Gift cards are a popular holiday solution, especially recently, as holiday-induced shipping and delivery delays made gift buying more challenging.
While most gift cards are spent within a year, nearly $100 billion (Dh367 billion) per year is spent on holiday gift cards worldwide, but as much as 3 per cent of the gift card money will never get redeemed or typically go unused, as per estimates from the global payments consultant Mercator Advisory Group.
So make it your New Year's resolution this year to find and deploy every single gift card lurking in your household by January 15, which is this year's ‘Use Your Gift Card Day’. For help with this, two gift card experts offered suggestions on how to keep track of cards and use them to the best advantage.
It is an unofficial observance taking place this year on January 15. ‘Use Your Gift Card Day’ simply encourages people to remember to use their gift cards.
The observance has been recognised by JP Morgan and other major lenders globally. The idea gained traction in the retail industry, with major chains supporting the holiday.
Expert tip #1: Make a plan for the gift cards you won't use
Gift cards can be categorised into those you'll use and those you won't. If a gift card isn't right for you, ask yourself who might be a better fit, said Tracy Tilson, founder of UseYourGiftCard.com and the creator of ‘Use Your Gift Card Day’.
You could re-gift it to a friend or neighbour, donate to a charity or hand it to a first responder as a thank you for their hard work during the pandemic, Tilson suggested. “It's a good way to create some goodwill if you're not going to use them,” Tilson added.
You might sell the card to someone you know or trade it for one of their unwanted cards. Gift cards can be sold or swapped online but scams abound. Buyers may ask you to read off the card numbers to ‘ensure the card is legit’ and disappear with the card's value once you do.
Or the card you get in a swap may be phony or already used. Avoid private-party sales to strangers, such as those on Facebook. If you want to use an online site, make sure it has a post-transaction money-back guarantee.
Expert tip #2: Set reminders for the gift cards you want to use
If you're planning to use a gift card, employ your phone and a calendar to help keep track, said Shelley Hunter, spokeswoman for GiftCards.com, an online provider of gift cards.
You could also keep a running list of your cards on your phone and makes a note on your calendar when you plan to use one, experts suggest. Even if you don't have a specific plan for a card, consider putting a ‘use by’ date on your calendar so you don't forget it, Tilson added.
Hunter also recommended treating cards like cash. If you got a $20 (Dh73.5) bill as a gift, you'd probably put it into your wallet right away, Hunter noted. Consider doing the same with gift cards you plan to use.
“I put them next to the debit or credit card that I use most often,” she said, and Tilson agrees. If she puts gift cards elsewhere in her wallet or purse, “I forget about them.”
Expert tip #3: Keep track of expiration dates and related rules for gift cards
How much time you have to use your gift cards may depend on where you live and the type of card.
Under most retail norms, gift cards can't expire for five years although issuers can charge inactivity fees if the card hasn't been used within 12 months. It doesn't apply to general-use gift cards, however, if the expiration date is printed on the card.
(General-use gift cards include those issued worldwide by Visa, Mastercard, Discover and American Express that can be used wherever those brands are accepted.)
In general, though, the quicker you use your cards, the better. You're less likely to forget about them and more likely to enjoy the value the giver wanted you to have.