What's the Catch With Free Gift Cards?

These bonus gift cards can make for great deals, but remember to read the fine print.
gift cards

Anyone who's spent time on DealNews has probably noticed stores offering gift cards as an added bonus with a purchase. Often, the total price equals what other stores charge for the same item without a gift card. But perhaps you've wondered, "What's the catch?"

SEE ALSO: One for You, One for Me: The Best BOGO Gift Card Freebies

We go over the common caveats of these "freebie" gift cards, including how they differ from the gift cards you already know and love.

When Is a Gift Card Not a Gift Card?

Like the gift cards that restaurants offer as bonuses during the holiday season, these "free" gift cards frequently come with stipulations that a regular gift card doesn't have. Many such cards have a small time window during which they can be used. As a result, they're not really the type of card you'd want to give someone as a gift, even if such a thing is possible.

SEE ALSO: The Best Birthday Freebies: A Complete Guide

Watch Out for Time Restrictions

If your decision to buy an item is being spurred by the gift card that comes with it, be sure to read the fine print. Like we mentioned, time is a common restriction. For example, we frequently see deals from Dell for large items like TVs that come with gift cards. When you factor in the amount of the gift card, these are great deals — especially if you have another item that Dell sells on your want list. However, keep in mind that your gift card won't arrive by email until 10 to 20 days from the ship date, and then you have 90 days to use it.

Many free gift cards have a small time window during which they can be used, and you'll need to factor that into your purchase.

Other stores may not call their bonuses "gift cards," but the concept may be the same. Kohl's, for instance, offers Kohl's Cash as an incentive; you can get $10 in Kohl's Cash for every $50 you spend. And around the holidays, the store frequently throws in bonus Cash. The catch is that there are specific windows during which you can spend your Cash — usually a one- to two-week period.

All of these bonuses and free gift cards offer the potential for great value, so long as you can make use of the credit in the allotted time.

Some Freebies Are More Flexible

Not all stores have such stipulations, though. Walmart has recently been throwing in gift cards with large purchases, and these cards are essentially the same as a regular gift card, with no expiration dates. Rakuten, meanwhile, gives Super Points equal to 1% of your purchase, which in turn can be redeemed as a discount starting one day after your order ships.

SEE ALSO: The 7 Best Cash Back Credit Cards

Sears and Kmart's Shop Your Way rewards are similarly flexible, as are the reward points at The Children's Place. Like the time-restricted cards, these bonuses frequently make for great deals, so don't overlook them.

The bottom line is that it pays to know if you're really getting a reward you'll be able to use. Always check when you can use your bonus and if there any restrictions on what you can buy with it. (And if you ever end up with a card you aren't able to use, know that you can sell gift cards for cash or other gift cards.)

What do you think of free gift card offers, readers? Let us know in the comments.

Stephen Slaybaugh
Contributing Writer

Stephen has been writing for such national and regional publications as The Village Voice, Paste, The Agit Reader, and The Big Takeover for 20 years. He covered consumer electronics and technology for DealNews from 2013 to 2018.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).


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I had a great deal on paper from Staples but the rebate was hard to get and finally arrived in the form of a debit card. Went to spend it and it would not give me full value at a Bakery shop. I was told full value was not available because part was withheld for a tip (How do they get that money?) Anyway I will never buy anything at Staples that comes with rebate in the form of a debit card.
Yeah Maxwell! What more do u need? Stop your complaining
michael bonebright (DealNews)

Dell gift cards can certainly be tricky. As we noted in the article, "your gift card won't arrive by email until 10 to 20 days from the ship date, and then you have 90 days to use it."

Did you have a more specific question about Dell gift cards?
Can someone mention how Dell gift cards work. Seems like they throw them around like candy. Article should have addressed that