What to do With Unwanted Gift Cards

Disgruntled gift card recipients have plenty of options. Nina Strochlic reports.

Of all the potential holiday gifts, few are as foolproof as cash or gift cards. But even gift cards pose a risk to picky shoppers. Chances are, you’ll be on the receiving end this holiday season, with 81 percent of shoppers planning to buy at least one gift card, according to the National Retail Federation. All in all, spending on gift cards is estimated to reach $29 billion by the end of December. But while they are more personal than the cash equivalent, gift cards aren’t always efficient vehicles for the delivery of holiday cheer. They often end up stuffed in the back of a wallet and forgotten about. Or people use up $93.45 of a $100 gift card at the Gap, and then neglect to use the remaining $6.55. In fact, retailers count on the fact that a certain percentage of the dollars placed on gift cards won’t be used, which allows them to pocket easy profits.

Thankfully, the Internet and some smart entrepreneurs have come up with ways that allow people to make the most out of their gift cards. With each passing year, giftees have more and more options. Here are some.

Turn plastic into cash. Many websites offer the opportunity to cash in an unwanted gift card. Sites like will calculate the cash-back opportunity for your particular card and mail you a check, transfer funds via PayPal, or make it redeemable through MoneyGram. Gift Card Granny scans through all the major card buying and selling sites to find out where will give you the best bang for your buck, so take a look there first before you commit. As is the case with all secondary markets, however, the middleman usually takes a piece. You shouldn’t expect to get $50 in cash for a $50 balance on a gift card.

Pay it Forward. The easiest thing to do with that card is wrap it up and send it as a gift to someone who will actually appreciate it, or who will be more likely to use it. You may not want to be caught dead in a Brooks Brothers store; but there’s probably a prepster somewhere on your list. There’s no chance of an awkward encounter later on when the original gifter sees their recognizable gift in someone else’s house or asks you about it. No evidence is sometimes a good thing. If it’s too late to make an acceptable holiday present, stash it away with a reminder to use for a friend’s or family member’s next birthday or anniversary.

Donate it to Charity. Sites like Plastic Jungle will let you use the balance on your card to make a charitable donation (that is also tax deductible, so it’s a win-win). The company is partnered with organizations like the Red Cross, Autism Speaks, and education funds.

Trade up. Once you sell a gift card back to a card-buying/card-selling site, your cast off will be available for purchase by any other interested visitors seeking to get $50 of merchandise for $45. You can take similar advantage, using your redeemable card amount to scoop up a gift card to somewhere you’re apt to go to more frequently. Some places, like Gift Card Rescue and Cardpool, have partnership deals where you can trade in your card for an gift card and the redemption value will be bumped up 5 percent.

Get miles. Feeling antsy? Plastic Jungle has worked out a pretty sweet deal with the United Airlines mileage program. Trade in the card for a certain amount of miles, keep doing it over the holiday seasons and over time you’ll be able to redeem those miles for a trip to someplace sunny and exotic. The amount of miles differs, but a $25 gift card will net a minimum of one thousand miles.

Get online currency. For those immersed in the world of online gaming and could use a little extra virtual cash, Plastic Jungle teamed up with online currency provider Zeevex to allow you to trade in gift cards for points.

Ebay for plastic. In online marketplaces, everybody is looking for a deal. The people who wind up buying your gift card will be pleased if they can acquire the right to get $50 of merchandise from Barnes & Noble for $43. So if you’re looking to pay less than face value for a gift card, all the major sites have marketplaces where you can browse cards from hundreds of brands and retailers that other gift-card sellers didn’t want. Gift cards for sale in the market place of Plastic Jungle are offered from between 5 and 35 percent off their redeemable value. You know what they say about one man’s trash.