Last Updated Oct 19, 2011 9:49 AM EDT
But before you buy, say, a Coach gift card for your niece, check out this list from the folks at CardCash.com -- a Web site where you can buy and sell unwanted gift cards. Once the holidays are over, the site lists about $1 million worth of gift cards from people who have traded them in for cash.
I asked them for the list of gift cards that turn up most often on the "for sale" list. Here's what they reported:
CardCash.com lists about $50,000 worth of airline gift cards during the month after the holidays. "With all their additional restrictions and baggage prices, we are finding people are not buying tickets from the airlines directly as much," says Eliot Klier, CardCash's CEO. "They can get a better cash value selling us their airline gift card and then purchasing tickets when they need them at cheaper travel agencies such as Hotwire or Priceline." And the airlines with the most "for sale" gift cards: Continental and American Airlines.
Barnes & Noble
I confess: I've purchased B&N gift cards for my own friends when I have no idea what else to get. Oops: Seems it's not a popular gift. In fact, CardCash.com says there were about $40,000 worth of B&N gift cards for sale in January. "Many people are shifting towards downloading e-books on their iPad or Kindle. People would rather have the cash to buy digital books from Amazon or iTunes," says Klier. **(Update: A Barnes & Noble spokeswoman emailed me to point out that customers can in fact buy e-books and magazines from B&N, for reading on the retailer's own Nook device or apps.)**
Gift-card recipients dump about $15,000 worth of spa gift cards on the site following the holidays, hoping to earn some cold hard cash in return. Spa treatments aren't cheap, so my theory is that gift givers either have splurged to load up the cards (for friends who may just prefer the cash) or given only enough for, say, one-third of a massage treatment -- in which case the recipient will have to pony up her own money to take advantage. "In this economy, people are not looking for luxury non-essential treatments," Klier says. "They'd rather have cash."
Boutiques & High-End Retail
While they may seem to be a treat, gift cards for higher-priced retailers and boutiques -- such as Brooks Brothers, Gucci and Coach -- are a frequent "sell" on CardCash.com, perhaps for the same reasons as spa cards. After the holidays, CardCash was listing gift cards worth about $6,000 total from Brooks Brothers, $5,000 from Coach, $4,000 from Gucci and $3,000 from Hermes. Lesson here: Know your recipient. You may be better off with stores that carry more "needs" than "wants" -- like Target, Walmart or Costco.
Cards from "seasonal merchants such as Sunglass Hut are less desirable gifts during the winter months, and many people lose the gift card if they hold on to it until the summer, so they sell them to us," says Klier. The site actually saw about $4,000 worth of Sunglass Hut gift cards up for sale in the month following the holidays, Klier says. Other "seasonal" gift cards commonly listed on the site following the holidays: Christmas Tree Shops, Rita's Ice, Bass Pro Shops and REI.
Farnoosh Torabi is a personal finance journalist and commentator. She is the author of the new book Psych Yourself Rich, Get the Mindset and Discipline You Need to Build Your Financial Life. Follow her at www.farnoosh.tv and on Twitter/farnoosh
More on MoneyWatch:
- Gift Cards Get Good
- What NOT To Buy at the Drugstore
- Where We Spend: 27 Things That Cost Us More
- Best Things to Buy in October
- Get Free Stuff All Year Round
- Consumer Scams: 9 New Rip-Offs on the Rise
- Credit Report Update: Who's Tracking Your Financial Data Now?
- Shoppers Shifting to Private Label Brands
- Extreme Couponing: 5 Reasons to Steer Clear
- Spend Less Money: 3 New Behavioral Tricks