4 Gift Cards to Give Instead of a Starbucks Card
By Tony Armstrong
A gift card is an easy choice if you want to treat friends and co-workers this holiday season --but your card may be third or fourth one that someone receives if you choose a crowd-pleaser like Starbucks cards.
If you want your present to stand out and be remembered, consider giving the gift of choice. Here are some cards that will allow the people on your list to choose something they really want from among hundreds or millions of items.
1. Multimedia online stores: Google Play and iTunes App Store
When you don't know which type of media -- mobile apps, music, games, TV shows, movies or e-books -- someone likes most, Apple and Google gift cards can satisfy almost any preference. Their online stores have extensive lists of apps as well as well-rounded multimedia collections.
Google Play and Apple's iTunes gift cards, which have no fees, are limited to online purchases, so they can't be used on accessories, phones or tablets. These cards may be particularly attractive to adults ages 18 to 24: Over 55 percent of them want books, video games, DVDs and CDs for the holidays, the highest percentage of all age groups, according to an October National Retail Federation survey.
2. Restaurants: OpenTable and Restaurant.com
Food is also a huge part of the holidays, and the NRF found out that restaurant gift cards are the most popular type of gift card overall. But instead of buying a card for a single restaurant, buy one that works at many.
Restaurant reservation company OpenTable and digital marketing website Restaurant.com both sell gift cards that can be used to foot the bill at diners, bistros and other eateries across the U.S. The people who receive your gift cards can redeem them online for a certificate from the restaurant of their choice.
Both companies work with thousands of restaurants nationwide -- OpenTable cites over 3,500 restaurants and Restaurant.com over 20,000 -- but neither guarantees that all venues on their listings are available. Restaurant.com also provides deals on these cards; for example, a $50 gift card is available for $20 on their site. Although there are no purchase fees for the gift cards themselves, note that users may be required to spend more than the gift card amount at restaurants.
3. Retail giants: Amazon and Wal-Mart
If you want to provide a wider selection of products with your gift card, try some of the biggest retailers out there. Amazon and Wal-Mart gift cards don't have purchase fees, and they can be redeemed online.
Apart from selling millions of items, these two retail giants offer gift card features that might not be available from other retailers. Wal-Mart cards can be loaded with up to $1,000, and recipients can consolidate multiple Wal-Mart gift cards for purchasing items. Amazon's gift card can hold up to $2,000, and you can schedule the day it lands in the recipient's email inbox. Unlike most gift cards, both of these offer reload options.
4. Bank gift cards: Visa, MasterCard and American Express
For maximum flexibility and choice, you can buy general-purpose gift cards. These can be used at millions of merchants nationwide, wherever the payment network is accepted. The cards act much like debit cards, but you can't get cash from them or reload them. If you want to give someone the most buying options, this type of gift card is easily the best choice.
These cards do tend to have one or two fees. Visa and MasterCard gift cards often don't have purchase fees when obtained at banks and credit unions, but there are charges for card replacements and inactivity after one year. When you buy either of those two cards at retailers or on websites, there is generally a $3 to $7 purchase fee but no subsequent costs for use, inactivity or card replacements.
American Express gift cards aren't available at banks or credit unions, but you can find them at major retailers or online; they have a similar purchase fee. As with any gift card, funds never expire; but the card itself can, meaning the recipient will need to request a replacement if it goes unused past its expiration date.
If you want to give someone more choices than a peppermint mocha or a caramel brulée latte this season, these four types of gift cards are the ticket. Together, they offer as close to an infinite number of choices as you can get.