2020’s Best Gift Cards

John S Kiernan, Managing Editor
Nov 13, 2019

Gift cards are supposed to make gift-giving simpler, reducing the need to worry about the recipient’s tastes or which specific items he or she might already have. But not all gift cards are created equal, which might help explain why billions of dollars in gift-card value has gone unused in recent years, despite gift cards being the most popular type of present for the 13th consecutive year in 2019.

So in the interest of helping you find the best gift cards for any occasion – whether a birthday, holiday, graduation, etc. – we compared the 50 most popular options across five major categories: 1) how popular the cards are; 2) how much of a discount you can buy them for; 3) how much you can sell them for; 4) how much people like the retailer; and 5) shipping fees. Below, you can check out the resulting top picks.

Best Gift Cards

Gift Card

WalletHub Score

Gift Card Popularity Rank

Shipping Fee

Average Buyer Discount

Average Resale Value ($100 gift card)

Retailer Rating (out of 5)

Target Gift Card 70 4 $0.00 5.76% $77.12 3.09
Walmart Gift Card 60 3 $0.00 1.07% $84.09 2.13
Sephora Gift Card 60 10 $0.00 2.63% $77.82 3.41
eBay Gift Card 55 9 $0.00 0.25% $82.00 2.53
Home Depot Gift Card 55 13 $0.00 2.30% $82.91 2.30
Ikea Gift Card 55 36 $0.00 10.85% $76.95 2.85
iTunes Gift Card 50 5 $0.00 6.33% N/A 2.75
Starbucks Gift Card 50 6 $0.00 6.57% $59.71 3.63
Costco Gift Card 50 12 $0.00 N/A $84.60 2.22
Chick-Fil-A Gift Card 50 14 $0.00 8.70% $73.48 2.73
Netflix Gift Card 50 15 $0.00 12.34% N/A 2.50
McDonald’s Gift Card 50 20 $0.00 5.65% $76.27 2.63
Fandango Gift Card 50 21 $0.00 13.47% $70.25 0.97
Chipotle Gift Card 50 27 $0.00 6.33% $76.33 3.87
Rei Gift Card 50 31 $0.00 5.35% $81.27 2.30
Old Navy Gift Card 50 49 $0.00 10.22% $71.70 2.33
H&M Gift Card 50 50 $0.00 12.00% $71.42 2.12
Disney Gift Card 45 8 $0.00 2.34% $67.50 2.27
Google Play Gift Card 45 11 $0.00 3.69% $60.00 3.48
Best Buy Gift Card 45 16 $0.00 1.52% $83.38 2.06
Macy’s Gift Card 45 17 $0.00 3.64% $78.53 2.05
Lowe’s Gift Card 45 23 $0.00 4.41% $79.92 2.05
Subway Gift Card 45 34 $0.00 4.91% $78.00 3.20
Amazon Gift Card 40 1 $0.00 N/A N/A 2.69
Gamestop Gift Card 40 18 $0.00 4.99% $76.53 1.90
Nordstrom Gift Card 40 22 $0.00 3.65% $73.50 2.65
Nike Gift Card 40 24 $0.00 5.50% $74.92 1.70
Kohl’s Gift Card 40 25 $0.00 3.75% $77.68 1.83
T.J. Maxx Gift Card 40 28 $0.00 3.12% $75.00 2.90
Apple Store Gift Card 40 29 $0.00 1.80% $85.15 2.13
Cabelas Gift Card 40 43 $0.00 7.44% $76.30 1.80
Visa Gift Card 35 2 $0.00 N/A N/A 1.45
Ticketmaster Gift Card 35 33 $0.00 3.33% $76.50 1.37
Whole Foods Gift Card 35 38 $0.00 0.25% $78.43 2.00
Forever 21 Gift Card 35 39 $0.00 7.73% $74.16 1.57
Applebees Gift Card 35 42 $0.00 9.13% $73.67 1.80
Olive Garden Gift Card 30 30 $1.95 8.15% $71.86 1.70
Taco Bell Gift Card 30 32 $0.00 4.00% $74.35 1.87
American Airlines Gift Card 30 35 $0.00 1.50% $75.74 1.63
JCPenney Gift Card 30 40 $0.00 2.79% $73.21 1.93
Texas Roadhouse Gift Card 30 41 $0.00 8.16% $69.37 1.95
Red Lobster Gift Card 30 45 $0.00 5.55% $69.75 1.93
Cinemark Gift Card 30 46 $0.00 5.97% $66.75 1.43
Michaels Gift Card 30 47 $1.95 N/A $71.60 3.33
American Express Gift Card 25 7 $5.95 N/A N/A 1.80
Mastercard Gift Card 25 19 $0.00 N/A N/A 2.30
Dunkin Donuts Gift Card 25 26 $0.00 0.63% $57.53 3.67
Hobby Lobby Gift Cards 25 44 $1.00 8.97% N/A 2.27
Etsy Gift Card 20 37 $0.00 N/A N/A 2.30
Shell Gift Card 15 48 $0.00 N/A N/A 1.90

10 Tips For Getting The Best Gift Card

There are a handful of things we can count on every holiday season: time off from work and school; an overweight, bearded out-of-towner breaking into homes through the chimney; tone-deaf neighbors singing at your doorstep; embarrassing office-party antics; overeating; and, of course, gift cards. They’re everywhere this time of year, and for good reason: people generally love them.

But you don’t want yours to be just one gift card among many received by your intended recipient(s) this year. You’d probably prefer it to be enjoyed rather than forgotten in a drawer full of clutter. And you certainly want to get a good deal, because who doesn’t?

Given that your gift card strategy can make or break the holiday season, particularly the budget part, we compiled a list of 10 great tips for gift card success. You can find them below. Shop wisely!

  1. Look For A Discount. You might assume that sales and savings don’t apply to the gift card market, since gift cards are more like currency than retail products with traditional product margins. That’s not the case, however, as the best gift cards can all be bought for less than face value. You can learn where to look for deals from our article on the best gift card exchanges.
  2. Avoid Card-Network Gift Cards. Gift cards from Visa, Mastercard and Discover might seem like they’re as good as cash, since they can be used anywhere, but they’re actually quite inferior. While retailers make money immediately when one of their gift cards gets purchased, these card-network gift cards make money from fees. So if you want the versatility of cash, why not just use cash instead? It will certainly be cheaper. That’s why we didn’t include any card-network gift cards in our list of the year’s best gift cards.
  3. Don’t Confuse Gift Cards & Prepaid Cards. Despite often being displayed next to each other in stores, gift cards and prepaid cards are very different animals. Gift cards are designed to be used only until the original balance is gone. Prepaid cards, on the other hand, are reloadable and designed to serve the same purpose as a checking account with a debit card.Prepaid cards also have a lot of different fees associated with them. So giving one to someone instead of a gift card could result in the recipient not getting as much value as you intended. In fact, the average prepaid card has nine separate fees, according to our latest Prepaid Card Report, and the wrong prepaid card could cost an individual up to $300 per year if used incorrectly.
  4. Beware Loyalty Cards. A loophole in the law allows non-reloadable prepaid cards (aka gift cards) that are received through a loyalty, award or promotional program to expire with no restriction. For context, normal gift cards cannot expire until five years from the date of issuance.So it’s important to verify that you are indeed buying/receiving actual gift cards this holiday season and to read any applicable fine print.
  5. Resale Is Always An Option. If you don’t end up using a particular gift card or the recipient doesn’t like it, you’re not out of luck. You can sell it on a gift card exchange or simply swap gift cards with a friend or family member. To learn more about these options, check out our editors’ picks for the year’s best gift card exchanges.
  6. When In Doubt, Just Give Cash. Cold, hard cash might seem a bit less personal than a gift card, but it completely eliminates guesswork from the equation and is the most versatile gift anyone can give. Plus, you might be able to give your recipient more value without shipping fees or shopping trips to worry about
  7. Tap Into Unredeemed Value. Have you contributed to the billions of dollars in gift cards that have gone unredeemed in recent years? Check your drawers and find out. Any gift card from the past five years is most likely still good.You have three basic options when it comes to unlocking the value of unused gift cards. First, you can sell unwanted gift cards for cash. Secondly, most stores allow you to trade in old, unused gift cards for new ones, which is great news for re-gifting cards that have developed noticeable wear and tear as a result of sitting idle for years. Finally, most states have programs that allow you to recoup unused funds from expired gift cards under unclaimed property laws.
  8. Buy Gift Cards With Rewards. Most credit card rewards programs allow you to redeem your points/miles for gift cards from a wide variety of major retailers. In many cases, you can garner more value from this type of redemption strategy than redeeming for cash. For example, under Citibank’s rewards program, you need 10,000 ThankYou points to get $50 in cash back, whereas you only need 5,000 points (50% fewer) for a $50 gift card.
  9. E-Gift Cards Are Great In A Time Crunch. E-gift cards have been gaining traction in recent years, and increased mobile functionality stands to foster greater use of such products this holiday season. That’s good news for time-crunched shoppers who want to avoid the shipping fees that many major retailers charge for physical gift cards ordered online.“E-cards make redemption easier in terms of logistics, time, and salience (once you enter the card number to your account, the money is there waiting to be used),” said Ayelet Gneezy, associate professor of marketing in the University of California, San Diego’s Rady School of Management. “In short, this is one domain where I expect digital to provide consumers great value.”
  10. Avoid Using Gift Cards As An Excuse To Overspend. When redeeming gift cards, two-thirds of consumers spend more than their cards’ face value, according to Consumer Reports. This is likely due to the same psychological factor that leads consumers to spend more with credit cards than cash: the money somehow seems less real. While gift cards can be quite useful in subsidizing the cost of large purchases, you should be especially cognizant of your spending when using a gift card, so as to avoid unnecessary expenses.

Gift Card Popularity Over Time

The following gift cards are projected to be the most popular among consumers this holiday season, according to WalletHub data.

Gift Card 2019 Popularity Rank Change From 2018 Rank Change From 2017 Rank Change From 2016 Rank Change From 2015 Rank Change From 2014 Rank
Amazon Gift Card 1 ↑1 ↑1
Visa Gift Card 2 ↓1 ↓1 ↓1
Walmart Gift Card 3 ↑2 ↑2 ↑3
Target Gift Card 4 ↑3 ↓1 ↑3 ↑2 ↑3
iTunes Gift Card 5 ↓1 ↓1 ↓1 ↓2
Starbucks Gift Card 6 ↑1 ↑4
American Express Gift Card 7 ↓3 ↓4 ↓4 ↓3
Disney Gift Card 8 ↑3 ↓3 ↑5 ↑5 ↑8
eBay Gift Card 9 ↓1 ↑2 ↑2
Sephora Gift Card 10 ↓1 ↑6 ↑4
Google Play Gift Card 11 ↓2 ↑3 ↑1 ↓1 ↓3
Costco Gift Card 12 ↑22 ↓23 ↑18 ↑7 ↑8
Home Depot Gift Card 13 ↓1 ↓4 ↑4 ↑16
Chick-Fil-A Gift Card 14 ↑13 ↓4 ↑29 ↑25 ↑37
Netflix Gift Card 15 ↓3 ↓7 ↓7 ↓10
Best Buy Gift Card 16 ↓2 ↑1 ↑1 ↓1 ↓1
Macy’s Gift Card 17 ↑8 ↓10 ↑10 ↓3 ↓5
Gamestop Gift Card 18 ↑5 ↑16 ↑7 ↓1
MasterCard Gift Card 19 ↓3 ↑5 ↑2 ↓8 ↓8
McDonald’s Gift Card 20 ↓1 ↑2 ↓2 ↓2 ↑4
Fandango Gift Card 21 ↓6 ↑4 ↓6 ↓9 ↓3
Nordstrom Gift Card 22 ↑8 ↓2 ↑2 ↑4 ↑2
Lowe’s Gift Card 23 ↓6 ↑6 ↓9 ↓1 ↓2
Nike Gift Card 24 ↑4 ↑2 ↑7 ↑9 ↑9
Kohl’s Gift Card 25 ↑1 ↓3 ↑17 ↑30 ↑36
Dunkin Donuts Gift Card 26 ↓6 ↑3 ↓4 ↓2 ↓2
Chipotle Gift Card 27 ↑4 ↑1 ↑18 ↓7 ↓3
T.J. Maxx Gift Card 28 ↑12 ↓1 ↑16 ↑12 ↑26
Apple Store Gift Card 29 ↑16 ↓2 ↑8 ↑1 ↑3
Olive Garden Gift Card 30 ↓9 ↑11 ↓14 ↑4 ↓4
Rei Gift Card 31 ↓2 ↑14 ↑1 ↑4 ↓1
Taco Bell Gift Card 32 ↑7 ↓13 ↑6 ↑6
Ticketmaster Gift Card 33 ↑2 ↑8 ↓6 ↓14
Subway Gift Card 34 ↓10 ↑8 ↓8 ↓2 ↑2
American Airlines Gift Card 35 ↑12 ↑2 ↑13 ↑20 ↑30
Ikea Gift Card 36 ↓14 ↑10 ↓13 ↓13 ↓23
Etsy Gift Card 37 ↓14 ↑9 ↓12 ↓16 ↓10
Whole Foods Gift Card 38 ↓1 ↑2 ↓9 ↓2
Forever 21 Gift Card 39 ↑9 ↓5 ↑12 ↓11 ↓14
JCPenney Gift Card 40 ↓1 ↑9 ↑1 ↑9 ↑9
Texas Roadhouse Gift Card 41 ↓5 ↑13 ↓6 ↑7 ↑7
Applebees Gift Card 42 ↓4 ↑17 ↑12 ↓1
Cabelas Gift Card 43 ↓2 ↓2 ↑4 ↑41 ↓30
Hobby Lobby Gift Cards 44 ↑15 ↓8 ↑9 ↓44
Red Lobster Gift Card 45 ↓12 ↑22 ↓17 ↓4 ↓10
Cinemark Gift Card 46 ↓4 ↑7 ↑3 ↓3 ↓6
Michaels Gift Card 47 ↑2 ↑10 ↑9 ↑4 ↑14
Shell Gift Card 48 ↓5 ↑12 ↓28 ↓11 ↓6
Old Navy Gift Card 49 ↓3 ↑13 ↑75 ↑50 ↓6
H&M Gift Card 50 ↓21 ↓19 ↓16

Methodology

To identify the year’s best gift cards, WalletHub compared the cards affiliated with the country’s 100 largest retailers in five categories that speak to their appeal and overall value. Each gift card was scored on a 100-point scale, with 100 representing the best option. Below, you can find the grading rubric that we used to calculate these overall WalletHub Scores. Cards for which discount, resale or store-rating information was not available were given 0 points in those respective categories.

Gift Card Popularity Rank (30 points max): We used the number of people who search for each gift card online as a proxy for its popularity.

  • 30 points: Ranks 1 to 5
  • 25 points: Ranks 6 to 10
  • 20 points: Ranks 11 to 15
  • 15 points: Ranks 16 to 25
  • 10 points: Ranks 26 to 50
  • 5 points: Ranks 51 to 75
  • 0 points: Ranks 76+

Average Buyer Discount (30 points max): We checked the major gift card exchanges to see what kind of discount buyers can get on each card. For sites that don’t buy gift cards directly, we used their recommended selling price.

  • 30 points: 15.00%+
  • 20 points: 10.00% to 14.99%
  • 10 points: 5.00% to 9.99%
  • 5 points: 2.00% to 4.99%
  • 0 points: < 2.00%

Average Resale Value (20 points): To account for the potential that you don’t end up using a gift card that you purchase or receive, we determined how much a seller could get for a $100 gift card from each retailer on the major gift card exchanges.

  • 20 points: $80.00+
  • 15 points: $75.00 to $79.99
  • 10 points: $70.00 to $74.99
  • 5 points: $60.00 to $69.99
  • 0 points: < $60.00

Retailer Rating (15 points): The customer experience at a given retailer obviously affects the intrinsic value of its gift cards. So we obtained user ratings for each retailer from a number of popular review sites and averaged them to provide a broad sense of how well–liked each is.

  • 15 points: 4.0 to 5.0
  • 10 points: 3.0 to 3.9
  • 5 points: 2.0 to 2.9
  • 0 points: < 2.0

Shipping Fees (5 points): Any amount spent on shipping a physical gift card reduces the amount you can allocate to the gift itself and eats away at any discount you were able to obtain.

  • 5 points: No fees
  • 0 points: Fees

 

 

Image: adekvat / iStock.

Was this article helpful?


Awesome! Thanks for your feedback.

Thank you for your feedback.