How to Make the Most of Your Gift Cards

Checking gift card values
Emma Innocenti / Getty Images

Could you make it rain with gift cards right now? Over half of consumers planned to give gift cards over the holiday season, according to the National Retail Federation’s holiday projections. That means there’s a good chance you were on the receiving end of one (or perhaps one too many). If that’s the case, then it’s time to create a game plan so that no dollar goes to waste.

Unfortunately, many of these gift card balances will indeed go to waste.

Nearly $1 billion in value went untapped in 2015 alone, according to WalletHub. And much of that could be in your wallet: “The average consumer has $300 worth of gift cards in his or her household,” says Meghan Anders, spokesperson for Raise, an online gift card marketplace.

Here’s how to get the most value out of your gift cards — both the ones you want and the ones you don’t. 

First, Check the Balances

Eliminate any surprises at the checkout counter — or when trying to resell your gift cards (more on this in a moment) — by checking the values of your cards first. There are many ways to do this:

  • Call the number on the back of the card
  • Search the name of the company with “gift card balance” online and use the store’s tool (if there’s one available) to look it up
  • Go straight to sites like Gift Card Granny, Raise and Cardpool, all of which have balance lookup capabilities (more on these sites in a bit)

    Stretch the Value of the Ones You Want

    Sure, a gift card is free cash or credit to use, but that doesn’t mean your savings have to stop there, says Trae Bodge, spokeswoman for Gift Card Granny, a website that aggregates gift card resale offers online. Stretch the values on your cards by shopping on cashback sites (like Swagbucks, BeFrugal, and ​Ebates), shopping the sales and stacking them with coupons.

    And while we’re strategizing ways to use the gift cards you already have, it’s worth noting you can buy discounted gift cards for additional savings. For example, on Raise, recently, you could save 7 percent on a $200 iTunes gift card (you pay $186) or 5 percent on a $150 Macy’s card (you pay $142.50).

    Sell, Exchange or Trade the Ones You Don’t

    For gift cards that missed the mark as far as your personal taste, try reselling them on the secondary market, which is now more robust than ever. You’re not going to get 100 percent of the cash value, but you could earn up to 92 percent, says Bodge. “The more popular a card you sell, the more money you make for it,” she says. At the time of this writing, the highest payout was going for WalMart cards — you could get $90.50 for a $100 card.

    And you have a lot of flexibility when it comes to unloading unwanted gift cards. You can sell both your electronic gift cards and partially used gift cards, for instance. And in addition to getting cash back for your cards, you can exchange or trade them — on sites like Card Kangaroo and CardCash — for gift cards from retailers you do like. 

    You might want to wait a bit before you try to sell your unwanted gift cards, though.

    The best time to sell is right before the holiday shopping season. This might be disappointing to hear now, but if you know you’re not going to use it, then why not test your luck on the market? How long it sits there will also depend on the desirability of your card and your price, but to give you an idea: on Raise, a $150 Macy’s card sold for $116.03 in six minutes.

    Stick to Reputable Resellers 

    When it comes to gift card reselling, the environment is a bit like the Wild West, says Bodge. She recommends sticking to the better-known sites, which include Cardpool, ABC Gift Cards, and Card Kangaroo.

    While there’s the opportunity to make more on listing sites that allow you to set your own prices — like Raise and eBay — it requires more work and supervision. Plus, resellers come with an added layer of protection on the more regulated marketplaces.

     

    If you do opt to sell or exchange your card on Craigslist, it’s best to meet in person. And don’t forget to call the 1-800 number on the back of the card to check the balance before money changes hands. 

    With Kelly Hultgren