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How To Redeem Gift Card Balance For Cash

Updated on February 24, 2013

As Christmas looms closer, many of us with tight budgets are starting to feel the pinch. It's not just buying gifts, but nice clothes for parties and visiting, ingredients for cooking, travel expenses, and more. At this time, many people are wishing that the gift card balances left from last year were more useful, or want to redeem the gift card for cash. Meanwhile, others are searching for gift card codes to redeem on fun items and gifts. How can these people come together? Read and find out!

Using Gift Cards for an Instant Discount

Many stores run sales on gift cards, under the assumption that you won't use the whole balance, and they will reap the benefit. Did you know that the average usage of a gift card is only 50%? That's because people either don't want it, forget about it, lose it, or throw it out when the balance gets down to only a few bucks.

You can use the remaining balance on a gift card, and cover the rest of your purchase with cash. This is a normal practice.

So don't toss those cards. Always redeem gift card balances, or at least sell off the remaining balance (we'll tell you how in a minute).

Before I tell you to go out and buy anything, why not take a minute to think about any gift cards you've been given over the years? Could they be used to buy gifts now? Even something like a Starbucks gift card can be used in their merchandise section to buy a fancy mug or a pound of coffee. Reduce, reuse, and recycle. A forgotten gift card is a free gift card.

Once you've collected your resources, if you still need to go out shopping this season, read on.


Making the Most of Gift Cards

There are 4 basic steps to making the most of gift cards.

  1. use your free gift cards
  2. sell any gift card balance that can't be used
  3. buy discounted gift cards or gift card codes from people doing the same
  4. redeem your gift cards

We just covered using your free gift cards, now on to selling unused gift card balances.

Selling Gift Cards and Codes

There are three types of "gift card" which can be sold. There is the normal gift card, the gift card code (only the numbers on the back of the card, or a code delivered by email), and store credit. Yes, you can sell store credit! Many people do not realize this. So if you are given a really hideous gift, don't hesitate to return it. You can get money for store credit.

Once all of your gift card codes, unusable balances, and store credits are collected, you have to do a little research. Many sites will sell your cards for you, but you may also choose to sell on eBay or similar.

Pros of selling on eBay: often you will get a better price

Cons of selling on eBay: you must deal with the customer

That is basically it. If you sell to a gift card exchange site, they will handle everything for you. Just send in the cards. Often they will even pay for postage. Not all gift card exchange sites allow codes and store credit, but most do.

You might also be able to get credit with the site which will be more than the cash, so keep that in mind if you plan on buying other gift cards.

Buying Discounted Gift Cards

Once your "free" gift cards have been tallied, consider the next options. Another method of getting a gift card on the cheap is to buy at a discount in the first place. There are many websites which allow you to buy and sell your unwanted gift cards, but my favorite is Gift Card Granny, which is a price collector. Gift Card Granny checks around the web to see where you're going to get the best deal on someone's unwanted gift card, and returns a tidy list to you. It's basically like searching by price on Amazon.

Notice that most of the top results are Ebay auctions. This can be a little misleading, as often these auctions are far from over and the price will jump sharply in the last 24 hours. If you want to purchase directly, just look for results from ABC gift cards, PlasticJungle, or GiftCardSwap.

The Drawbacks

Obviously the most useful and versatile gift cards are most in demand, and thus you will get the worst discount if you insist on using those. For example, Walmart gift cards run a 5% discount max. Usually more like 2%. Still, redeeming a gift card at a 5% discount is still better than nothing. Especially if it was bought by selling your own free gift cards or codes.

This is easily avoided by carefully thinking beforehand about where you want to redeem the cards. Just consider what you'd like to buy, and where it could be found. A more niche shop (like Coldwater Creek or Godiva) will have a sharper discount, and the person who receives the gift will assume you spent much more than you did! However, if you would rather shop online the gift card codes may be cheaper than the physical cards.

If you are plum out of ideas, or don't know where to start, you can browse GCGranny alphabetically by clicking the "buy gift cards" link, and just wait for inspiration to strike.

Merchandise Credit & Ebay

Many of the gift card reselling sites don't allow merchandise credit to be listed there. Many customers are wary of trying to use a merchandise credit that they didn't receive, but there is no reason for that. Retail chain stores will accept a merchandise credit from anywhere within your country. You do not need ID. Doing it doesn't break any rules.

Merchandise credit has a stigma, and thus has a much deeper discount. For example, a Sephora gift card usually sells for around 15% discount, but a merchandise credit can go for 25% off or more.

You want to search Ebay for these deals, check out some current auctions below for an idea of what I'm talking about.

PS - if you live in Canada, deals are harder to come by but much much cheaper, as often a Canadian card won't work in the US, so demand is much lower.

The best time to bid on Ebay is ridiculously late at night or early in the morning, when web traffic is low and you won't get sniped at the last second.

The Higher the Value, the Steeper the Discount

The lowest gift card balances are often higher-priced in terms % discount. If you know for sure you will spend $200 at Yankee Candle, buy a $200 balance gift card, not 8 $25 balance ones. People buy the smaller values as gifts, increasing the demand and thus the price. Partially used or very high amount gift cards are often a better deal because they cannot be utilized as gifts.

Just an aside - for some reason, $200-$500 Home Depot and Lowes cards are ridiculously discounted. Keep that in mind next time you have a big ticket home improvement need.


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