The 10 Best Gift Cards

Updated September 13, 2017 by Daniel Imperiale

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We spent 38 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top selections for this wiki. There are some people for whom it is truly impossible to shop. If you have already spent hours traipsing around the mall and scouring the internet, but you still haven't found the perfect present for that special someone, it's time to take the pressure off and accept the reality of the situation. Let them choose for themselves with one of these gift cards from their favorite store. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work. Skip to the best gift card on Amazon.

10. QVC Gift Card

With the QVC Gift Card you're not only giving the gift of whatever your recipient chooses to buy, you're also giving them the opportunity to enjoy hours of entertaining, infomercial-style programming that promotes a litany of interesting products at great prices.
  • works online and through the tv
  • wide variety of goods
  • won't work at qvc retail stores
Brand QVC
Model pending
Weight 0.3 ounces
Rating 3.7 / 5.0

9. Lowe's Home Improvement Center

Give the gift of a new hammer, fresh house paint, plumbing fixtures, and whatever else the lucky recipient needs for all their DIY projects with the gift card from Lowe's Home Improvement Center, which comes in denominations up to $200.
  • lost cards can be replaced
  • can be used online
  • small amounts aren't offered
Brand Lowe's
Model pending
Weight 0.8 ounces
Rating 4.1 / 5.0

8. Staples Gift Card

You can use the Staples Gift Card like cash to buy everything from digital cameras to plush office chairs, laptop computers or reams of crisp white paper for that printer or copy machine. It's the perfect gift for your secretary or for the office manager.
  • useful for students or professionals
  • great for door prizes and birthdays
  • limit of 5 cards online
Brand Staples Gift Card
Model pending
Weight pending
Rating 4.1 / 5.0

7. AMC Theatres

Going to the movies just got a whole lot easier thanks to the gift card from AMC Theatres. It's a fantastic choice for all film buffs, and makes a great stocking stuffer for a friend or for your significant other. Try giving it to someone who'll take you with them.
  • comes gift-wrapped
  • perfect for any occasion
  • no returns or refunds
Brand AMC Theatres
Model pending
Weight 0.5 ounces
Rating 3.5 / 5.0

6. Subway Gift Card

Everyone has to eat, and everyone likes to design their own sandwiches when possible. Those two facts make the Subway Gift Card a great choice for almost any person and for any occasion. The recipient can enjoy this gift at breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
  • 26000 locations across the us
  • no fees for using it
  • rewards points expire after 3 years
Model pending
Weight 0.3 ounces
Rating 4.4 / 5.0

5. Outback Steakhouse

Nobody doesn't like a deep fried onion or cheesy fries. The card from Outback Steakhouse brings Australian culture to you in the form of these delicious foods and a feel-good attitude. The restaurant strives to use only the freshest ingredients in all their meals.
  • can be returned for any reason
  • works for bills and tips
  • lost or stolen cards not replaced
Brand Outback Steakhouse
Model pending
Weight 0.5 ounces
Rating 4.2 / 5.0

4. Panera Bread

With a gift card from Panera Bread, you can get a wide range of great foods, and many of them are actually good for you. Panera Bread was one of the first places to post calorie information voluntarily at all its stores, and their dedication to nutrition continues today.
  • online menu available
  • good gift for the traveler
  • not ideal for gluten-free shoppers
Brand Panera Bread
Model pending
Weight 0.3 ounces
Rating 4.2 / 5.0

3. Whole Foods Gift Card

The deliciously delightful Whole Foods Gift Card is just about the healthiest card out there: it gives you access to some of the best grocery items in the United States and Canada. That's right, it can be used north of the border, as well.
  • great for catering orders
  • easily reload card
  • earns user reward points
Brand Whole Foods Market
Model pending
Weight 0.5 ounces
Rating 5.0 / 5.0

2. Starbucks Gift Card

Give the gift of delicious, fresh-brewed coffee and yummy pastries with the world-renowned Starbucks Gift Card. It's sure to bring a smile to anyone's face. These cards are also a good way for you to prepay for and track your own coffee consumption.
  • stores all over the globe
  • available in various amounts
  • very well known brand
Brand Starbucks
Model pending
Weight 0.5 ounces
Rating 4.9 / 5.0

1. Amazon Gift Card

Purchase just about anything you can imagine with the Amazon Gift Card. It might possibly be the best gift card on the planet, as its recipient can turn it into anything from an inflatable hot tub or a book to a pair of boots or a kite.
  • keeps track of how much used
  • a myriad of card designs available
  • never expires and no fees
Brand Amazon
Model 1_US_Email
Weight pending
Rating 4.9 / 5.0

A Brief History Of Gift Cards

While they are now a ubiquitous feature of any celebration that includes gift-giving, gift cards have actually only existed since the 1990s. The proto-gift card was the gift certificate, which many retailers and restaurants have offered for decades. These work like store credit purchased on behalf of another individual, who is then presented with some sort of receipt on which the value is recorded.

The gift card's more immediate predecessor came from American Express, which introduced gift cheques in 1988. These allowed recipients to use them like cash at many retail stores, as well as at restaurants and hotels, and are still available today. They can only be used for a single purchase, and if you don't spend the full value, you must claim the remaining sum in cash from the business where you redeem it.

The first technical gift card was introduced by the video rental chain Blockbuster in late 1994. The idea for the card was born as an attempt to combat the losses they were suffering at the time from customers using counterfeit gift certificates in their stores. They displayed them at checkout in order to familiarize customers with the new format. The department store Neiman Marcus was quick to follow suit, and adoption by other stores spread quickly through the remainder of the decade.

The first wave of major retailers to offer cards to their customers included the Gap, Macy's, and Bloomingdales. The cards were particularly successful at clothing stores because of the difficulty of approximating a gift recipient's proper size. Visa was the first credit card company to offer gift cards that worked like cash and could be redeemed anywhere, much like American Express's gift cheques. Starbucks introduced gift cards that retained their value from one purchase to the next in 2001. Most cards up until that point could only be used once, with the remaining value usually offered in cash upon redemption.

For the first decade or so of their existence, gift cards we subject to virtually no regulations by the US government. Some stores, including Home Depot and the Sharper Image exploited this by tacking fees on to the purchase or use of the cards. After a series of lawsuits, the first regulations emerged in 2002 in New York and California, though it took another two years before the federal Fair Gift Card Act was introduced. The measure mandated hidden-fee disclosures and was the first of many major regulations put in place.

In 2009, Congress passed the CARD Act, which requires retailers to honor gift cards for at least five years after purchase. Up to that point, may stores had expiration dates printed on cards upon manufacture, and customers were often unaware that they were liable to lose their value if not used quickly.

Today, gift cards are the most common gift given in the United States, and their worldwide popularity is only growing. Americans spent an estimated $46 billion on them in 2016, and global sales that year exceed $100 billion. In many cases, gift-givers eschew actual cards in favor of digital credit which can be purchased and redeemed online or in-store via a mobile app, depending on the retailer.

Why Gift Cards Are So Popular

Everybody knows what it feels like to spend hours looking for the perfect gift, only to settle for something that's just good enough. But the thing about giving a gift that isn't perfect is that, while it may be a nice gesture, it often becomes a burden for the recipient. Maybe it's a sweater in the wrong size, or a vase or serving plate that doesn't quite match their taste.

Regardless of the reason it's not ideal, a mediocre gift often demands that the recipient either exchange, repurpose, or re-gift it. Rather than running the risk of giving someone something they don't want, gift cards allow you the opportunity to give them exactly what they want, without having to know what it is. It saves everyone time, because you don't have to search painstakingly for the right thing. Instead, you can usually just pick one up at checkout at a convenience store or buy it online.

Gift cards occupy a protected space in the gift ecosystem. They work like cash, but while giving cash is often considered gauche, there is no such stigma associated with the cards. If you know where someone likes to shop, giving them a gift card can even be thoughtful, because it shows you had their interests in mind. And, thanks to modern innovation, if you do end up with a gift card you don't want, there are plenty of online marketplaces where you can sell or exchange it for one you do, all from the comfort of your own home.

Many corporate rewards programs also use gift cards in place of cash. In addition, online surveys and market research firms often offer users and participants gift cards in exchange for their time and opinions.

The Dark Side Of The Gift Card Industry

Since gift cards gained popularity in the 1990s, the industry has been plagued by money laundering and fraud. At one time, this effected consumers directly, because corporations were using hidden fees and expiration dates to exploit them. Nowadays, protections are in place to prevent that from happening.

Up to 10 percent of gift cards go unredeemed, resulting in billions of dollars in gains for the retailers that sell them. While not technically illegal, it is a bit exploitative of retailers to allow cards to expire or make them difficult to replace if lost or stolen. Recent legislation aims to recoup some of that value for local and federal governments.

Gift cards are popular tools of credit card fraud as well. Because they are generally anonymous, gift cards are often purchased with stolen credit cards in order to store money in an untraceable way once the cards are shut down. For similar reasons, they are also frequently used in money laundering schemes.

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Last updated on September 13, 2017 by Daniel Imperiale

Daniel is a writer, actor, and director living in Los Angeles, CA. He spent a large portion of his 20s roaming the country in search of new experiences, taking on odd jobs in the strangest places, studying at incredible schools, and making art with empathy and curiosity.

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