According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), consumers will spend approximately 17 billion dollars in gift cards. Many people choose the convenience of mall gift cards, which generally can be used at any store in the mall. Some larger mall operators also allow you to use the gift cards at any of their nationally owned malls. I've traditionally purchased mall gift certificates, before the rise of the gift card, and was surprised to find most mall owners have extensive terms and conditions, as well as a number of fees that eat away at the value of the card. For instance:
* The Mills Corporation, owners of Stoneridge Mall and others, deducts $2.50 a month from the value of the card after the seventh month of issuance of the card. Although the Mills Corp. does not charge consumers a fee to purchase gift cards online, shipping charges range from $10.75 to $14.75. Expect to pay 25 cents just to check the balance of your gift card, unless you verify balances online.
* The Taubman Company, owners of Sunvalley Mall and others, deducts $2.00 a month from the value of the card after the 366th day of issuance. Just to purchase the gift card, there is a $2.50 fee per card. Gift Cards are issued by American Express Travel Related Services Company, Inc. and are only good at stores that already accept the American Express card.
* Macerich Properties, owners of Broadway Plaza and others, deducts $2.00 a month from the value of the card beginning with the thirteenth month after issuance. Just to purchase the gift card online, there is a $6.95 service fee. To check the balance of your gift card via telephone, the first call is free. Subsequent requests will set you back 50 cents an inquiry. If you need to talk to a real person, expect to pay $1.00 per inquiry. To avoid a balance-inquiry fee, check your balance online (free).
* Westfield, owners of Valley Fair Mall, San Francisco Centre, and others, also deducts $2.50 a month from the value of the card beginning with the thirteenth month after issuance. To purchase cards, whether online or at the mall, expect to shell out $2.00 per card. Online orders will be assessed shipping charge anywhere from $4.90 to $45.00! To add insult to injury, online orders are then assessed a third Processing Fee of $1.59 for one card, and more for addition cards. This particular fee is completely hidden to users until check out. Like Taubman, Westfield gift cards are issued by American Express Travel Related Services Company, Inc. and are only good at stores that already accept the American Express card.
* General Growth Properties, owners of Southland Mall and others, deducts $2.00 a month from the purchase of the card beginning with the thirteenth month after issuance. Each card will set you back $2.00 to purchase. If you loose your card, you'll be charged a $5.95 fee. Spend more than the card is worth? Expect a $15.00 transaction fee, per occurrence.
* Simon, owners of Stanford Shopping Centers and others, deducts $2.50 a month from the purchase of the card beginning with the thirteenth month after issuance. Each card will set you back $5.95 to purchase.
* Smaller independent malls may be a better bargain. Sacramento's Country Club Plaza Mall doesn't charge a monthly fee, and only charges $1.00 per card at time of purchase.
To protect yourself from hidden fees and unexpected charges, always read over terms and conditions before purchasing any gift card. Most have clearly spelled out fees and service charges, and reading them won't take much time to look over.
An alternative to mall gift cards may be gift cards issued by individual stores. For example, Macy's doesn't charge consumers to purchase a gift card, nor assessed a month fee after a set period. In California, all gift cards never expire.
For me, I think I'll just give my recipients cash.