How to find the best deal on Visa gift cards and, in some cases, how to cover the purchase price entirely.
Do I Have to Pay the Activation Fee?
I’m often asked if there is any way to buy a Visa gift card without paying the activation fee or purchase charge. The answer is no. Visa, Mastercard®, American Express® and other bank-issued gift cards charge a purchase fee to cover the money they have to pay to third parties like the store, the program manager, and the processor. Though you can’t avoid paying the purchase charge entirely, there are ways to save money on Visa and other open loop gift cards.
How to Save on Visa Gift Cards
The great thing about Visa gift cards is that they can be used anywhere in the United States that Visa debit cards are accepted. A friend recently gave me a $100 Visa gift card “just because.” After activating the card, I put it in my wallet on top of my debit card so I would remember to use the gift card. Later that night, I bought dinner for my kids. I also needed to get gas in my car, so I bought that too. A couple of days later, I used the Visa gift card to pay for popcorn at the movies and then I bought a book online.
Not only did I use the gift card all over town, but also did so confidently. Even as the balance dwindled, I knew that as long as I used the card at a physical location, I’d be able to use every last penny. (Generally, a card’s balance must cover the full transaction amount to use a gift card online.)
Sure enough, my last transaction (for less than a dollar), completed the card’s value and I paid the balance of the purchase with my debit card. When it comes to flexible gifting, you really can’t beat Visa gift cards. If you’re hesitating to buy one because you don’t want to pay the additional purchase cost, then let me teach you how to find the best deal on Visa gift cards and, in some cases, how to cover the purchase price entirely. It can be done!
Here are four ways to save money on Visa Gift Cards:
1. Shop Around for Lowest Total Cost
Before I became the spokesperson for GiftCards.com, I was a customer. Wanting to make a personalized gift card for my son’s baseball coach, I looked online for various places to make custom gift cards and compared the cost of each. GiftCards.com had the lowest activation rate and personalization charges I could find.
I haven’t compared websites recently, but I still believe that is the case. At just $3.95 for a $100 Visa gift card ($2.95 if less than $75) plus $1 to upload my own photo, the total purchase charge came to $4.95. Because the card is sold online, however, I had to pay shipping charges of $1.99. Still, when I compared the total “above the value of the gift card” amount to in-store options, I paid a little less and got a fully custom gift card PLUS it came in a free custom greeting card.
Some gift cards charge variable activation fees based on the dollar amount loaded onto the card. For example, at GiftCards.com, the activation fee is currently $2.95 for a custom Visa gift card with a balance of up to $74.99. It costs $3.95 to get a gift card in the dollar amount of $75 to $149.99. The basic shipping charge is $1.99.
At Gift Card Mall, the activation charge is $5.95 regardless of the dollar amount loaded onto the card, but shipping is free. So if you want to buy a $100 Visa gift card at either site, you’ll pay about $6 to get it to your house. If the dollar value is lower, then GiftCards.com is the least expensive choice. If you want a higher dollar value on the card, then GiftCardMall.com has the lowest total cost.
If you go to the grocery store (and don’t factor in the time and gas required to drive to the store), then gift cards with a $5.95 activation charge cost about the same as the custom options–you just don’t get to put a picture on the card or write a personal message.
So when comparing the purchase costs of the various Visa gift cards available, be sure to include shipping charges, customization charges and whether or not the purchase fee varies according to the dollar amount you’ll load onto the card.
2. Get a Visa Gift Card with Rewards
Visa just launched a new gift card that gives you 5% money back when you use the gift card at participating merchants. The gift card is called Five Back Visa and it’s available in stores and online for $6.95 plus the dollar value of the card.
When you use the Five Back Visa gift card to make a purchase at a growing list of merchants, you’ll get 5% of the transaction amount loaded back onto your card. So, for example, if you use the gift card to make a $20 purchase at CVS, you’ll get $1 loaded back onto the card after the transaction is complete. That seems simple enough.
The savings, however, stack up further if you get strategic with the gift card using the following tricks:
Shop at Participating Merchants.
The Five Back Visa gift card is usable wherever Visa debit cards are accepted, but you can reduce the overall cost to purchase the gift card by using it at merchants listed on the Five Back Visa website. If you buy a $100 Five Back Visa gift card, you’ll pay $6.95 to activate it. If you only use the card at participating merchants, you’ll get $5 back on the initial purchase and an extra 5% on the $5 you earn for a total of $5.26 back by the time the gift card is fully redeemed. That makes the total cost of the gift card just $1.69. Not a bad deal. If you give the gift card to someone else, then that’s an additional $5.26 the recipient has to enjoy.
Stack onto other Deals.
Though I always look for deals when I shop and am not afraid to pull out a coupon or hold up the checkout line while I look for deals on a store’s app, I get especially strategic when I know that I’m saving money simply by using a discounted card.
In this list of “Gift card hacks to save you time and money, I explain that you can stack gift card discounts onto in-store sales, coupons and other discounts to save a bundle. So if you’re planning to shop at JCPenney or Macy’s with your Five Back Visa, gather up your coupons (or download the store’s app for digital coupons) before you get to the store. When the discounts add up at the register and you’re already feeling pretty good about the savings, remember that another 5% will go back onto the card. (Fist pumps allowed!)
Load the Card with More than $140.
Do the math. If you load more than $140 onto a Visa Five Back card, then the card will pay for itself when you use it at participating merchants. If you load more than that onto the card, you will actually make money.
I’m not talking about “manufactured spending” or “points boosting,” I’m simply saying that if you have a large purchase planned at one of the participating stores, then you will save money if you buy it with this rewards-based gift card. For example, if you’re planning to buy $200 worth of holiday decorations at Pottery Barn or you want to take the family out for dinner and a movie at Red Robin and Regal Cinemas, then first buy a $200 Five Back Visa gift card for the $6.95 purchase price. When you spend the $200 as planned, $10 will be loaded back onto your card–$3.05 more than it cost you. $500 gift card? You’ll net $18.05 after covering the purchase price.
For people who want to use gift cards for budgeting, but don’t want to buy reloadable prepaid cards or pay the activation fee required to buy a Visa gift card, the money back amount will offset the cost of activation if you shop at the merchants listed.
It’s important to note two things about the Visa Five Back card. The first is that new merchants are added all the time, so the savings potential of this card will increase as well. The second thing is that the money back percentage award offered by each merchant can vary. Unless otherwise noted on the website, the money back award is 5%.
3. Watch for Gift Card Deals
Almost every week, I update a blog post on Top Gift Card Deals. In this post, I share all the gift card deals I’m aware of including discounts on gift cards, gift card promos, gift card “buy one, get ones” and more. Often popular store and restaurant gift cards are advertised, but occasionally, bank-issued gift cards are part of the offers as well.
As we near the holiday season, I expect to see many more gift card deals available, both online and in stores. When you see a bank-issued gift card for sale, do the math on how much you’ll pay to purchase it, minus how much you can save with the offer.
During early October of this year, Office Depot had a sale “save $15 when you buy $300 or more in Visa gift cards.” The Five Back Visa card was included in the offer. So let’s see. $300 minus $15 is $285. Add the $6.95 purchase fee and you’ll pay $292.95 for a $300 Visa that will give you $15 back. When I do the math, that’s a $315 value for $292.95 (Savings of $22.05) if you redeem the gift card at participating merchants. (Of course, if you split the $300 offer across multiple cards, you’ll pay $6.95 for each, which does cut into the profit, but still more than covers the purchase price of the card.)
4. Try eGift Cards
One of the primary benefits of egifting is that personalizaton is free. You can upload images, add video messages and custom text without paying extra. You also save shipping charges. At GiftCards.com, for example, our Visa egift cards costs a flat $4.95 regardless of the dollar amount loaded onto the card. You can send egift cards immediately or schedule delivery for a later date. Either way, the shipping is free. So when a holiday is coming up fast and you don’t want to pay expedited shipping charges to have your gift delivered on time, try digital delivery and save money.
When you buy a store or restaurant gift card, there is no purchase price beyond the value of the gift card, but you have to redeem it at the issuing merchant. With Visa gift cards and other bank-issued gift cards, you pay a purchase price, but can use the gift card almost anywhere. I like to think of the few extra dollars as a small price to pay when I know the recipient will get to spend the money in the way that he or she needs it most–just like I did when I bought dinner, gas and popcorn with the gift card I received. Though I can’t escape paying a purchase price entirely, I certainly look for ways to pay as little as possible.
Have you found a way to save money on Visa gift cards? Let me know in the comments below or reach out to me on (Twitter @GCGirlfriend).
Happy Gift Carding!
~Shelley Hunter, Gift Card Girlfriend