On holidays, as well as birthdays and other occasions, we often buy or receive gift cards. To protect our interests, don’t forget to check the various features of these cards, e. g., the card replaced after loss or theft, etc. Bankrate.com has posted a 2010 survey results of 54 cards of the largest retailers, restaurant chains, and card issuers. Compared in a chart are nine features: No expiration date; no dormancy or maintenance fees; card and/or funds replaced after loss or theft; and so on. Being informed now, you may better plan your trips to redeem your gift cards.
If you never stop at the store that you have received a gift card for, there may be a way out by using such websites that let you exchange cards or trade them in for cash. Consumer Reports published a report comparing four of such websites in terms of how much they’d pay for cards from eight major retailers in 2011. The report provides the conclusions that “Some cards are worth more than others” and “Look at several sites. No one always had the best deals.” You may search online for more gift card exchange sites than those mentioned in the above report.
Last, but not least, consumers can be thankful for the gift card rules passed in 2010 that provide more consumer protections than before. Here is another helpful article by Kiplinger’s on the gift card rules. In addition, California law is even more protective than the federal law. Posted on this California law page also are FAQs and “Tips for purchasers of gift certificates or gift cards.” For a “report card” on the California gift card law, please see the ScriptSmart page which, in addition, contains helpful links to the specific topics of the gift card law.
The image above is from13th Street Studio at http://13thstreetstudio.typepad.com/13th_steet_studio/2007/12/gift-card-sock.html
Bay Area Consumers' Checkbook is a magazine published twice a year (with occasional updates). Like Consumer Reports, it is nonprofit and unbiased and gives you advice on making wise decisions and choosing what's best for your needs. Unlike Consumer Reports, it evaluates local businesses and services rather than products. Their evaluations are based on subscriber surveys and are less sensational and inflammatory that what you will find on free-for-all websites (such as Yelp.com). They provide ratings on such topics as price, timeliness, customer service, etc.
San José Public Library does not subscribe to their website (www.checkbook.org) but we do provide back issues of their magazine at ten library locations. The King Library has five years worth of back issues, but the branches that have it typically keep six months to two years of back issues. Or you can subscribe to their print or online magazine for a fee from home.
Don’t buy a car, remodel your house, or visit your doctor without first reading Unscrewed: The Consumer’s Guide to Getting What You Paid For by Ron Burley. The book is “a practical guide to getting what you paid for from uncaring, unscrupulous, and unavailable companies, including the government, through the creative and legal use of technology” (description from the publisher, Ten Speed Press). Included are sixteen true stories about average people who got positive results by using the techniques discussed in the book. Author Ron Burley explains why companies don’t treat you fairly, and what you can do about it; how to avoid the voicemail trap; and how to get customer service representatives to pay attention to you.
Burley worked as a broadcast journalist for fifteen years before launching and selling three small companies. For more information about him, check out his web site.
Just in case you think this is another book about how to write a polite letter to a company that has victimized you, it’s not. It’s a book for consumers who are ready to assertively (but not aggressively) take charge of getting what they’re entitled to.