If you haven't already got your Christmas gift plans finalised and perfected, then a gift card is probably looking like a pretty good option about now. As our 12 days of perfect Christmas planning nears its conclusion, here's a few gift card tricks to be aware of.
We've already offered up some suggestions for gift card options as part of our Christmas gift guide, and they're hardly a difficult item to find. Walk into any newsagent, post office or convenience store and you're likely to see a rack of gift cards for a huge range of retailers on offer. At this stage sending them in the mail is pretty much out of the question, but for overseas relatives retailers such as Amazon offer virtual gift cards which you can send via email right up until the last minute.
There's two prevailing views of gift cards: they're a lazy option for the unimaginative, or they're a sensible way of ensuring your recipient gets something they'll actually like and use. If you think the former, you wouldn't be here, would you? So let's jump to some useful reminders about gift card giving, whatever brand you choose to go with.
Pick a retailer your recipient can access
Mailing an IKEA gift card to cousin Ken in Dubbo is not going to be very helpful, as there won't be much chance to spend it. While this isn't an issue for cards you can use in online stores, it is something you should consider before splashing out.
Stock up in advance
Music-based gift cards -- most notably those for the iTunes store, but also those for BigPond Music -- are unusual in routinely being discounted by up to 25%. We regularly highlight discount offers here at Lifehacker, and having a couple on hand is a useful backup for emergency gift-giving whether it's Christmas or not.
Disposing of unwanted gift cards
If you literally can't find anything you like via a card you've been given, there are options for disposing of your unwanted card. Alas, the previously featured CardNap exchange appears to have disappeared. However, you could regift the card, or -- thinking laterally -- use it to purchase a gift for someone else.
Make note of the expiry date
Most gift cards have an expiry period (often 12 months from the date of purchase if it's activated in store, or 12 months from first use). Don't let that money go to waste. Make note of the expiry period, and email your recipient to check they've used the card a couple of months before it's due to give out. (If there's an embarrassed silence, you can perhaps presume they've regifted, but still, you've done your best.)
Lifehacker's weekly Loaded column looks at better ways to manage (and stop worrying about) your money.