. For example, the Home Depot employee website says, “As a valued associate of Home Depot, you have access to deep discounts from thousands of name brand merchants. Enjoy the savings.” Time Warner also offers discounts to its employees.
5. Miles and points. Frequent flier miles or credit card points languishing in your account can often be redeemed for gift cards for movies, clothing and other products. For example, United Airlines and American Airlines allow frequent fliers to redeem miles for restaurant and retail gift cards. Same goes for credit card-specific rewards programs such as American Express Membership Rewards and Chase Ultimate Rewards.
6. Grocery grabs. You can swing by a clothing store to buy a gift card, but you might also be able to pick up the same card from your local grocery store. You’ll pay the same amount upfront, but if you have a rewards credit card that pays you back 2 to 5 percent for purchases made at a grocery store, the best option is clear. If you use a store loyalty card with benefits such as Kroger’s gas rewards, you can also earn points on your purchase, Preston says.
7. Rewards-earning shopping portals. If you have a rewards credit card, you may be able to earn extra points by buying gift cards through the card’s online shopping mall. But you’ll need to read the fine print because policies vary on a case-by-case basis – not just among the different card portals, but also among the retailers offering gift cards on the portals.
Ebates and Upromise are two rewards-oriented shopping portals (not affiliated with any particular credit card) that give back for gift card purchases, says Preston. When you shop at qualified retailers via Ebates, you receive up to 25 percent cash back, according to the site. As a bonus, when you join Ebates, you get a $10 gift card at Wal-Mart or a $10 Ebates gift card, according to the site.
With Upromise, you can earn 5 to 8 percent on purchases at qualified retailers, according to the site. You can choose to invest that money in a tax-deferred 529 college savings account or high-yield savings account, pay down student loans or receive a check to use for college or other expenses, according to the site.
8.Smile and ask. Never discount the appeal of a smile, Ellwood says. Smile, tell the person at the register how much you’re planning to spend on gift cards, and ask if there are promotions coming up and/or if the cashier can give you a good deal, Ellwood says. “The person at the store knows more than you do,” he says. “You’ll be amazed at the discount you can get in a store by smiling. I call a smile a discount ray gun.”