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How Do I Use Promotional Gift Cards?

Follow these steps and learn how to use promotional reward and loyalty gift cards without any hassle.



What’s Different about Promotional Gift Cards?

Companies are increasingly turning to gift cards to reward loyal customers, new customers, top employees and so on. Though they go by different names–prepaid debit card, reward card, promotional gift card, promotional prepaid card, loyalty reward card and so forth–from a customer standpoint, promotional gift cards are the cards you receive without paying for them.

Some examples of promotional gift cards include the gift card you received when you switched your mobile phone service or the rebate card you received when you purchased a new set of contact lenses. Companies often give promotional cards during the holidays when they offer “buy one, get one” BOGO gift card deals or at other times of the year when gift cards are on sale.

Because you do not technically pay for the load value on these gift cards, they are not covered by gift card laws that prevent expiration and non-use fees. So the most important thing to know about promotional gift cards is that you must use them quickly.

Below are my tips on how to successfully use promotional gift cards.

1. Activate the Card Immediately

If the promotional gift card needs to be activated, then log into the website or dial the number listed on the back of the card and get it done quickly. If there’s a PIN number to be obtained, do that as well. A card that has not been activated will not be accepted at the cash register.

2. Check When Gift Card is Valid

Unlike regular gift cards (the kind you buy to give to friends and family), promotional gift cards often have a window of usability. That means they might have an expiration date and, possibly, a “not good until” date as well. Check when the gift card is valid and use it as soon as possible. Gift cards that expire are not likely to be replaced. Put the card in your wallet next to the debit and credit cards you use most often so you remember to use it. (Read “Tricks to Help You Remember Your Gift Cards” for other suggestions.)

3. Track the Balance

If your card is issued by a bank (e.g. Visa® Reward Card), then keep track of the balance because you may have to tell a cashier how much to charge the card. If you do not know the dollar amount available, you risk charging too much and having the transaction declined or charging too little and being stuck with a card that only has a few dollars left on it.

4. Read Transaction Instructions

I received a prepaid debit card from my utility company that said it needed to be processed as a “credit” transaction. A reward card I received from my cell phone company said I could process it as a “debit” transaction if I used the PIN provided. Check out the rules of your card before attempting to use it.

5. Spend it All in One Transaction

To avoid missing the usability window and worrying about the balance, use the card immediately and all at once. If you do not have a pressing need, then use the prepaid gift card to buy another gift card that has no restrictions. For example, if you receive a $5 Mastercard® Reward Card that is only good for three months, use it to buy a $5 Amazon egift card. When the Amazon egift card arrives, activate it and apply the egift to your Amazon account. When you shop later, the $5 credit will be waiting.

6. Split Tender if Needed

If the purchase you are making is greater than the value of the gift card, ask the cashier if you can complete the transaction with two forms of payment, called “split tender.” Use the full value of the promotional gift card first, then pay the balance of the bill with another payment option.

7. Pick the Right Stores

While I do not endorse any one particular store, I do find that cashiers at well-established merchants or nationwide chains are prepared (or their payment processing systems are more versatile and up-to-date) and able to handle whatever payment method I throw at them. The cashiers at my local Target store, for example, do a great job of accepting reward cards, split-tender payment, bank-issued gift cards and more. My success at using reward cards online also varies depending on the flexibility of the website’s shopping cart.

8. Get out a Permanent Marker

In this day of technology, it may surprise you to learn that a permanent marker may be the best tool to help you successfully use a promotional gift card. When you activate the card, write the dollar amount, valid dates and transaction requirements on the front of the card. If you receive any other special instructions, write those down as well. Having this information handy when you get to the register and want to use the card could be the difference between whisking through the checkout line or waiting for a manager to be called. Trust me, I have done both.

If this all sounds overly complex, I promise it is not. Using reward cards used to pose quite a challenge because cashiers did not know how to redeem them and cash registers were not technically able to do so either. But that has changed. All you really need to know now is when the gift card is valid. The rest of the shopping experience is up to you.

Happy Gift Carding!

~Shelley Hunter, Gift Card Girlfriend

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