5 Ways to Buy Gift Cards for Less Than Face Value — So You Can Save Even More on Black Friday
Last Black Friday, Staples had an Asus laptop for $99.99. You can't get them much cheaper than that... or can you?
Actually, if Staples has a similar offer this year, you can knock another $15 (and maybe more) off the price by using discounted gift cards.
For example, as I write this, $200 Staples gift cards are on sale for $170. One card would buy two of those laptops for a net cost of $84.99 each.
Of course, the deals will be different this year and that gift card sale may be gone by the time you read this. But don't worry; there are several ways to get store gift cards at a discount, and you'll find plenty of opportunities to use them.
Plus, if you learn a few advanced strategies, you can use gift cards to save even more money on Black Friday.
How to Buy Discounted Gift Cards
The concept is simple enough. You "stack" your savings by combining Black Friday sales with discounted gift cards as payment.
And most retailers let you use their cards in-store or online.
Here are five ways you can buy gift cards for less than face value.
1. Online Gift Card Vendors
Sellers that specialize in gift cards normally sell them at face value, but they do have sales.
Typically, quantities are limited and the deals sell out fast, so check often. You can sign up on Doctor of Credit to receive phone notifications of these types of deals.
2. Discounted Gift Card Sites
Many websites help you buy discounted gift cards with unused balances. Discounts vary according to demand, and from site to site.
For example, on Gift Card Zen, a Petco gift card with a balance of $279.61 is currently selling for $223.69, a discount of 20%, but the Walmart cards are all discounted less than 2%. On Raise, there’s a PetSmart gift card for 19.5% off, but again, Walmart cards are only 2% off.
To find the best deals, use Gift Card Granny to compare several websites at once. I've purchased cards from several vendors numerous times, and so far I haven't had any major problems.
3. Local Store Promotions
I recently bought gift cards for several retailers at Dollar General for 15% off.
Stop and Shop is currently offering a $10 store credit if you spend $100 on gift cards, and their selection includes eBay and L.L. Bean.
To find these deals, check weekly ads online for various stores near you. Gift card promotions are usually on or near the last page. Staples gift card promotions are in the "Gifts and Games" section.
Gift cards at Sam's Club (online and in-store) often sell at a discount, but the selection is limited and the best deals are usually for restaurants.
Currently, you can get a package of four cards for Outback Steakhouse with a total face value of $85 (three $25 cards and one $10 card) for $71.98. You could use them as four separate gifts. Buy them with a cash-back credit card, of course (more on that in a moment).
4. Use a 5% Cash-Back Category Reward
If you have a credit card that pays 5% cash back on certain categories, you can use it to get 5% back on gift cards for non-category retailers.
For example, Discover's 5% categories recently included "home improvement stores," so I used my Discover card to buy several different store gift cards at Home Depot. It had close to 100 different retailers' cards, including places like Dick's Sporting Goods and Amazon.
Discover doubles your cash back after the first year, so you actually get 10% back if you're a new card holder.
Chase Freedom is another card with rotating 5% cash back categories (new ones every three months). Just remember that with both Chase and Discover, you have to activate your 5% bonus online at the beginning of each quarter.
5. Use Amex Offers
If you have an American Express card, take advantage of Amex Offers to get discounted gift cards. Just watch for offers at places that sell gift cards.
For example, my offers (each account theoretically gets different ones) currently include a $10 statement credit for spending $50 at JCPenney. I can go to JCPenney, find their gift card rack, buy a $50 card for some other store, and get $10 back.
American Express says they'll credit your account within 90 days, but it has never taken more than two weeks for my credit to appear.
You might even get gift cards for free. I used an offer of $10 back for any purchase at Newegg to buy a $10 Home Depot gift card -- three times. There was no shipping charge, so I got $30 in Home Depot cards for free.
Get Ready for Black Friday
To prepare for Black Friday, you may have to guess where you'll spend the most money, and how much, in order to buy the right gift cards in advance.
If you're uncertain, just buy cards for places where you usually shop. That way, you can easily "liquidate" them after Black Friday if you haven't used them all.
If you wait until the last moment (or are reading this on Black Friday), you can still buy digital gift cards as necessary and print them out at home. Most vendors say it takes up to a day to email you the link to print your "card," but I've always received it within two hours.
One exception: Gift Card Zen may delay first-time orders for security reasons.
If you're a scientific shopper, you'll prepare a list of doorbusters and other items you plan to buy, and where. Then you'll find the necessary gift cards at the best discounts available. You'll also use...
More Advanced Gift Card Strategies
Paying for Black Friday purchases with discounted gift cards is a simple way to "stack" your savings.
But you can save even more if you add additional savings tactics, like using the right rewards credit card. Here are some examples of how to really stack up those savings.
Gap and Old Navy gift cards are currently on sale for 20% off at Staples. Buy a $50 card with a Chase Ink or American Express Simply Cash Business card (I have both), to get $2 cash back on the $40 purchase (5% back at all office supply stores).
Spend $50 on half-priced gifts on Black Friday, and pay with the gift card for a total net cost of $38 for things that would normally cost $100.
That's how you stack three savings tactics: a sale, credit card cash back and a discounted gift card.
You plan to spend $140 on gifts at Michaels, so you do this:
- Go to Cashback Monitor and enter Raise to see which cash-back portal pays best for shopping at that discount card vendor. At the moment, the best rate is 3% from Splender.
- Go to Splender and set up an account, because they offer 3% cash back if you shop at Raise through their link.
- Use the Splender portal link to go to Raise.
- Search through the many Michael's gift cards. As I write this, a card with a balance of $139.85 is listed for $111.94, a 20% discount.
- Buy the gift card with a credit card that gives you cash back, like Citi Double Cash (2%) or Barclaycard CashForward World MasterCard (1.5%).
- Buy stuff at Michaels for at least 50% off on Black Friday.
Here's the breakdown on what you would save on the first $140 of purchases, if you buy only Black Friday deals that are 50% off:
- Half-off sale savings: $140.00
- Gift card discount: $27.91
- Portal cash back: $3.36
- Credit card cash back: $2.24
By stacking four savings tactics, you save $173.51, and pay just $106.49 for gifts that would have cost $280 at the regular prices.
Add a coupon to the last example to use five savings tactics for one purchase. I did a five-level stack recently (not for Black Friday).
I earned portal cash back (1) when I bought a discounted gift card (2) with a cash-back credit card (3), and then I used the gift card and a coupon (4) to buy items already on sale (5) -- all just to get cheap cat food at Petco in that case, but the strategy can also work at all of your favorite Black Friday stores.
Your Turn: Will you use discounted gift cards as part of your Black Friday shopping strategy?
Disclosure: We have a serious Taco Bell addiction around here. The affiliate links in this post help us order off the dollar menu. Thanks for your support!
Steve Gillman is the author of "101 Weird Ways to Make Money" and creator of EveryWayToMakeMoney.com. He's been a repo-man, walking stick carver, search engine evaluator, house flipper, tram driver, process server, mock juror, and roulette croupier, but of more than 100 ways he has made money, writing is his favorite (so far).