SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The average person will buy five gift cards this year, spending more than $250. If you are more cutting edge, you will pocket some cash along the way. We used to give gift cards because we didn't know what else to give, but no more. This year gift cards are completely mainstream and now are being repackaged, rebranded and discounted.
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Go into any supermarket and you will find racks and racks of gift cards. Pick a brand, pay the marked price and you have a gift. That works, but this year, there are some strategies that can save you money and make the gift cards more worthwhile. Let's start with saving money.
This holiday season, gift cards often come with a bonus. 7 On Your Side went poking around and found Barnes & Noble offering a free $10 gift card when you buy a $100 gift card. Applebee's is giving a ten dollar card when you buy one worth $50. Costco is selling a $500 Hawaiian Airlines gift card for $449. Amazon has been offering deals too, and so have many other major retailers.
However, Gift Card Girlfriend Shelley Hunter says there can be a catch.
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"What you need to know about promotional gift cards is that those can have expiration dates, so if you see a restaurant gift card and you get a free appetizer, or something like that, with it for buying a gift card make sure to check the dates on the promotional gift cards," she says.
If you don't check you could lose all that free money. Shelley looked around and found a hundred bonus deals, she listed them on her website.
Next up: how to give a gift card someone actually wants.
You can, after all, pick the wrong retailer. You have received a card for a restaurant you don't like, or a store where you don't shop. Well, now there is a money-saving way around that problem.
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"We have traditionally had store or restaurant gift cards or bank issued gift cards like Visa or MasterCard that you pay a little extra money for," Shelley Hunter says. "But right in the middle of this year you're going to find more multi-store gift cards; they're usable at any of the stores and restaurants on the card, but you don't have to pay extra for those cards."
The groupings can be pretty random. Cards sometimes mix hardware stores with restaurants and electronic stores with clothing outlets. Buy one of those cards and you are sure to buy the correct one for your friend or family member.
Here's the third tip: Don't overthink giving a gift card. People want them, they are convenient and can be green, too. Buy a virtual card, send it out digitally and you can schedule the exact moment the card will arrive. If that seems a little too impersonal, Hunter has a suggestion.
"So the way you make a gift card look as intentional, as it really is, is to package it with a little something extra," Shelley says, "So you're going to put a shoe store gift card with a pair of socks. You're going to put an electronics gift card with a package of batteries."
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Finally the last tip: gift cards aren't just for giving! If you find a deal on a gift card, you can buy the card, then use it to purchase the actual gift you will give. 7 On Your Side's Michael Finney has done this himself -- just ask the line of people behind him at Macy's.
Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.
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