Has your gift card expired? Know the law and how to make the most of it (2023)

VonPhilip Taylor, Chartered Accountant · updated:March 4, 2023 · · Our content and reviews are independent. We make money when you click links to our partners.

"This gift card has expired. Forgiveness."

Don't you hate to hear those words?

This happened to me this morning while taking my three favorite girls (wife and two daughters) to Einsteins for a bagel.

We were drawn to Einsteins in part because of a $5 gift card we had. A family member gave us this voucher.

We made our selection and went to the checkout to pay. We hadn't noticed, but the gift card expired last month. The cashier kindly declined our gift card, we paid and ate our bagels.

Otherwise it was a great morning. But I couldn't help but think about the negative gift card experience. Two things bother me about the gift card process:

How expired gift cards affect customers

1. The consumer is not rewarded by being "encouraged".We went to the store partly because we thought we would save money with the gift card. We didn't notice the fine print of the expiration date. Our fault, totally.

However, shouldn't a company be more interested in creating a satisfying customer experience? We come with our hard-earned money to spend on your business. They treat us likeuslost. "Oops. Sorry. You failed." Well I say the restaurant failed as I will be less likely to deal with them in the future.

2. The gift giver is notrewarded for your expenses.In this case, I believe the $5 card was an "extra" giveaway card attached to a $20 gift card purchase.

If the giver intended to give us the card and experience a cheap meal, she would be deeply disappointed if he found out it was worth US$0 to us. She basically gave us something worth $0, Einstein took away her ability to donate.

Maybe I'm being a little dramatic, but you get the point: the consumer has a reason not to like the company they were trying to support.

Do expired gift cards help businesses?

I don't know much about business finance or marketing budgets, but what good is a due date for this business? How many people actually bring a gift card back after it expires? Maybe 5% of those with cards?

I bet 75% of gift card recipients use it before it expires and another 5% try to use it after. The other 20% never think about it, miss it, or never use it for whatever reason. So is this company risking a negative customer experience to save 5% on their gift card budget? It doesn't make any sense to me.

Expiration Laws for Gift Cards for Redemption

With the signature ofcard law, gift card laws have changed. This gift card regulation came into effect years ago. They impacted the expiration date and fees associated with gift cards. The most important provisions of the law:

  • Gift cards may have an expiry date, but this cannot be less than 5 years.
  • Inactivity fees and other service charges may only apply to cards older than 1 year.
  • The law applies to gift vouchers, shopping vouchers and general-purpose prepaid cards.

The card we received (in the story above) was obviously distributed before it went into effect. It will be interesting to see how retailers and banks deal with gift cards in the coming months and years. I suspect that she and her customers will be much happier.

Make the most of your gift cards

The Christmas business is just around the corner. Many consumers will soon be leaving the stores to find the best deals on things they want or want to give to others. “Stuff” has its place this gift season, but gift cards are actually one of my favorite items to give and receive in most situations.

I like gift cards because they're a consumable gift and they make shopping a little less stressful. Gift cards have their downsides. Some people aren't fans of them, calling them restrictive and impersonal.

Whether you love and give them as gifts, or hate them but still get something, here are some tips on how to make the most of your gift cards this holiday season:

Give a voucher gift

If you love giving out gift cards, read these tips:

Choose between generic cards or branded cards

There are two basic categories when it comes to gift cards. The ones that are basically like a (general) prepaid credit card and business-specific cards.

The type you get depends on the type of person you are buying it for. Teens - sometimes the hardest to shop for - are also most likely to want a generic gift card or even just cash.

Everyone else and you risk looking too impersonal. So if you're going generic, make sure it's for a teenager.

For almost everyone else, a business-specific card would be appropriate. Do your best to match the deal with what you know about the person.

  • If they're readers, give them an Amazon.com or bookstore gift card.
  • If they are interested in sports, consider a gift card from a sportswear store or a ticketing website where they can find tickets to all types of sporting events.
  • Gift cards for consumable experiences (cinema, restaurants, events) are always the best in my opinion. I love gifts that don't overload anyone's house.

However, be careful which store you buy your gift card from. Stores that close or go bankrupt can no longer redeem the card after a certain point in time. So look for cards from stable companies.

It's also important to note that some generic gift cards often come with fees. Stay away from these guys.

Do not buy gift cards for these people

Unless they ask for it, I wouldn't suggest buying a gift card for your significant other. This is the only person in the world you should know exactly what to buy from and not resort to a map.

Also, you don't want to give a gift card to young children either. Children love to unwrap real presents. Finally, people who don't go online or go out much wouldn't use a gift card very often either.

Use a gift certificate to inspire

Gift cards can be used to inspire a person to take certain actions that you or she would like. For example, if you know someone who never has time to treat themselves, consider giving them a gift certificate to a spa or ice cream shop.

Do you know someone who is talking about learning a musical instrument or being more physically active? You can get vouchers for music lessons or sports/activity programs.

look for setbacks

Some gift cards come with an incentive for the person giving them. Last year I bought a $25 restaurant gift card and got my own $10 card for free. It was for a place I frequent, so I had a feeling it would be put to good use.

You can also consider this if you don't hand over the card.

receive gift vouchers

If you receive a gift certificate this year, keep these points in mind:

What to do with gift cards you don't want?

Suppose you receive a gift certificate that you really didn't want. For example, you don't drink coffee and get a Starbucks gift card. What a waste, isn't it? Consider these options:

  • Show the card to someone you know who is drinking coffee.
  • Browse the variety of gifts, music and groceries at the nearest Starbucks. Maybe there is something other than coffee that you like.
  • Use one of the sites where you can switch to another card or send a check for your unused gift cards.

Use them or lose them

Unfortunately, some gift cards have an expiration date or fees that take effect after one year. So make sure you keep all your gift cards in a conspicuous place (and even add them to your calendar) to make sure you don't forget them and let them expire.


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