I recently beat out my Money Crashers colleagues in a grueling test of collegiate athletics knowledge. My prize was a Dunkin’ gift card in all its orange and white glory.
There was just one problem. I live in Minnesota, home of Caribou Coffee. I’d never set foot in a Dunkin’ here. I wasn’t even sure we had them. A quick Google search informed me that, yes, there are a few, but none in my neighborhood or even anywhere close to where my daily routine takes me.
Was my hard-won prize effectively worthless? Hardly. There’s a thriving market for unwanted gift cards, both used and unused. I had options. And if you find yourself in possession of a gift card you don’t want or straight-up can’t use, so do you.
What to Do With Unwanted Gift Cards
One person’s trash gift card is another person’s treasure gift card — or something. But seriously. Someone probably wants that thing, and you can recover most of its value if you play your cards right. (Heh.)
I’ve listed your options in rough order of potential return on investment. See which one’s right for you.
1. Sell Them on eBay
I, too, periodically forget eBay exists, but it does, and you should try to sell your unwanted gift cards on it. The auction model and name-your-own-price mean it’s one of the only places where you can (theoretically) sell gift cards for more than face value. If someone loves Bed Bath & Beyond enough to give you $150 for a $100 gift card, man, let them.
Unfortunately, eBay’s gift cards policy is confusing. What’s clear is that you can only sell gift cards from eBay itself or third-party retailers approved by eBay, you must have your gift card in hand when you list it, and you must ship it within five days of the sale date if you can’t deliver it electronically.
It’s also clear you can’t sell:
- Electronic gift cards from unapproved retailers
- Prepaid debit cards, even from major issuers like Amex or Mastercard
- Store or merchandise credit, such as a return receipt
And the total gift card value across all your live gift card auctions must be under $500 at all times.
Beyond that, things are fuzzier. The online auction company doesn’t say outright it’s OK to list physical gift cards from brands and retailers that are still in business. It only mentions collectible gift cards with no face value and usable gift cards from companies going through bankruptcy proceedings. It’s not totally clear that you can sell other types of gift cards on eBay at all.
But on a quick search of the site, I found active gift card and store voucher listings from active, financially healthy companies like KFC. Who knows whether it’s a case of selective enforcement or something else, but the worst-case scenario (as I understand it) is that eBay takes down your gift card listing before the sale goes through and you’re back at square one.
One last note: Since they’re often mentioned in the same conversation as eBay: Facebook Marketplace and Amazon make it much more difficult, if not impossible, for regular people to sell unwanted gift cards. Facebook Marketplace totally prohibits the practice, and unless I’m missing something, Amazon limits gift card sales to verified brands selling their own cards (as in, Lowe’s itself selling Lowe’s gift cards).
2. Sell Them on Another Legit Site
If eBay isn’t your jam, try another website that lets you name your own price for gift cards you want to sell.
The clear leader in this category is Raise, which acts as a broker for gift cards and personalized coupon codes from thousands of U.S.-based merchants. You name your own price — up to the card’s face value, though they sell faster at a discount. Raise takes a flat 15% of the selling price, so the maximum value you can get for your card is 85%.
That sounds like a steep discount, and it is, but Raise really stands alone in terms of reach and perceived legitimacy. Your gift card is much more likely to sell there than any other DIY auction or e-commerce site.
The other name-your-own-price site worth mentioning is Gameflip, a retail website for gamers. It’s the best place to sell gift cards for gaming networks like PlayStation and Xbox, app stores like Google Play and the App Store, and social communities like Steam. Gameflip’s commission is a flat 8% to 10% of the sale price, depending on what you’re selling.
3. Trade Them in for Cash
The space isn’t as crowded as it used to be, but there are still several legitimate sites that pay sellers directly for gift cards. These sites don’t act as intermediaries between sellers and buyers — once you have your money, you have no further obligation, and it’s all on them to sell the gift card for more than they paid for it.
The payoff potential varies by site, but it’s generally on par with or lower than Raise. I ran some scenarios on CardCash, the biggest and most legitimate of the remaining trade-for-cash sites, and got the following offers for a hypothetical $50 gift card from various major merchants:
- $33 for Hard Rock Cafe
- $33.50 for The Gap
- $34 for Sephora
- $39.50 for Starbucks
- $42.25 for Target
You can see a pattern: The harder it is for the average person to redeem a gift card, the less it can fetch at trade-in. These trade-in sites know there are fewer Hard Rock Cafe fans than monthly Target shoppers.
The most you can expect to make at CardCash is 92 cents on the dollar, and that’s not even close to guaranteed. You can earn around 2% more if you trade your gift card for Walmart or Amazon gift cards, which are almost as good as cash, and up to 11% more if you trade for gift cards from less desirable (but still popular) brands like CVS, Lowe’s, and Wayfair.
Other than CardCash, check out:
- GiftCash, which pays as much as 92% or 93% for in-demand gift cards
- ClipKard, where payouts seem to top out around 85% of face value
- CardSell, a smaller app-based trade-in site that seems legit but that I wouldn’t personally use due to its small size and negative user reviews
This list was a lot longer back in 2012 and could get shorter still in future. The gift card trade-in market just isn’t what it used to be. But you can still get a solid return on your unwanted cards if you’re willing to put in the effort.
4. Sell Them Privately to Friends or Family
Regifting unwanted gift cards is a fine option if you don’t care about recovering the card’s value, but you’re no sap, and you’re certainly not a charity. So milk that plastic (and your loved ones’ trust) for all it’s worth and sell your gift cards to people you know!
While you surely don’t know as many people as you can reach through Raise or eBay, you know those people better. You can tailor your offers to would-be buyers’ known preferences. If you hate coffee, but your sister simply can’t make it through the day without a Starbucks latte, there’s your match. Sell her the card for 90 cents on the dollar — more than you’d get from CardCash — and she’ll still come out ahead.
5. Buy Stuff to Sell
Hello, side hustle!
In theory, using unwanted gift cards to buy and resell in-demand merchandise can help you recapture their value and maybe even make a few bucks in the process.
But it’s harder than it looks. You have to buy the merchandise, wait for the delivery, probably unbox it, take photos, research the market to figure out what you should list it for, create a product listing — it’s a lot of work.
Not only that, but you’re unlikely to make back what you paid unless you got a great price in the first place or price your listings really aggressively. On sites like eBay or Amazon, where you’ll find the biggest audiences, expect to pay 15% of the sale price off the top, plus more in ancillary fees. On sites like Facebook Marketplace and Nextdoor, you can set your own prices, but you’ll compete against sellers who aren’t trying to turn a profit and won’t have as big a pool of potential buyers.
My two cents: Using unwanted gift cards to buy and resell merchandise can be fun if you’re into that sort of thing, but while there’s a chance you’ll come out ahead, it’s not the best way to maximize your gift cards’ value.
6. Buy Presents
If you don’t want to expend the effort to resell merchandise purchased with your unwanted gift cards, give that merchandise as a gift to someone else. You won’t directly profit from the gift card’s face value, but you won’t have to spend out of pocket for those presents either.
This option does technically generate a 100% return on your gift cards’ face value, assuming you use the full amount. But it requires some time and effort to research, select, and purchase presents. You may feel that time and effort is better spent elsewhere, in which case you’re better off giving the actual gift card as a gift.
Even if your time isn’t worth much, using unwanted gift cards to buy presents for others works best for gift cards from merchants that sell a wide variety of merchandise (and for less picky gift-getters). It’s easier this way. Think Target or Walmart — or at least Reebok or Gap. Outback Steakhouse or Dave & Busters, not so much — unless the experience is the gift, in which case we’re back to selling (or regifting) the gift card itself.
7. Redeem Them for Cash
This option is just shy of a last resort. It has a very low potential return due to extensive restrictions on how and where you can return gift cards to the issuing merchant for cash value.
Every state has slightly different rules, but don’t expect to get more than $10 for an unwanted gift card no matter where you live. Generally, the card’s remaining value has to be lower than the cash exchange threshold — often just $5 — so you might need to spend it down anyway.
8. Donate Them (or Stuff You Bought With Them) to Charity
Thanks to a major U.S. tax code overhaul in 2017, most taxpayers no longer benefit from the IRS’s long list of potential itemized deductions. You need to have more than (about) $13,000 in itemized deductions if you’re filing individually or $26,000 if you’re filing jointly with your spouse to surpass the standard deduction and make itemizing worthwhile. The vast majority of taxpayers (about 95%) don’t meet these thresholds.
But if you’re quite confident you’ll itemize this tax year, donating your gift cards to a tax-exempt nonprofit could trim your tax bill a bit more. The same goes for merchandise you buy with your gift cards and then donate.
You can deduct the fair market value of your donations — the gift card’s face value or whatever you paid for the merchandise. This amount reduces your taxable income, so your return is equal to your top marginal tax rate. It won’t exceed 37% (the top marginal tax rate) and will probably be lower.
After some hemming and hawing, I decided to hold onto my Dunkin’ gift card. Rather than go 20 minutes out of my way 10 times for sickeningly sweet drip coffee — no offense, Dunkin’ fans — I decided to make one special trip and load up on whole-bean bags.
We go through a solid pound of coffee per week in my house, so I knew it wouldn’t linger. And I looked forward to taking a break from Costco’s cheapest whole-bean coffee, which gets old after a while.
It was the correct decision. But it would have been fine if I’d chosen a different path too. A quick search of the used gift card sphere convinced me I could have recovered at least 85% of the card’s value. Which I would have promptly spent on Costco’s cheapest whole-bean coffee.