Seven ways to save on gift card purchases

Seven ways to save on gift card purchases

You probably have some gift cards on your holiday shopping list. Once again, this year they’re the most-requested present. Here are seven simple ways to get more for your gift-card dollars.

1. Buy discounted cards

You shop the sales for your holiday gifts, right? So, why pay full price for those gift cards?

Costco and Sam’s Club sell a variety of gift cards for less than face value. Or check out an online gift card exchange, such as CardHub, CardCash,Gift Card Granny, Cardpool and GiftCards.com.

“You’ll pay less than face value, so you’re actually getting free money on each purchase,” said Marc Ackerman, co-founder of CardCash.com.

Right now, the discounts offered by CashCard range from 1 to 35 percent, based on supply and demand. For example, a Wal-Mart gift card is only discounted 2 percent, while a card for Patagonia is 20 percent off. Ackerman said the average savings is about 12 percent.

2. Shop with reward points

Reward points can be used to buy all sorts of things, including gift cards. And right now, some credit card issuers are selling them at a sizeable discount.

(Read more: 10 tips for shipping holiday gifts)

For example, Chase Ultimate Rewards members can buy certain gift cards for 10 to 20 percent fewer points than typically required. And these are cards from well-known stores, such as Bloomingdale’s, Kohl’s, Lands’ End, Macy’s, Neiman Marcus and Old Navy.

“This is a great untapped resource for savings,” said Janna Herron, credit card analyst at Bankrate.com. “It’s an easy way to stretch your rewards and your holiday budget, and maybe use up points or miles that are about to expire.”

3. Look for special discounts from local retailers

Gift cards are good for business. They boost sales and create loyal customers. That’s why many merchants, especially restaurants, run holiday gift card promotions.

For example, buy a $ 100 gift card at Salty’s Waterfront Seafood Grills in Seattle right now and they’ll give you a $ 20 promotional gift card. The cards are sent to the gift recipient in special packaging and there’s no shipping charge.

(Read more: Holiday tips: 20% is the new 15%)

You’d be smart to go online and see if any of your favorite restaurants or stores have holiday specials on their gift cards.

4. Watch out for fees

There are two types of gift cards: Store-specific cards can only be used at one merchant—you can only use a Staples gift card at Staples. General purpose gift cards, sold by banks and credit card companies, can be used at any retailer that accepts that credit card.

Surveys show most people prefer to get the general purpose cards because they’re so convenient, but they’re more expensive for the person who buys them.

“While store-specific cards almost never have a fee, general purpose gift cards always charge an upfront purchase fee, which averages $ 3.95,” said Ben Woolsey, director of marketing and consumer research at CreditCards.com. “General use gift cards can also charge dormancy fees on the back end for the recipient in case they are not used for a year or longer.”

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