WALNUT CREEK, Calif. (KGO) --Every year billions of gift cards are bought and every year millions go unredeemed. However, by law gift cards in California never expire and some retailers don't know that.
We've been reporting on this for years, and still, we hear from viewers who say a merchant won't honor a gift card because they say it expired.
A Walnut Creek man thought he was stuck with a worthless piece of paper, until he called 7 On Your Side for help.
Garwin Soe received a gift certificate from a good friend. "She loved the restaurant, it has delicious food," he said.
She gave Soe a $150 gift certificate to a popular Japanese restaurant called Happy Roll in Concord.
Soe got it for Christmas back in 2012 and hasn't had a chance to redeem it, until now. "We went there to try to use the gift certificate and looked at the menu," he said.
But here's the problem, the gift certificate expired in December 2013, one year after it was issued. So before dining there, Soe asked if he could still use it. "And they said 'no you can't use it' and I said 'well can I have it extended,"' he said.
The manager checked with the owner. "And the owner said the gift certificate had expired. 'We can't honor it and we can't use it,"' Soe said.
However, Soe pointed out that by law in California, gift certificates like this one can never expire and the manager wasn't impressed. "He said that's how we interpret it, is that a gift certificate can have an expiration date and there's no way I was going to convince him otherwise," he said. "I was quite disappointed and I was kind of mad in a way."
Soe contacted 7 On Your Side and we told him he was right all along. Under California law, most gift cards and certificates sold by retailers cannot expire. They also cannot include service fees, but there are exceptions. For example, gift cards can expire if they were donated or given away as a promotion, bank cards that can be used anywhere also may expire, and the law doesn't apply to gift cards sold before 1997.
The restaurant honored the gift certificate after 7 On Your Side contacted the owner and explained the California law. "Thank you so much for telling me about the law. I have called the customer and I will be giving him a new gift certificate this weekend," owner Jihen Kim said.
The law also says if you don't use the entire amount on your card at once, you keep the remaining value on the card.
By law, any amount under $10 on a gift card can be redeemed for cash.
Kim said anyone else with an expired gift certificate can come in and get it redeemed.