(from Lara Fishbane’s 11/30/2015 Kiplinger “Kip Tips” article published 11/30/2015. Click here for the original post. Lara is an editorial intern at Kiplinger, the former Executive Editor of The Georgetown Voice and currently part of the Designing the Future Fellowship, which spearheads experimentation and curriculum innovation on Georgetown’s campus. Follow Kiplinger on Twitter @Kiplinger.)
Americans are projected to spend $131 billion on gift cards this year, with almost half of these sales coming during the holiday season. The average consumer will buy between three and four gift cards, spending roughly $50 on each one. And for good reason: Gift cards are the most requested gifts these days, according to the National Retail Federation’s holiday consumer spending survey. “Gift cards are good presents to give,” says Shelley Hunter, of GiftCards.com. “If done right, nothing goes to waste. The recipient gets to pick out a gift he or she really wants, or even needs, but would never ask for.”
“Done right” means selecting the proper retail outlet for each recipient. Otherwise, your friend or family member will be saddled with a valuable piece of plastic that he or she can’t (or won’t) use.
But if you miss the mark with a gift card, all is not lost: Recipients can still get value from your gift by selling it to a gift-card exchange site, such as Gift Card Granny or CardHub.com. Among popular cards, you can get from 74% to 99% of a card’s value when you sell it to an exchange site. However, some retailers’ cards are worth far more than others.
We asked CardHub.com to reveal the 10 retail gift cards that fetch the most money when you sell them to the site. Then we filtered the results for national retail chains so that you can confidently buy gift cards for all the recipients on your list, no matter where in the U.S. they live.
Here are the best retail gift cards to give this holiday season:
- Target (96.5% exchange rate)
- Walmart (96.5%)
- Home Depot (95%)
- Costco (95%)
- Ikea (94%)
- Best Buy (93%)
- McDonald’s (93%)
- Amazon.com (92%)
- Macy’s (92%)
- Starbucks (92%)
Although general-use cards, such as those from Visa and American Express, have high resale values because they can be used anywhere, we excluded them from our list on the premise that you want to be a bit more thoughtful with your gift than sending a cash equivalent. Also, “there’s always an activation fee [$3.95 per card], since these companies don’t make money off of people coming into the stores to shop,” Hunter says.
We also excluded gift cards for various gas stations, which tend to have high resale values as well. Shell cards, for instance, have a 99% resale value. “Everyone spends money on gas,” CardHub.com CEO Odysseas Papadimitriou explains. “It’s like giving someone cash”—very practical, but not in keeping with the holiday spirit.
The main factors driving the resale value of a gift card are how desirable it is and how flexible it is, says Hunter. “A gift card like one from Target or Walmart, which can be used for a lot of things, can usually meet people’s needs. They’re in high demand because people can do everything from grocery shopping to clothes shopping to buying electronics.”
Papadimitriou recommends Amazon gift cards because, even though they don’t have the highest resale value, almost anyone can use and benefit from them. “Amazon is almost like cash. You can buy anything from Amazon,” Papadimitriou says.
However, you should avoid giving or selling back an Amazon or Starbucks card that you’ve already linked to your individual account, regardless of whether you’ve used any funds from the card yet. “Not all merchants are in love with the discount market,” Hunter says. “If I have linked a Starbucks gift card to my Starbucks app, and then decide I want to sell it for cash, Starbucks knows it was originally linked to me. When the second person goes to use it, Starbucks would flag it as fraud.”
Buying Gift Cards From Exchange Sites
Because discounted gift cards occasionally have issues such as this, Hunter recommends buying them primarily for personal use. “I usually prefer discount gift cards just for personal shopping. If there is a problem, I don’t want my [recipient] to get stuck with it,” she says.
Take note, bargain hunters: After the holidays, you can score even bigger discounts at gift-card exchange sites because supply surges as people sell back unwanted cards they received as holiday gifts, Papadimitriou says.