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 Amazon.com, 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.com:

amazon-gift-cards

Amazon.com and Amazon Kindle gift cards work the same way: the recipient loads the gift card credit into their Amazon.com 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 Amazon.com with your gift card balance!

Amazon-gift-card-movies.png

Target:

target

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.

target-app-gift-cards-2

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.

Disney:

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“.

OR:

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.

Starbucks:

starbucks-gift-cards

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
  • Hotels.com: Can’t load to account, but you can combine balances online here.
  • Uber: Load to account for automatic use

Last updated on December 12th, 2018

Regarding comments: Comments posted at the bottom of Frequent Miler pages and posts are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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meat
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meat

Disney GC correction:. Disney DOES have the Vacation account but they also have a central GC website where you can merge as many GC’s as needed. You can load all of your $25 or $50 gcs. I did this in August and had one GC worth over $1,000. So while the single payment is a pain, there is a workaround.

Ben
Guest
Ben

Seems like the Disney Vacation Account can be used for park tickets, Disney hotel rooms, and Disney Cruises. It does NOT look like you can use it for purchases within the park (e.g. food and souvenirs). So it’s not quite “anything” Disney.

This is an important distinction if you already have season passes, and use Disney gift cards for purchases within the park.

THEsocalledfan
Guest
THEsocalledfan

Greg,

Considering the ability to buy has and shop at Walmart and pay gas, Sam’s club gift cards are currently stellar with all the promotions. Honestly, that needs to be added to the article add better than Target for flexibility and maxing bonuses.

Val
Guest
Val

AirBnb gift cards, along with Uber and I believe Hotels.com, all allow you to load the balance onto your account for later use. When I can get these at a good discount I buy (double dipping on discounts, if I can, of course) and load them for later.

Todd Tomlin
Guest

Hi There – I run the Hotels.com gift card program. As much as I would LOVE to allow for our gift card to be added to your Hotels.com account, alas, that is not functionality we have right now. It’s still a great option for travel though, as you can use our card to book at over 150,000 places to stay, including all the major hotel chains.

Todd
Head of Gift Cards
Hotels.com

Ben
Guest
Ben

Can you use multiple HOtels.com GCs in a single transaction?

Todd Tomlin
Guest

The checkout form only allows one Hotels.com gift card per transaction, but you can combine multiple cards here: https://www.hotels.com/deals/gcbalance/ This link is also provided in the checkout path.

Todd

enthusiast
Guest
enthusiast

I bought a bunch of Walmart gift cards in the past with an Amex offer, and I combined them at a store with cashier/manager help.

One time, during check out, I found my gift card had 0 balance. Upon checking the history with the customer service desk, the card had been drained just an hour ago, in a completely different state. The theory is that rather than intentional fraud, a cashier at another Walmart was manually keying in the numbers on a close gift card, landed on mine, and used mine up.

Walmart customer service and gift card line told me they could not do anything about it. They said file a dispute with my credit card that I used to first buy the card. It was past the dispute window. Too bad.

MMKate
Guest
MMKate

Groupon GCs can be added to your account immediately as well.

Andy
Guest
Andy

The single form of payment issue with Disney is a pain. Was a few dollars short for a ticket and had to go buy a small Disney gift card at a store to be able to checkout. Kind of silly that you can’t drain a GC and then finish off the balance with a credit card.

HML
Guest
HML

You can combined DISNEY gift cards at disneygiftcard.com up to $1000 per card.

Nicole
Guest
Nicole

font is huge in the middle of the post. may be just me, but in case it isn’t wanted you to be aware. I’m on Chrome.

Jenn Brockman
Guest

You might want to add that with the Disney Vacation Account, you can also get a $20 gift card when you use $1000 from your account to pay for your Disney Vacation. You get the $20 after you have used your DVA to pay for your expenses and you have to call in to use it, but I’ve been told it’s pretty easy.

Angela
Guest
Angela

Disney Vacation Account is really a terrible option. The 7 day hold is on ALL deposits each time you deposit funds. You also cannot use it to pay for everything. It is only accepted over the phone or online to pay for certain things. You cannot, for example, use your DVA account number to settle your Disney resort charges, nor can you use it at the parks/restaurants to pay for dining or merchandise. People find the 2% reward for paying for “vacation” items to be enticing, but IMO it’s not worth the hassle of dealing with this terrible managed system.
Managing your Disney funds via disneygiftcard.com is still the best option. The main drawback is that the maximum value you can combine onto one gift card is $1000.

Angela
Guest
Angela

Some snippets of the fine print for DVA:
“Disney may impose an automatic seven (7) business day hold on each payment you make to your Account so that the payment may not be used for a purchase or refunded for a period of seven (7) business days after the payment is made to your Account.”
In my experience they *always* hold your funds, regardless of whether you contributed via credit card or Disney Gift Card.

“You’ll be eligible for a $20 Disney Gift Card for every $1000 you spend on qualified vacation purchases with your Disney Vacation Account prior to December 31, 2017 (date subject to extension), up to a total maximum of $500 in Disney Gift Card(s) per household. Your Disney Vacation Account must be active for a minimum of 120 days at the time of spending in order to receive this bonus. All accounts registered to the same address are considered part of the same household.

Qualified vacation purchases include vacation packages for the Walt Disney World Resort or the Disneyland Resort, theme park tickets, room stays, cruise fare, and vacations by Adventures By Disney. Purchases of Disney Gift Cards are not qualified vacation purchases for purposes of this Bonus Program.”

David Meyer
Guest
David Meyer

You have to wait 4 months to use the account from the time of opening it as well. So the 7 day wait and the 4 mont hwait are telling us one thing… its a vacation account, as in for planning way ahead for a vacation.

If, like me, you are saving for a Disney vacation that will cost around $8K-10K (big family here), with 6K of that being just park tickets (yeah, no joke), then the vacation account is a great option.

Getting $20 for each $1000 means an extra $120, and it also means that all the gift cards I buy from Target get put in a safe place as I upload them to the account as I buy them.

And keep in mind, I will be getting the $20 bonus for every $950 I spend, not every $1000, because I use my Target red card debitcard to buy the Disney gift cards, and get 5% off. So $1000 of Disney money costs $950 at Target, and then I will be getting the $20 from Disney, so in the end $1000 Disney money costs me $930 for not that much work. Actually I would use the DVA even without the $20, just as a way to get the money off the cards right away.

Disneys gift card site is really good, and you can combine cards really easy, but I get really nervous having multiple $1000 peices of plastic. and they just happen to look identical to the other 20 peices of plastic I just put in the trash. Yikes. Nerve rattling. That site is good for combining cards for using on food and merch in the parks though.

Dave
Guest
Dave

Apparently as of June 2018 Target does not allow you to use a Target gift card to pay for other gift cards. Also, Target does not give refunds on gift cards. That sucks. Cash is better than a Target gift card.

Nick Reyes
Editor

Thanks for commenting — I’ve updated this post to reflect that Target no longer allows the purchase of a gift card with a gift card.