I have a small stack of Visa check cards that have been collecting on my desk over the last year an a half. I buy a fair amount of tech gear online throughout the year. I get hardware when I find a good deal, and in many cases that involves a rebate from the manufacturer. But recent trends have the rebates coming back in the form of Visa check cards. No more rebate checks. Everyone issues the rebate on a check/debit card. I’m not sure of the upside for the company issuing the rebate, but when you want to redeem the gift card it can be a pain in the ass.
For example, say you want to use the gift card to pay for a meal. If its a $20 gift card, you can’t actually spent the $20 on the meal. 15% or more is held back from the available limit to allow room for gratuity on the purchase. On top of that, the total for the bill will never equal that of the check card, so you either split the payment between the check card and a credit card, or you make up the difference in cash. And not knowing if the gratuity hold back is 15%, 20% or 25%, its impossible to spend the balance of the card without a lot of screwing around and hassling the already overworked waiter/waitress. Using a gift card for payment at a restaurant is a fail.
I don’t do a lot of shopping first hand. I’m not big on the shopping experience. I don’t like to walk around the stores tripping over lollygaging customers who are more interested in their cell phone, or confused and glassy-eyed from all of the bright lights and shinny fixtures. If I go to a store, I know what I want, I get it, and I get out. I could use the check card at the register. But here, too, I have issues similar to that of a restaurant. I either end up with a card that is not fully spent, or I end up having to get the person running the register to split the payment over 2 cards. Not to disparage any register jockeys that might be reading here, but all register clerks are not created equal. Its hard enough to get the correct change back when I pay cash. If I try to use more than one credit card, I have long odds on getting the transaction completed correctly. The clerk might get it right on the first try, or I might end up losing twenty minutes of my afternoon drawing the wrath of each pour soul trapped in line behind me. Shopping at a local store with a check card is fail.
But a check card could really be handy if I shop online. Just about every site on the interweb will accept a credit card, so spending the card’s balance should be easy. But even that proves to be problematic. If the online purchase is less than the credit balance on the card, I end up left with a card that now has some odd balance left on it. Trying to keep track of that is a problem all its own. And if the online purchase is more than the value of the card, it becomes equally painful. Very few sites allow the cost of the order to be distributed across more than one credit or debit card. In fact, the only site allowing this, in my experience, is Dell.com. So no matter which way I go, I’m marking online shopping down as a fail as well.
Issues like these are what led to the stack of cards collecting on my desk. I want to use the gift cards, but its been my experience that a lot can go wrong. But fear not, I’m not posting just to complain about the experiences I have had. I actually have an alternative solution that actually worked well for me. Well, at least considering my shopping habits.
It turns out that Amazon.com will let customers cash in these check cards and simply have the funds added to their Amazon account for later use. Just visit this link and select the option to send a personalized gift card via email. Its possible to make the gift worth any amount that you like. Create a gift card for the entire value of the check card and checkout. When you have to select a payment type, just use the Visa check card as if it were a credit/debit card. Since its an email gift card, you just send it to yourself!
After you place the order for the gift card using Amazon.com, check your email. Amazon will have issued an email message that contains the code needed to redeem the self generated credit. Just take that code and enter it into the correct field at this link (note: you will have to login to your Amazon account before the link will take you to the correct page). The gift credit is added to your Amazon account balance and is ready to be used the next time you shop.
Again, this is only a solution if you shop at Amazon.com. But since I often do, it works! I just went through the procedure for the stack of check cards and I now have an $85 credit waiting at Amazon. And I don’t have any of the above mentioned worries. No hassles at the register, no confusing the waitress or waiter, no holding up the line at checkout, and no small unused balances left on the card. Problem solved!
UPDATE 5/14/10 4:36pm:
Looks like there is a possible snag. Amazon.com would not accept an American Express Prepaid Giftcard when I tried to use it today. The site states that these cards are not accepted as a payment source. Conventional American Express cards are still accpeted. Ouch!