7 Simple Ways to Make the Most of Unused Gift Cards

Whether you’re on the giving or receiving end, gift cards make great gifts. The gift card industry is worth an estimated $60 billion. Some experts say that 10% – 15% of gift cards are never redeemed, which equals billion dollars in unused funds.

A couple weeks ago, while I was cleaning out my wallet, I found several gift cards with money still on them. And while a few of them may only have a small balance, I definitely don’t want to waste it. So here’s some options to make the most of unused gift cards.

1. Put them up for auction

Unused or unwanted gift cards can be sold online. Besides listing them on eBay, there are lots of other options and you won’t have to mess with selling and shipping the cards yourself. After doing some research online I decided to use Card Cash to resell one of my unused cards.

They offered me the highest bid and deposited my funds into my Paypal account within 2 days. You can choose to give them the gift card number and pin online, or print out a free shipping label with instructions to mail in the physical card.

2. Add to an Amazon account

If you receive a Mastercard or Visa gift card, it’s basically the same as cash. But if you have multiple cards with small amounts, sometimes it’s inconvenient to redeem them all at once. As an alternative, you can use them to a credit towards your Amazon account.

All you have to do is act like you’re purchasing an Amazon gift card via email, put in the information from your unused gift card as payment, and you’ve transferred your balance to your Amazon account.

3. Donate or give them to charity

There are some great benefits to donating a gift card, like the tax write-off, giving to a worthwhile cause and the convenience. Before making a donation to charity you’ll need to research what charities accept gift cards and if they require a minimum balance.

At DonateMyCard.com they take small balances of just a few dollars from pre-paid cards issued by American Express, Visa and Mastercard. The site does take a 20-30% cut of donations less than $10. GiftCardGiver accepts donations of gift cards and gives them to non-profit organizations to help benefit others in need.

Don't waste unused gift cards

4. Exchange or trade them

In addition to auctioning off your unwanted gift cards, you can choose to sell or exchange them. CardAvenue is a gift card registry where consumers can make a wish list of the unused gift cards they want to trade. You can also share the wish lists with family members and friends.

Here’s how it works: If you have a $50 Wal-Mart gift card, but you would rather have a $50 Target card, then include those cards in your wish list. Other traders will browse the site, and if they have the card you’re looking for and want the unused card you’re offering, you might be able to make a trade. The site does receive a commission on all trades.

5. Redeem for travel miles

This option particularly enticing for travel lovers like me. Some airline companies like United-Continental, offer gift card exchanges for members of the frequent-flier program.

There’s over 85 retailers to select from, and after entering your gift card with a balance of $25 or more, you will receive a credit of flier miles into your MileagePlus account.

6. Use with coupons + discounts

Not all retailers allow coupon stacking (using multiple coupons in a single transaction) but many will allow you to combine coupons or rebates with gift cards. Do a quick search online for coupons and cash back to maximize the balance on your gift card.

7. Thoughtfully re-gift them

While some people may not like the thought of re-gifting, it’s still a smart, money-saving option. Gift cards with a large balances on them can be split into several cards with smaller balances.

You can avoid any awkwardness by asking the retailer to trade a holiday-themed card for a different theme you need, like a birthday card or baby shower card. Whatever you do, just make sure you don’t re-gift the exact same card, with a relative or friend at the same gathering.

Don’t let your unwanted gift cards sit around collecting dust. Instead, make them work for you and use these tips to get the most of unwanted cards.

What do you typically do with unwanted gift cards? Do you have any other ideas as to not let the money go to waste?

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About the author: Carrie Smith is the financial artist and owner of Careful Cents, a site that helps creative freelancers discover the art of making a living. In May 2013 she quit her full-time accounting job to pursue entrepreneurship and blogging. Since then she’s been featured in sites like The Huffington Post, Glamour Magazine, and Kiplinger Finance. In her spare time she enjoys painting, sketching, and making food with her chef husband. You can connect with her in real time on Twitter or Instagram: @carefulcents.

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  • Modest Money June 3, 2012, 12:43 pm

    Retailers must love how many gift cards go unused.  That’s just gifting those stores free money.

    I know I have some money left on a gift card for an expensive restaurant.  I just can’t bring myself to go for a fancy meal to use the last $10-15.  I might have to consider some of these other options you mentioned.  It would be great to be able to trade it in for something more practical.  The only problem is that I don’t know the exact balance remaining.  I’d feel a little weird going into the restaurant just to check the balance and then leave without dining.

    • Carrie Smith June 3, 2012, 1:03 pm

      A lot of the cards come with the ability to call an automated service or go online to check the balance. That’s how I know what amounts my cards still have.

  • Monica June 4, 2012, 11:09 am

    What a great way to put gift cards to use, especially by donating them to a charity! I’m one of those weird people that finds a way to use the entire gift card balance,even if I use it to buy gifts for upcoming birthdays, etc. When I was a teacher, the best parent gifts were gift cards, because goodness knows that I didn’t need another bottle of lotion, although I was appreciative of anything I received! 

    • Carrie Smith June 4, 2012, 1:56 pm

      I don’t like to use the entire balance in-store but if I can trade it online or cash it in with my Amazon account, that’s what I do. Gift cards do make great gifts and are almost exactly like receiving cash. Although I do love lotion too! :)

  • Steve Stewart June 4, 2012, 12:47 pm

    I love the idea of using Visa or MC gift cards for Amazon. I hate to think that someone paid a few bucks to activate them when a gift card to a specific company/brand is usually free, but hey – it’s the gift that counts, right?

    • Carrie Smith June 4, 2012, 1:55 pm

      Sometimes if you purchase the Visa or MC cards from the bank they don’t come with an activation fee. But if you purchase them as gifts from CVS or Walgreens, then yes they have a fee. But like you said, it’s the gift that counts!

  • From Shopping to Saving June 4, 2012, 1:23 pm

    Oooh I would love to trade in my gift cards. I have a Coach, Gap, and Abercrombie one just sitting in my wallet. Must….trade…now!!!

    Thanks for this post =)

    • Carrie Smith June 4, 2012, 1:54 pm

      Awesome, I’m happy to help! :) 

  • Jasmita January 1, 2013, 11:42 pm

    Thank you for the Amazon idea! I used my $0.62 to buy a kindle book (I paid the difference). :) I know it’s less than a dollar, but I save ALL my change have about $50 going! ;)

    • Carrie Smith January 2, 2013, 10:22 am

      That’s awesome news! I’m so glad my idea helped you save some extra money on your ebook. Every little bit counts :)