Are Gift Cards a Good Gift Idea?

Are gift cards good gifts, or are they simply not personal enough? Finding the right gift for everyone on your shopping list might seem like a daunting task. If you’re short on ideas or shopping for someone you don’t know very well, you might consider giving a gift card. However, you also might be wary of giving a gift that just doesn’t feel personal. Check out this guide to determine whether gift cards are a good gift idea for your recipient.


Gift Cards: The Advantages

Gift cards can be a good idea for a gift—for certain recipients and certain occasions, that is. So, you have to be thoughtful when choosing not only what gift card to give and when to give it. First, let’s take a look at the advantages of giving gift cards.

Convenience for the Gift Giver

There’s no question about it: Gift cards make shopping easier. Rather than running from store to store or browsing one website after the next looking for the perfect gift for your recipient, you can simply give a gift card so that they can select something that they want or need. This gift can be especially appreciated by someone who might be on a tight budget or simply doesn’t splurge on themselves very often. With a gift card, they’ll be able to pamper themselves with a purchase that they can enjoy guilt free.

Versatile Selections

Countless gift card options are available, which means you can get creative when giving a gift card. This gift doesn’t have to be dull—it can offer your recipient an opportunity to check out a new store or even try a new experience. This gift allows for creativity just like any other gift. You can give the gift of an experience by sharing a gift card for a restaurant, a spa, or a local theater. If your recipient is traveling soon, give them a card they can use on their trip, helping you enhance their next vacation. Or, if they love to shop, you can give a gift card to one of their favorite stores, which they’ll be sure to enjoy. Nearly every retailer offers gift cards—and if they don’t appear to, you can always ask if they can customize a gift for your recipient. 

Less Personal

Personalizing your gifts might seem important if you’re shopping for family members and close friends, but for other folks, you don’t necessarily want to give a personal gift. In fact, you might not even be able to give a personal gift because you don’t know the person very well. In these cases, a gift card can be an ideal option because they’re universally liked.

Perhaps you want to give your child’s teacher a gift or want to show your appreciation to your postal worker or hair stylist during the holiday season. You might not know their likes and dislikes well enough to choose a truly personalized gift. Plus, these people often receive many holiday gifts, and you wouldn’t want to give something they get from someone else. In these situations, gift cards are a great way to show your gratitude while giving something that you know your recipient will use.

No Returns Necessary

Let’s face it: Not every gift is always a hit. Sometimes, people return gifts because they know they won’t use it or perhaps even already have it. With a gift card, you don’t run the risk of giving something that your recipient might wind up returning. Gift cards, especially when gifted to somewhere you know the recipient loves, will always be used, whether they’re buying a special something for themselves or a family member. So, you can save yourself and your recipient the hassle of that awkward gift opening where they pretend to be surprised by your gift, even if it’s something they already have or simply don’t need.

Ideal for Big Gift-Giving Occasions

Some special occasions like weddings and baby showers call for many gifts, which can overwhelm the guests of honor. While couples and soon-to-be new parents often have registries listing their preferred gifts, gift cards can be a welcomed option that allows them to fill in gaps and pick up essentials. So, consider gift cards as a wedding gift idea or baby shower idea when many tangible gifts will already be gifted.

Gift Cards: The Disadvantages

While gift cards can be a popular choice for many gift-giving occasions, they aren’t always the ideal option. Consider these potential pitfalls of gift cards before giving one.


Many people appreciate receiving a personalized gift. Likewise, gift givers enjoy the experience of selecting something truly personalized for their recipient. Gift cards simply aren’t the most personal gift to give. As noted, that can be advantageous for some recipients—but it can be disappointing for others.

So, when you’re considering a gift card, think about your relationship with your recipient. If you’re shopping for a significant other, for example, they might prefer a more personalized selection, as a gift card might seem like an avoidance of finding a more thoughtful gift. However, even some family members, such as in-laws or kids, might love receiving a gift card that gives them the chance to check out a new store or experience something new—all on your dime.

Forced Purchase

Gift cards typically require that your recipient spend them at a certain retailer. If they love that retailer or merchant, then finding something to purchase won’t be a problem. However, if you don’t select the right merchant, then your recipient might be left making a forced purchase simply because they have a gift card—not because they actually want something. That’s why it’s important to purchase a gift card for a merchant that you’re confident your recipient will enjoy.

Extra Funds or Not Enough Funds

Ideally, your recipient will be able to spend precisely the amount on the gift card, but that isn’t always easy. For instance, perhaps you give a gift card for $50 to a local restaurant, and the recipient and their family go out to dinner. It’s difficult, with multiple meals, taxes, and tip, to hit the $50 on the nose, which means that your recipient either might have a few dollars left on the gift card or be on the hook to cover some extra costs for the dinner. Sometimes, those extra dollars on gift cards end up going to waste because the recipient either forgets about it, loses it, or simply doesn’t want to go back for a second purchase.

Expiration Dates

Some gift cards have expiration dates, which means your recipient has a limited amount of time to use it. While gift cards to big-name stores typically last forever, gift cards to local shops and restaurants or for services might have a time limit. So, be careful when you select a gift card because you want to give one that your recipient can enjoy at their leisure—not under a time crunch. If the gift card does have an expiration date, be sure to let your recipient know so they aren’t rushing to use it right before it expires.

No Sales

Gift cards generally don’t go on sale, so if you like to shop for bargains and find a deal on a gift, gift cards might not be the best option for you. You’re going to pay full retail price for the gift card, which is simply an exchange of cash for the card to use at the merchant. Ultimately, you might end up spending more money if you buy several gift cards instead of tangible gifts since you can often find sales and discount codes on gifts, especially around the holiday season.

Factors to Consider When Giving Gift Cards

Are gift cards a good idea? Well, they clearly have both advantages and disadvantages, so the key is deciding whether the good outweighs the bad in your particular situation. Gift cards are often much-appreciated gifts, so they can be a good fit when you’re shopping. Consider these factors to determine whether a gift card is a good choice for you:

  • Recipient’s preference – Is your recipient someone who cherishes a personalized gift, or do they prefer practicality and getting a gift they know they can use? 
  • Personal relationship – Do you have a close relationship with the recipient, or are you shopping for someone whose preferences you don’t know very well? If you don’t know them well, a gift card can be an easy option.
  • Gift card preferences – Does your recipient appreciate the gift of an experience, or do they prefer tangible items? Your answer can guide what gift card you choose for them.

If you’re ready to buy a gift card, check out these tips for holiday gift card shopping to avoid a scam and make sure your purchase is safe.

Choosing the Right Gift Card

If you’ve decided that a gift card is the right choice for you, then you want to take time to find one that your recipient will truly appreciate. After all, giving a gift card doesn’t take all of the thought out of the gift-giving process. You still want to find the right fit for your friend or family member. Here are some factors to consider when choosing the right gift card.

Favorite Places and Things

You can’t go wrong giving a gift card to a favorite store or restaurant. You know the recipient frequents that merchant, which means they’re sure to appreciate some extra money in their wallet to buy themselves something they love.

Favorite Experiences 

What hobbies does your recipient have? Use these as inspiration as you give a gift card for an experience. A massage at a luxury spa or a gift card for a manicure and pedicure will be appreciated by someone who loves to be pampered. An avid golfer will love to receive a gift card for a round at a local course. A craft beer lover will enjoy getting a gift card for a brewery tour or flight of beers at a local brewery. Shop with their interests in mind, much as you would for a tangible gift, when finding the right gift card.


It’s important to make sure using the gift card is convenient. Avoid giving any gifts that require additional costs. For instance, a gift card to a renowned theater in another town might be appreciated, but it might also require a night’s stay in a hotel when they go to see the show. Keep things local unless you know your recipient is already planning a trip to another destination where they can use the gift card.


Gift cards are a good idea for many gift-giving occasions. It’s essential to consider your recipient and their preferences when deciding not only whether a gift card will be appreciated but also what type of gift card they’d enjoy using. Comment below to share your thoughts of gift-card giving or ask any questions on this topic. Remember, evaluating the advantages and disadvantages of gift-card giving can help you determine whether a gift card is the right choice for your recipient. With this thoughtful consideration, you’re sure to find a gift they’ll love.