In this report

Trading gift cards for cash

Last reviewed: March 2011
Illustration of a hand holding money

Gift cards sell like hotcakes, yet a quarter of Americans who receive them during the holidays have at least one lying around 10 months later, according to Consumer Reports surveys. Brian Riley, senior research director for the TowerGroup, a financial services firm, estimates that consumers left $2.5 billion worth of gift-card value on the table in 2010.

If your gift cards are gathering dust, there's another option: Turn them into cash. In recent years, there's been a surge in websites that claim to pay 50 to 95 percent of the value of a wide range of gift cards. The sites then resell the cards to the public for up to 30 percent off face value.

We used the online calculators for four such sites to see how much they'd pay for cards with a $200 face value from eight major retailers. The lessons learned:

  • Some cards are worth more than others. Sites were generally willing to pay more for cards from Walmart, Home Depot, and Whole Foods than for those from Brooks Brothers. Deals may change at any time, though. Kwame Kuadey, founder of Giftcardrescue, said the price depends on a merchant's popularity, which his company determines through a "wish list" survey of customers.
  • Look at several sites. No one always had the best deals. Overall, for $1,600 worth of cards, they paid from $1,232 to $1,298. Cardpool paid the most for a Bonefish Grill card but the least for a Brooks Brothers card.
  • Read the guarantee. For example, Monstergiftcard offers "a 100% guarantee that the stated value of the gift card is what you will receive. If not, we will offer to send you another gift card to make up the difference or send you the difference in cash." Offers at other sites may differ.
  • A "personalized" card may be worthless. Some sites buy only cards that lack the owner's name, because "it has to be something that can be used without hindrance," according to Kuadey.

What you get for a $200 card

Store Cardpool Giftcardrescue Giftcards Monstergiftcard Difference*
Whole Foods $180 $180 $140 $180 22%
Apple Store 170 160 140 160 18
Bonefish Grill 160 154 140 134 16
Walmart 180 168 190 170 12
Coach 150 150 140 152 8
Brooks Brothers 130 136 140 134 7
Home Depot 168 166 176 168 6
Macy's 160 160 166 160 4
* Between highest and lowest offers from websites.