When you don’t know what to give, there’s always the gift card.
The classic present for anyone on your shopping list, gift certificates let the recipient choose exactly how to spend the money, eliminating awkward questions about clothes and books that didn’t quite get the reception the giver expected.
Not only do gift cards make an easy and practical gift to friends and family members of all ages and interests, but you can also save some cash if you know how to buy them.
Search for Sales
Why pay full price when you get a gift card on sale? Although you’ll find markdowns on gift cards year round, December is a particularly popular time to purchase gift cards, and you’ll find an increase in the promotions featuring these handy gifts this month.
This is particularly true for iTunes gift cards, according to a recent report from DealNews. Besides music, the multifunctional cards can be used to purchase TV shows, films and even software.
If iTunes gift cards are on your shopping list this season, make sure to check Best Buy, which DealNews reports was the best source for sales last year, followed by GiftCardMall and OfficeMax (which has now merged with Office Depot). Another tip offered by the blog is to go for cards worth $50, as they’re the most likely to be discounted.
At membership-based warehouse clubs, buying in bulk also applies to gift cards. Costco usually features markdowns of 20% on its gift card selection, and Sam’s Club offers savings of $10 to $20. BJ’s Wholesale Club, too, offers a broad selection of “extreme-value” coupons, particularly for packs of two to five cards.
One of the best ways to rack up discounts on gift cards is to buy them used. Card exchange websites, including Plastic Jungle, Cardpool and Gift Card Granny, let you save up to 35%, and you can save even more if you turn to auction sites like eBay. (Stick to sites with buyer protection in case you come across a fraudulent offer.)
Get Free With Purchase
A popular staple of Black Friday sales, the free gift card with purchase is a deal you’ll still see a lot of well into December. When you spend $30 on eligible products at CVS, for example, you’ll get a $10 gift card for one of five retailers, including CVS, iTunes and Macy’s.
Buy One, Get One Free
This holiday season, you’ll find dozens of retailers and restaurants offering free gift cards and coupons along with the purchase of a higher valued gift card.
At Boston Market now through the end of January, you’ll get a free $5 gift card with the purchase of a $25 card. Half Price Books is offering the same deal, but the promotion ends Dec. 24. At The Children’s Place, purchase of a $40 card will snag you a bonus $10 card.
For more such offers, check out this extensive list from About.
Transform Your Loose Change
Strategically located in grocery stores and retail outlets, Coinstar machines let you exchange stacks of coins for paper money that you can more easily use. For most transactions, there’s a catch: The machine will deduct a fee to exchange your money. If you choose to redeem your coins in the form of a gift card, however, the fee will be waived, saving you up to 10.9% that would have otherwise gone toward your fee.
It’s not technically a discounted gift card, but it might as well be, compared with the standard charge incurred. As an added benefit, you’ll make something useful of the extra coins you have lying around the house.
Charge Your Cards for Cash Back
A number of rewards credit cards offer you high cash-back ratios for shopping at supermarkets, pharmacies and office supplies stores – the same places you’re likely to find a wealth of gift cards. By using your card to purchase gift certificates, you’ll save yourself that extra 5% or so in the long term, on top of any discount you might already find on the gift card itself.
Besides the gift cards, rewards credit cards often feature other ways to help you save on gift cards. Many cards let you redeem your points in the form of a gift card, essentially offering you the gift card for free. Additionally, you might even get the gift card at a discount. Chase has been known to offer up to 20% off on gift cards to a range of popular businesses, including Starbucks and Amazon.
In some cases, you may be better off choosing gift cards over cash back. That was the case not too long ago, when Citibank credit cards offered customers a $100 Amazon gift card for 9,000 points, compared with the usual reward of $50 in cash back for 10,000 points.
A final tip to getting the best deal: Gift cards aren’t subject to taxes in any state in the country, but it does occasionally happen that customers are charged tax nonetheless. If this happens to you (whether by accident or on purpose), let your cashier or online retailer know and demand the refund you’re entitled to.
Written by Melinda Szell
Holiday gift card image via Shutterstock