Gift cards that don’t suck


Lately there have been quite a few opportunities to earn big rewards or get big discounts when buying merchant gift cards. So, you might be tempted to run out and buy gift cards to restaurants, gas stations, department stores, etc.

Unfortunately, most gift cards suck. More about that, later in the post. First, let’s review some current deals for gift card discounts…

Merchant Gift Card Deals

American Express’ Amex Offers have always been a great option for getting big gift card discounts, but lately there have been more great deals that usual. The key is to register for Amex Offers where it is possible to buy 3rd party gift cards. Here are some recent examples:

Amex isn’t the only option for great deals. Since Toys R Us carries a nice selection of gift cards, it’s worth earning Fuel Rewards when buying gift cards there with any MasterCard: Earn 5c/gal from Fuel Rewards for Shopping at Toy Stores with a Linked Mastercard.
Chase Freedom cardholders have an easy way to earn 5X (up to $1500 spend) on gift cards this quarter at either drugstores or wholesale clubs:
Freedom 5X Calendar 2016
And, Discover It cardholders can get 5% back (up to $1500 spend) buying gift cards at, department stores, or Sam’s Club this quarter, and at gas stations or wholesale clubs next quarter. Plus, if its your first year of card membership, all cash back will be doubled, so it really results in 10% back!
discover-it-4th-quarter-2016-and-1st-quarter-2017As if all of that wasn’t enough, you can find even more opportunities for earning rewards or discounts when buying gift cards here: Merchant gift cards, best options for stacking deals.
If you don’t have all of the credit cards needed to take advantage of deals like those described above, please see: Holiday giving and getting: Prepare now.

Merchant Gift Cards Usually Suck

Gift cards can be great for manufacturing spend (see: The art of gift card churning). But, as gifts, or as credit card replacements, they suck — big time. Merchant gift cards can only be spent at the stores they are tied to. They are occasionally hacked (as happened to me and many others with Hyatt gift cards). They are easily lost and forgotten. And they take up valuable wallet real-estate that is best used for your 14 credit cards that each have different perks and category bonuses.

A good merchant gift card is one that:

  • Can be spent on a very wide variety of items with reasonable prices (bonus if it can be used to buy other gift cards)
  • Is not easily hacked
  • Can be loaded to your merchant account or to a smart phone app so that it can’t be lost or forgotten, and so it doesn’t take up wallet space

Merchant Gift Cards that Don’t Suck

amazon-gift-cards and Amazon Kindle gift cards work the same way: the recipient loads the gift card credit into their account, and then the balance is automatically used when making purchases. This includes automated purchases such as Subscribe & Save items. Obviously Amazon carries a huge variety of items and most are priced competitively. You can even buy other merchant gift cards from with your gift card balance!




Target gift cards can be loaded into your Target account and used online or in-store with the Target app on your phone. Multiple gift cards can be combined in-store. Or, you can combine them online by using multiple gift cards to buy a new gift card with combined value from the others. But, it’s usually not necessary to combine their value since you can easily use up to 4 gift cards online, or any number in-store when checking out. The phone app has a nice feature that displays your gift cards and lets you swipe from one to the next to pay. Target, like Amazon, lets you buy other merchant gift cards (but not Visa/MasterCard gift cards) with their gift cards. Update: Target no longer allows the purchase of gift cards with Target gift cards.


Specialty Gift Cards that Don’t Suck

The following gift cards do not have wide use like Amazon or Target gift cards, but if you shop often with these merchants I expect you’ll find that their gift cards don’t suck.


earn points disneyActually, Disney gift cards do suck if you don’t know what you’re doing. Recently I tried to buy some park tickets with two Disney gift cards, but found that the online system would only let me use one at a time. I’m sure I could have called in the order instead, but I always worry with phone orders that names, addresses, etc. won’t get recorded correctly.

Fortunately, there are two easy work-arounds:

1. Combine your gift card balances online. Sign up for a Disney gift card account here. Go to “Manage Cards”… “Transfer Balance”. Hat Tip: “meat“.


2. Setup a Disney Vacation Account. You’ll have to seed the new account with $10 from a credit card, but once it’s set up you can then load Disney gift cards into the account. Once loaded, the account can be used to pay for anything Disney. Once loaded, the account can be used in-advance to place orders online or over the phone, but it cannot be used in-park to buy things.  Instead, you can redeem your balance for Disney gift cards to be used for in-park purchases.  Caution: When you first establish the account, you have to wait 7 days before it can be used.

iTunes: itunes-gift-cards

Like Amazon, you simply load the gift card credit to your account and then spend from there.



Load up Starbucks gift card credit into one primary gift card in your Starbucks account then use your smart phone to pay in-store. The only downside? Starbucks has ridiculously strict password requirements so you may find it hard to remember your password when the app conveniently decides to forget it.

Reader Recommendations

Do you know of other merchant gift cards that don’t suck? Please comment below. I’ll update this post with my favorites from your recommendations. Please check this post later for an updated list.

  • Sams Club / Walmart Gift Cards: Can be used at either store, can be used online, can be used to pay for gas. Gift cards can be loaded to Walmart Pay for checking out at select Walmart stores (does not work at Sams Club, or at Walmart fuel stations, or at drive-through pharmacy)
  • Airbnb: Load to account for automatic use
  • Groupon: Load to account for immediate use
  • Can’t load to account, but you can combine balances online here.
  • Uber: Load to account for automatic use
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