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Love them or hate them, gift cards are extremely popular gifts. Personally, I prefer those incovenient £20 notes that are accepted everywhere, but there you go.
Not only are gift cards handcuffed to one store, but the retailers pull all kinds of tricks with them. Some expire, some don’t make it easy to tell how much you’ve actually got in credit. And what if you receive a gift card that you don’t want? We find out more about the practices of 17 high street and online retailers, whose cards are likely to grace the contents of your Christmas stockings this year.
Gift card expiry dates
‘E’s expired and gone to meet ‘is maker! Yep, all good things must come to an end and many retailers have expiries on their gift cards.
Why? Well, I’ve been told by one retailer that they have to account for the amount owing in their finances, which hits the companies’ bottom line. However, finding proof that there is indeed some good financial reason for doing this has been impossible.
What is clear is that those with expiries are usually UK retailers – in the US, class actions against companies engaged in this practice means that expiry dates on gift cards are rare. This is demonstrated by the fact that Amazon.com gift cards don’t expire but Amazon.co.uk cards do.
Here’s what we know about the expiry conditions of our 17 retailers…
Amazon.co.uk – “Gift Cards, including any unused Gift Card balances, expire ten years from the date of issuance”
Apple Store / iTunes – “Apple Store Gift Cards have no expiration date”
Argos – “Our physical Gift Cards are usually valid for three years”. Is anybody else slightly concerned about the use of “usually” there?
Asda – “The card is valid for a period of two years from your last transaction. Therefore, we recommend you use your card every six months to keep the card active, even if you just check your balance”
Boots – “Boots gift card balances expire 24 months after last usage”
Currys / PC World – “Upon two years non-use, the card will expire ”
Game – Gift card will expire if it “is not used to make a purchase, top-up or balance enquiry during a period of 24 consecutive months.”
Google Play – “No expiration dates apply to the Gift Card”
Halfords – “The gift card expires after 24 months”
John Lewis / Waitrose – “Gift cards and e-gift cards will expire 24 months from purchase or last use. Buying a product or making a making a balance enquiry refreshes the 24-month expiry period“
Nintendo eStore – “Card balances do not expire”
Playstation Network – “Expires 12 months from date of purchase”
Sainsburys – “Make sure you use your card at least once instore within 24 months – otherwise it will expire”
Steam – There is no expiry
Tesco – “The card and balance will expire five years from the receipt of this gift card or five years from the date is was last used”*
Xbox Live – There is no expiry
*A special mention must go to Tesco, which on its card FAQ page states “Please refer to the relevant gift card/voucher terms and conditions”. If you then choose a specific gift card the T&Cs don’t actually mention the expiry – I had to actually go elsewhere to find out about the five-year expiry.
How to check your gift card balance
There are two types of gift card – those that come ready loaded with a set balance (e.g. a £10 PlayStation Network card) and those that can be ‘topped up’ (e.g. a Boots gift card – you get an empty card and then it can be topped up with varying amounts). There are also retailers that allow you to spend partial amounts of the gift card and those that only accept you using the full amount in one go (e.g. Amazon). Those retailers that fall into the latter camp usually provide the ‘ready’ loaded style of gift card. In these cases, there is no need to check what your current card balance is – it’s either been used or it’s the value printed on the front.
Additionally, not providing a way to check your balance is a great way for retailers to put people off re-selling their cards (see later), as there’s no way of confirming if the card has been used without handing over the card details and trying it.
Of the retailers mentioned above, here are those that provide ways of checking your balance. Click their names to be taken directly to the balance check section of the website, where applicable:
Apple Store / iTunes
Boots – Can’t be checked online but you can ring the customer service number or go into any stores for this information
Currys / PC World
Game (Scroll down to the bottom of the page for the balance checking options)
John Lewis / Waitrose
Sainsbury’s – Ask in store or, alternatively, each time you purchase something on your card, the receipt will show your current balance
Tesco – Like Boots, you’ll need to go into store or ring customer services to get your balance
Can I use my card online?
Most high street retailers don’t allow you to use their gift cards on their website. That’s pretty shocking and shows how far behind many are with their ‘multichannel’ retailing.
Yes, we allow our card to be used on our website!
Apple, Currys, Game, John Lewis, PC World, Waitrose
Quack, quack, oops. Sorry, you can’t use your gift card online
Argos, Asda, Boots, Halfords, Sainsburys, Tesco
Selling your gift card
Most (if not all) retailers have it in their terms and conditions that their gift cards are not to be re-sold. However, that doesn’t stop people from doing so and, recently, a thriving economy of gift-card selling and exchanging has taken hold, as people realise they don’t have to hold onto that New Look gift card.
Zeek and Cardyard are the two most popular companies doing this right now. Both have apps alongside their websites and allow you to buy and sell unwanted gift cards (both physical and electronic versions). Cardyard will offer you a price for your card, which will include its fees, whereas Zeek allows you to specify the price that you’d like to sell it for and then deduct a commission, once it sells. Zeek also only accept the physical gift cards with card numbers and PINs (these are usually the retailers that also allow you to check your balance online).
Of course, you could always sell it on eBay…