Gift Cards: Results from Bankrate.com's New Survey

Last Updated Nov 5, 2010 11:37 AM EDT

I'm planning on buying a handful of gift cards over the holidays. They're the perfect present for everyone from my kids' day care teachers and babysitters to my 14-year-old nephew who can't stand my taste. But thanks to Bankrate.com's newest survey, I'll probably change my strategy and go with one from a retailer rather than my usual network branded cards. (These are the ones from companies like Visa and American Express.)

Why my change of heart? According to Bankrate.com, most retailer cards have few fees and none of them expire. Network branded cards, on the other hand, tend to come with fees at and after purchase. Some of them even expire.

A few years ago I stopped buying retailer cards because I didn't want to limit my gift recipients to shopping at just one store. I know from personal experience that a Banana Republic card, for example, can sit unused in my wallet for ages while I wait for the merchandise to change over and offer something that I love.

Now, however, I see things differently. I could easily end up wasting $30 to $50 in purchase fees this year if I give my usual American Express gift cards. Accord to the company's website, it charges somewhere between "$3.95 to $6.95 for in-person purchases (depending on the type of Gift Card)". Surely I can find other ways to spend that money, including on another gift card.

My solution: buy Amazon.com gift cards. According to Bankrate.com, they come with no purchase fee and I can send the present via mail or email for no charge. (Wow, I don't even have to leave my home!) While you could make the argument that the recipient is limited to shopping just on Amazon, I think anyone would be hard pressed not to find something they want on the massive retailer's website.

To be fair, there were plenty of other retailer cards I considered that also have free shipping and don't charge fees. Barnes & Noble, for example, was a contender, especially for the teachers on my list. But if they really want books, they can easily buy them on Amazon. As for my nephew, I thought about an iTunes card. But I have this funny feeling he's found a way to download music for free.

If you're interested in Bankrate.com's survey results, the website has a really useful chart that shows the different features these cards offer, including which ones provide free shipping and replacements cards if they get lost. It also points out the cards that charge those annoying inactivity fees.

Also, just a quick reminder for those of you who receive some gift cards you don't want this holiday season. You can always swap them on a site like PlasticJungle.com and Cardpool.com.

Do you plan to give any gift cards this holiday season?

Stacey Bradford is the author of The Wall Street Journal Financial Guidebook for New Parents.

IMG 0646 image courtesy of Flickr, CC 2.0.

More on CBS MoneyWatch:

Holiday Gift Budget: Why I'm Spending Less On The Kids

Prepaid Cards: Beware of These Traps and Fees

Charity: How To Teach Your Kids To Give

Why You Shouldn't Give Your Kids More Toys

  • Stacey Bradford

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