What Gift Card Rights Do You Have?

Chances are you accumulated a gift card or two over Christmas, and you don't want them to go to waste. What rights do you have in terms of card expiry and use?Picture by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images

It's worth noting first of all that the Australian rules for gift cards are quite different from other countries. The US, for instance, has wildly varying gift card rules depending on the state where they're issued. Australian rules are much more standardised. The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) has a good basic explanation of gift cards on its site. (Since cards represent a form of financial transaction, they fall within ASIC's purview.)

The most important thing to note is that, for the most part, retailers can set their own rules regarding cards. In particular:

If there's an expiry date, you need to respect it. Retailers can set expiry dates and are not obliged to accept expired cards if they state that expiry periods apply in their terms and conditions. You can always try sweet-talking them after the date, but success isn't guaranteed

You can't assume you'll get change. Most gift cards require you to spend the full value in-store, though some retailers will give change for small amounts. But that's at their discretion; again, if the terms state change is not given, you can't demand it as a right.

If it gets stolen, tough luck. While newer cards often use a pin number as a form of security and allow you to register online, it makes sense to treat cards like cash, since that's effectively what they are.

Make sure cards are activated when you buy them. To prevent fraud and theft, most gift cards don't actually work until they've been activated in store. Make sure that they're activated when you buy to avoid an embarrassing conversation with the recipient later on.

Gift cards don't have to be honoured online. While many large retailers will let you use gift cards in their online stores, this is — again — up to them. If they don't offer the option, you'll have to trek to a physical store to use the card. Similarly, many retailers don't sell cards online at all, have odd conditions attached (IKEA being an obvious example) or don't do a good job activating cards sold through those channels (stand up Big W).

For distant or difficult recipients, gift cards are a great idea, and spending them after Christmas should be pleasurable. Just make sure you do get around to spending them.

Lifehacker's weekly Loaded column looks at better ways to manage (and stop worrying about) your money.


    So bassicly we have no rights at all in gift card terms? Any positives we can perhaps exploit? ;P

      I'm pretty sure what he is saying is that you treat the gift card as if it were cash. You lose it, tough!

        I like Canada's system where it's illegal for businesses to put an expiry date on gift cards. It should be like there here (Australia) too.

          Exactly. After all, they're like cash right? Cash doesn't expire.

        Treat giftcards as cash that discenergrate. You can lock cash away for decades, yet gift cards only lasts for 6 months

    I received an interesting gift card this Christmas. A Westfield XS Eftpos gift card. Apparently it can be used anywhere eftpos is accepted. Be warned though, it doesn't seem to work at any Coles Group retailers (I tried it at Coles, Target, KMart).

      Poedgirl - 've purchased those cards a few years ago as gifts from my local Westfield. I've bought them a couple of times, but each time the person who's assisted me made it a point to make sure I was aware that they cannot be used at any retailers from the ColesMyer chain.

      Just checked their website and it also mentions it there:
      "...This includes the Coles Group (with the exclusion of Kmart), Myer and the Woolworths Group"

      So perhaps the person who bought it for you wasn't told this or forgot to pass it onto you.

      Yes you can! I just used the exact same card at Myer & Target. I did have to explain to the person that it even thought it said Westfield its an eftpos card.

        Carly, there are 2 types of Westfield cards. There are the Eftpos cards that work anywhere, including stores outside Westfield centres. Then there are the centre gift cards that only work in the Westfield centre - and most major retailers don't accept.

    And of course, if the company goes into administration, whatever rights you *did* have fly out the window (fuck you, Borders).

    We had a real issue over here last year when Whitcoulls & Borders were going into receivership and they refused to accept gift cards unless you spent the same amount again. So, to get the $75 value of the card you had to spend another $75!

    I loathe receiving gift cards for birthday/xmas. Too many a time have I opened up my draw or explored the recesses of my wallet and found long forgotten expired unspent ones, probably at least $500 worth by now.

    Herp just found a $35 Westfield one expired last month, I remember trying to use it a couple of times but nowhere in Westfield I shopped at accepted them (probably all Coles group as mentioned above). Sigh.

    Westfield cards are the worst - no retailers there I want to use, have $500 in them now - the only place thats good is JBHifi - might get a new macbook air :)

      I went to JB HiFi specifically to use my giftcard. Do you think I could find anything decent for $25. The only decent thing was 3 months access to their streaming service.

    Gift cards are the biggest retail scam in Australia. Interest free loan to a huge corporation, and there's every chance that they don't need to pay it back.

    Completely and utterly stupid.

    I found a $50 gift card in a book I got for Christmas 5 years ago or something... Was rapt to fins it didn't have an expiry date!

    Although people, you can also thank the tax man for putting expiry dates on gift cards - companies have to do it to keep their books intact. - what happens if a company sells $20M in gift cards in a bumper year, but then they all get used at once during a slow year - instant administration!

    Although this is unlikely to happen.

    Found a bunch of cards that had expired just a few days earlier and contacted the various companies to try and get them renewed - would have been happy even if they'd wanted to charge me for the privilege. Most of them told me to get stuffed, but Kathmandu sent me a brand new voucher at no extra cost that lasted another 12 months. Very good of them.

    This article. A million times this!

    Treat them like cash. Respect the expiry.

    It also bothers me, especially around Christmas season, where people ask retailers whether they can buy a gift card WITH a gift card. Say what??

      I have visited Target, bought goods and Coles Group giftcards and paid for them with a Target only gift card. I've done this at least five times and the staff have never questioned me about it.

    Attempted to make a purchase at Bunnings using a XS Westfield Eftpos Giftcard, was wasting my time, will be telling all my friends not to buy any Westfield Giftcards !!

    These laws in Australia needs updating, it's ridiculous that gift vouchers can expire.. they are basically cash vouchers!

    I got a gift voucher for my birthday and Christmas last year (they are very close together) and I just went to use it yesterday and noticed it's already expired... Just to let you know the expiry date starts from when the person purchases them (in my case about a month early) so in my case I loose a month worth of access...

    How vouchers can expire is beyond me, the longer people hold onto them the less they are worth due to inflation so if someone wants to use it 5 years later what the big deal the shop has been earning interest on that say $500 in there bank account for the last 5 years and now that $500 is worth less any way!

    I too forgot about them, I went to use mine in December that I had got in August from work, to find they had expired already. So they should not have expiry dates, and yes most of us just assume its from when we receive it, but its from when they are purchased. My opinion is if a gift card is like cash, then why do they have expiry dates, cash never expires. Change the rules.

    I'll say the same thing I said on the Westfield facebook page (heaps of complaints about expired giftcards every week)...if someone gives you money as a gift (unless your saving) you don't hold on to that money for more than 12 months, so why do you wait that long to use a gift card?? It baffles me...I know if I ever receive a gift card, I like to use it as soon as I can...better than using your own money

    Please don’t buy Gift Cards. These are a rort, and these companies pray on vulnerable people who unfortunately mis-place their gift card, and then it expires. If one household in the country had an expired gift card, these companies make billions for nothing. Don’t let them do it. In my opinion Gift Cards should never expire, as the company already has been paid for the transaction up front. They need to honor this to all customers, and it’s time they shouldn’t get away with it any longer. Coles just did this with me, and it’s now goodbye Coles forever. I will never step back into any of their partner stores either.

      I feel the same about *Event Cinemas*. BAD business!!!
      Pathetic that authorities put no effort into correcting this *scam*.

      Gift Cards - NEVER AGAIN. Cash doesn't expire, these cards should not expire.
      *At least a 5 year term* should be applied, but 1 year??? This is WRONG.

      Canada does not allow exp dates on such things, neither should we.

      Well said Tammy.

    We just got caught out with a GOOD FOOD GIFT CARD VOUCHER. 2 MONTHS OVERDUE.
    After emails and conversations with them, they would not budge. No extensions given.
    I would have thought their GOODWILL was worth more than the card value.
    I am disgusted with their lack of understanding, especially in the industry of dining.One would think they would do their Restaurants a favour and be lenient, after all, most times the bill will be far more than the gift card value.
    Because of this We will from now on make a point of boycotting any GOOD FOOD RESTAURANTS, AS A FORM OF PROTEST/REVENGE !

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