Visa gift cards: A good idea?


Over the last few years a few things have caused me to wonder; selling bottled water, the ridiculous popularity of text messaging, and the abundance of gift cards.

I don’t have a problem with gift cards – in fact I think they are kind of convenient. But I am just a little surprised at how popular they have become the last five years. It seems that any business not offering gift cards or gift certificates of some sort is “out of it”. It comes as no surprise that the credit card companies got into the game as well. So now Visa offers gift cards – all the other ones probably do as well.


I got to thinking about them because my wife recently received a Visa gift card as a thank you from a friend. In theory they offer some of the benefits of cash and some of the benefits of credit cards. They can be used just about everywhere a credit card can be used. So they are very convenient in that sense.

The obvious other benefit is that they have a specific dollar limit. So you don’t have to worry about digging yourself out of debt after you use it!

Here are a few more questions and answers I found about Visa gift cards…

Can you use a Visa gift card for travel?

According to the Visa Gift Card page, the gift cards might not work at Hotels and Car Rental Companies. Car rental companies still might fight to get a credit card from you.

What if you lose the card?

The first thing to do is to call the provider with the number listed on the back of the card to let them know that it has been lost or stolen. You also must have the card number in order to get a replacement copy of the card. So, the suggestion is to write down the provider phone number and card number when you receive a gift card.

What about returns?

If you are returning an item, the transaction will work similar to that of credit or debit cards. You just provide the merchant with the card and the funds will be credited back to the card.

Who sells Visa gift cards?

It seems that just about any major bank sells Visa gift cards. So you can likely stop by your local bank to purchase one.

Have you given or received a Visa gift card in the past? How did you like it?

  1. Savings not shoes

    I think that visa gift cards are tacky unless possibly given to a child who you would ordinarily give cash to and want the added protection plus have no idea what they like, plus there’s a novelty in using a credit card for them. I would feel uncomfortable if someone from work gave me a visa gift card, but perhaps I’ve been in England too long and have become old fashioned!

  2. The Weakonomist

    I disagree about gift cards being tacky. I find extremely useful and prefer them as gifts to other presents. I plan on giving them to my groomsmen when I get married this fall. For someone you know well a gift card to a specific store is better, but for most the Visa gift cards are great. There are little fees hidden in them though so always read the fine print and make sure who you give it to does too.

  3. Angie

    I learned a few new facts in this post. Thank you.

  4. David

    I’m not really fond of having credit cards (in this case, gift cards). Well, maybe this time it’s convenient because the amount is fixed.

  5. Chris

    While I like the idea (not as much as cash for a gift however) because it puts a clear limit on spending and provides some of the benefits of a true credit card, they are not perfect by any means.

    Most have some sort of a maintenance or activation fee (Amex ones are typically $5 and visa can be anywhere from 3-5 so they’re more expensive than they seem) and redeeming them can be a chore as well.

    If the cashier doesnt know that you cant ring them like a normal card (if transaction is greater than the total on the card you have to charge at that carts amount then process the next charge IF the system allows this) then it can lead to some embarassing denials. The card makers also don’t make it that easy to keep track of balances on the card which seems to annoy many customers (no, we CANT scan your balance for you. thats by design)

    Most of all though, alot of places just flat out deny the cards. Gas stations are problematic (due to the holds they place in excess of what you are spending), hotels dont seem to like them, many online sites wont take them because they cant split payments, etc. etc.

  6. JasonT

    I love to receive gift cards. They are convenient and you can get exactly what you want. I always feel like I haven’t put much effort or thought into the gift when I give them to someone though.

    We have a rule at Christmas that no one can give gift cards in our family.


  7. Leigh

    My friends and I were awarded Visa gift cards when we won a Deloitte case competition. It was the perfect prize!

  8. Monroe on a Budget

    I got a cash card for my daughter to use when she was traveling a couple of years ago, thinking it would be a convenience for her.

    She was able to use it at the airport restaurants.

    But when she tried to use it at a department store, the store would not take it.

  9. Paul

    My mother sends me these as gifts all the time. The only disadvantage I see with them is when trying to purchase something online that is more than the value of the card.

    For example, if I have a $25 Visa gift card, but I want to buy a book at Amazon that costs $26, the card will be rejected. I am not presented with an option to pay the $1 difference on a different card.

    The way around this is to use the Visa gift card to purchase a $25 gift certificate and email it to yourself. Then, when you try to purchase the $26 book, you can use this $25 gift certificate and also use another credit card to make up the difference.

    • bob

      Paul, that is a good point to mention thanks!

  10. Craig

    I like the gift cards and prefer them over any other type, especially if receive as a present. I understand why they become so popular, because you can use them anywhere, gives the person the option. Think they are here to stay.

  11. Carolyn

    I have received American Express gift cards before. I ran into the problem that Paul mentioned when I tried to order something online. I wasn’t able to use multiple cards. I didn’t think of buying a certificate as he mentioned. I’ll do that if I ever get another one. I don’t buy them as gifts because I had such trouble using mine.

  12. Kevin

    Anyone know if you need to have an account with the specific bank in order to purchase one of these?

    I’ve also read that they are supposed to be available at stores such as CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart. However, I’ve only been able to find something called a “Vanilla Visa”, which is apparently not the same.

    I’ve received a few Visa Gift cards in the past, and have always used them to shop online. The only catch is that you must first log into the card’s website and enter your own name and mailing address. This allows the online merchant to verify the card once you place an order.

    But a common complaint about the “Vanilla Visa” is that it doesn’t have a website where you can enter your personal information. As a result, they are apparently very difficult to use for online shopping.

    Ideally, I’m looking for a card that I can load with a specific amount, then immediately turn around and use to order something online. The Vanilla Visa also fails to meet either of these requirements- judging from online complaints I pulled up using Google.

    Does anyone know of a realiable store where Visa Gift cards can be purchase? If not, has anyone had success with using Vanilla Visa/Mastercard/American Express cards to shop online?

  13. Dave

    Hi I recently bought a visa gift card, Yes there is positive and negatives to these as many others have said. The positives are if you cant get a real credit card bcuz of bad credit or no credit then you can buy stuff online from ebay and many other big names like I bought stuff from xbox live as well. And you dont have to be 18 to buy them as well. And they sell visa gc from convience stores so that easy as well. The negatives are you cant put more than one card towards a purchase. ex.( you buy something for $30 but the card is only 25 it’ll be denclined) as paul descibed. Also when you buy them there a $5 fee on top of it so it’ll cost you $55 for a $50 gift card. And you usually get stuck with money on the card that you cant transfer like ( if you have 4.50 on your card left you cant usualy spent that cuz itll have to be under 4.50) So you are basically paying extra for more convient spending.

  14. Dave

    And to answer kevins’ question you do NOT need a bank to get these. Yes, you can use them at stores but some dont take them and if you use them at a restaurant you have to use less than 80% of the total card balance, And in canada there in most convienet stores like Macs milk. The visa gc that I got had a free website that you could check your balance and it had all your purhcases of its the MyTreat gift card from visa. And there easy to use on ebay and on xbox live and you just make an account like you would for a regualr credit card and it works. But the ones MyTreat ones were in only 50 dollar amounts

  15. Kat

    I tried purchasing something on the internet with a Visa gift card and it was rejected. So, I called the store directly and they accepted it. What’s up with that?!?!

  16. San

    I just purchased a visa gift card giftcardmail and I am having trouble using it on which accepts gift cards..would you know if they accept it. I can not register it, there is a website visagiftmail but you can not actually do it there.

  17. Marielisa

    These are fantastic! I do agree that you must be careful where you purchase. I read plenty reviews stating that a “robber”, “shop-lifter” comes up to any of the stores that just have them on a rack and they grab a bunch swipe the card so as to have the number on it, they put them back and every now and then check in internet to see if they have been bought obviously with the money already assigned and they empty it out and NO one will respond for this. Now I am checking into he ones the banks sell but I am wondering if they charge a higher fee for purchasing and for how much you can buy this card (what’s the max of money you can put into one card)

    Another point is that it is obvious a Hotel, car rental or gas station will not accept these since in the first 2 if something is broken, damaged, or consumed extra they must have a normal credit card to be able to charge those extras; in the 3rd if you ask for gas and go over what you have and do not have any cash on you the gas station will loose so that is understandable.

    Merry Christmas by the way and yes they make GREAT gifts for kids and grown ups.

  18. Gina

    I do not recommend Visa gift cards. I received one as a gift and learned that the person who gave it to me was charged $3.95 in addition to the amount of the card. I tried to use it at Wal-Mart but was denied because my purchase was more than the card. Obviously, I planned to pay the difference with my debit card, but that was not an option. Now I’ve used all but $.75 of the card, but doubt that I’ll find anything to buy for that amount, so Visa gets to keep that, plus the $3.95 purchase price. Multiply that by many cards and Visa is making a killing. I’d rather have gotten $25 in cold, hard cash and cut out the middle man!

    • Steven

      If you would ask the store to charge $0.75 to your visa gift card, and then pay the rest with cash, you probably wouldn’t have a problem. I have a paypal debit card, and I do this all the time at grocery stores. I’ve also done it with other gift cards. Your problem is probably that you were trying to use two cards (the gift card, and a debit card), rather than using the gift card and cash. The FAQ section on says that you can use up the remaining balance by notifying the merchant to charge that specific amount, and presumably pay the rest with cash.

  19. What is the disadvantage in having that Visa gift cards?