Gift Cards are the Worst

Gift Cards are the Worst
Photo by Rob Laughter / Unsplash

Christmas is just around the corner, and everyone will be looking for gifts to let people know that they love them or to acknowledge that they are related to you. It’s the latter that I find a real treat at Christmas. There are always one or two gifts at the back of the tree sent from a random relative who doesn’t know you that well but wanted to send you a gift. This is truly lovely because they didn’t have to send anything, but they did and because they are not expected there is less than zero expectation. So anything from a tin of homemade biscuits to woollen socks are a fun bonus.

But there is one gift that on the outside looks great, but when you peel back the layers you find out the truth. Gift Cards are the worst.

Now I must say not all gift card are in that category. If you were to buy me an iTunes gift card I would think of you every time I rented a movie...or if you bought me a Nintendo gift card I would think fondly of you when I was playing the new Zelda game if it ever comes out. These are great gifts because they have a specific purpose, can be used anytime and..... THEY NEVER EXPIRE!!!!!

Gift cards expiring is just insane. They take your money up front and then after 12 months and 1 day if you haven’t used it, that money disappears. Why? Let me say again ..... WHY????

Let me tell you where this rant extends from - I got given a gift card. Now this was a lovely gesture which I appreciated at the time. It was for an entertainment place with different activities and the fun thing is, my brother got one too. So we were going to do this together.

But 11 months fly by and we hit the problem. Oh, we have 2 weeks till I leave the country till the end of the year so we need to use it. So I go online and I try to book something in. This is where the gift card showed it’s true colours.

When I booked an activity online it said ‘add another activity and receive a discount’, I did this, and now our two activities came in £8 under our gift card total. Happy days right?.....Wrong. Because when I went to book it there was no way to enter in a gift card number. I tried multiple things but it didn’t work. I was going to have to book them in separately over the phone, but when I called there were 12 people in the queue.... I guess they sold a lot of gift cards last Christmas.

When they picked up, I was expecting them to say that they couldn’t honour the online price (which I had come to terms with) but just to book it in separately. To my surprise they told me that gift cards can only be used in store.

So let’s just recap. Money was paid last Christmas, gift cards were issued, gift cards do not qualify for any online discounts and.........(here is the most annoying part) you cannot pre-book. So this means when we go (later today) we have to turn up and wait for spots to become available to do anything. So the gift card means we will pay more, wait more and have a worse time than the rest of the public who are choosing to pay for their experience a few days before, rather than 12 months before.

Look I am sure everything will work out, and I am not ungrateful for the present but I would think by 2022, businesses would have the gift card thing sorted. But because they don’t here are my current suggestions if you want to buy something like this for your loved ones this year:

  1. Gift cards for specific experiences only - Buy a package rather than just a random amount of cash. So 2 games of bowling and a drink. Then it doesn’t matter how much those things cost on the day (online discount or not) they just exchange the gift card for the experience. Then I don’t mind having an expiry date because the price of the experience was locked in.
  2. Gift cards for companies that they already frequent. This sounds like it will not be special but it is. Let’s say your brother goes to the same cafe each week or even each day. If you give them a gift card for there, you know it will be used and every time they go there with the card they will be reminded of your love. They might even be able to get a little treat with their coffee and think of you.
  3. Gift cards that are easy to use. This is the opposite of the one I got. I was told I need to take in the original receipt. So I was expected to have a piece of paper on me for 12 months. The opposite of that would be a gift card for Today Tixs. That is an app I use all the time to book theatre tickets. They issued me a gift card for a cancelled show, I had three years to use it and..... it was just a line of text. I saved that in a safe place (multiple places) and when I went to book my next show (which was discounted due to a promotion) it just took the amount off my total. Super easy to use.

  4. Gift cards with exchanges. If you want to give something unique check out Virgin Experiences. Pick anything within your price range and buy it for them. Then they have two options. Do the experience or exchange it for something else. This is what we did this year - friends of ours gave us a voucher for ifly. This was really appreciated but unfortunately the nearest location was quite far away and we were running out of time. But our anniversary was coming up so we swapped it for a beautiful meal for two and paid the difference of £5. The best part was the meal was on special for a limited time yet they did not charge the full amount because we had a voucher.

All of these are great ideas but I have come up with something even more clever and it goes back to what we used to do as kids:

The Do it Yourself Gift Card

You would handmake a gift card for a shop that didn’t do gift cards (ie) "One milkshake at the corner store". These days you can be a bit more sophisticated. For example, with my bank Revolut, I can issue you a temporary virtual card with the funds to cover whatever I want to give you. Now here is the really cool thing. If by next Christmas they haven’t used it, then you take that money (that you still have, it didn’t go to a random business that likes to make things difficult to use it); and you then give them something even bigger with double the budget.

I know this isn’t a typical blog but more of a rant, but I see this post as a public service as well as counting it as the gift I am going to give you this Christmas.

Update: It's now the next morning and we had a great time. The go-karts and bowling which I was going to book in looked terrible. But I found they had an awesome AR darts board which was super fun. So we had a great night and I am weirldly thankful that I couldn't book online.