With the holiday shopping season rapidly counting down, shoppers will increasingly give up on finding the perfect gifts and instead buy gift cards for their loved ones. Yet while many of those shoppers will pay full price for gift cards, you shouldn't, because discounts are everywhere.
The convenience and ease of gift cards has made them increasingly popular, both for givers and gift recipients.
A recent study of affluent consumers showed that nearly half the women surveyed and almost a third of men wanted gift cards or cash to spend as a holiday gift. A separate American Express (AXP) survey pegged the figure for women at closer to 60 percent, with gift cards for retailers and restaurants topping the wish list.
From the retailer's perspective, gift cards are a gold mine. They get cash right away for their cards, but they don't have to deliver the goods until the cardholder comes in and makes purchases -- months or even years in the future.
That advantage is one reason you can almost always track down discounts on gift cards. Here are several places to look:
Never Pay Full Price for Gift Cards. 7 Places To Find Them Cheaper
Never Buy Gift Cards at Full Price: 7 Places to Find Them Cheaper
Both Costco (COST) and Sam's Club (WMT) routinely offer other retailers' gift cards at less than face value. Costco, for instance, has a full slate of restaurant gift cards available at a 20 percent discount on purchases of $100. Sam's Club offers discounted gift cards for a variety of uses, including iTunes, video game networks, and restaurants.
Programs from credit card issuers like Discover Financial (DFS) and JPMorgan Chase (JPM), among others, offer gift cards as ways to redeem miles. Discover has a long list of partners that give you an extra 10 percent to 25 percent in value on their gift cards when you use your Cashback Bonus to buy them, and a select few let you double the value of your rewards. Chase has similar deals.
Many stores encourage gift card purchases by sweetening the pot. For instance, one popular deal involves buying $20 or $25 in gift cards for someone else and getting a $5 card on the side, which you can either pass on as an additional gift or keep for yourself.
You can routinely find sellers on eBay (EBAY) looking to get rid of unwanted gift cards. There won't be many deals to be had on gift cards from hot retailers like the Apple (AAPL) Store, but with some less in-demand gift retail cards, you can find discounts as high as 20 percent -- or even more.
A word of warning, however: Since the chances of running into fraud from buying gift cards second-hand is higher than purchasing from known outlets like Costco, make sure that the auction site you use offers buyer protection.
In the past several years, a number of card exchange websites, including Plastic Jungle, Cardpool and Gift Card Granny, have popped up. These sites offer to buy unwanted cards from gift card recipients in exchange for cash, and then turn around and offer them back to gift card shoppers at a narrower discount, pocketing the difference. Again, be sure you're working with a reputable card exchange before you hand over credit card information to buy discount gift cards.
You can often find gift cards and certificates on Groupon (GRPN) and similar daily-deal websites. Most of the deals involve locally based retailers. Occasionally, though, well-known companies will offer national deals that everyone can take advantage of.
Retailers encourage repeat visits after the holiday season is over by handing out free gift cards when you make purchases above a certain amount. For instance, L.L.Bean is offering a free $10 gift card when you spend $50 or more through Dec. 24.
Gift cards offer a win-win scenario to shoppers desperate to finish their holiday shopping and companies wanting to lock in sales. By realizing the leverage you have in making a great deal and putting in a little extra effort, you can pick up the gift cards you want while getting the savings you need.