If you're considering buying someone a gift card for Christmas think carefully before you buy.

Some gift cards last a lifetime (providing the store’s still trading), while others have a limited shelf life.

And if there’s a time limit, the clock can start ticking the moment they’re purchased, so buying too early can cut down spending time.

We take a look at how some of the most popular gift cards stack up and explain how you might be able to get them at a discount.

Amazon

Amazon gift card (Image: Amazon)

 

You can buy these online at Amazon or in stores including Sainsbury’s, Superdrug, Wilko and BP petrol stations or online.

Amazon gift cards can only be redeemed online and last a whopping ten years.

Argos

Can be bought both in store and online and used both ways. Cards are valid for three years.

Ticketmaster

These can be used in full or part payment for tickets for events and attractions including sports, concert or theatre tickets that are bought through Ticketmaster’s website or by calling its booking line.

In most cases gift cards can’t be exchanged direct at the venue box office.

Gift cards can be bought from Ticketmaster’s website or from Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and WH Smith and expire one year after purchase.

House of Fraser gift card (Image: House of Fraser)

House of Fraser

Gift cards can be bought and spent online or in store and last two years from the date of the ‘last load’.

This, according to the small print, means ‘card activation’, a ‘top up’ or refund.

Marks & Spencer

Can be bought in store and online and expire two years after the last purchase.  

HMV

You can only buy these in store, not online, and they’re only for use in store.

Last two years from date of purchase; although the two-year time limit starts again every time it’s used.

How to make a gift card last longer

If your gift card comes with an expiry limit and is nearing the end of its shelf life; in some cases you can prolong its lifespan by using it for even a small transaction, or even just checking the balance.

The Vue Cinema gift card is valid for twelve months, ‘from the last transaction’.  This includes balance enquiries, so if time’s running out, ask customer service to ‘check the balance’, (even if you already know it), as this extends your card for another twelve months.

And with the HMV card, this too is extended for another two years from its last use; which counts as spending or making an ‘in-store’ balance enquiry.

M&S gift cards are valid for two years from the date of the last ‘spend’, so if time’s running out, buy something small so you don’t lose out.

Cards can be used in foodhalls and in the M&S café so even stopping for a coffee can save you a wasted card.

One4All gift card (Image: One4All)

Gift cards for various stores

Instead of buying a card that can be used in just one store, why not choose one that can be used across multiple outlets within a large shopping centre?

This also protects the recipient from missing out if the store you buy the card for runs into financial difficulties and refuses to honour gift cards, or as in the case of BHS, only accepted them as part payment for goods earlier this year.

Both Westfield and intu centres sell ‘shopping centre’ vouchers. The Westfield version can be bought online or at one of its centres and are valid for one year and can be used across many of its retail outlets.

The intu card can be used at over 100 stores, restaurants and leisure facilities in any of its 15 shopping centres including Metrocentre, Milton Keynes, Derby, Lakeside, the Trafford Centre and Watford and also lasts for a year.

Another option is a card like One4all that covers over 120 stores including M&S, Amazon, Argos, Primark, Debenhams and Halfords.

You can buy these in Post Offices or online but make sure you use them up within eighteen months or you’ll be charged a monthly ‘inactive balance charge’ of 90p (or the credit balance on the card if this is lower), on an ongoing basis until the balance reaches zero.

Buy at the best price

If you’re savvy you don’t have to pay face value for gift cards.

Tesco has run promotions on gift cards from time to time. Its last one was in November when it discounted cards for Accessorize, Pizza Hut, Zizzi and Vue Cinemas by 20%.

Offers like this mean you could pick up a £10 gift card for £8, yet the card is good for £10 of goods.

Tesco won’t spill the beans on any future promotions like this, but well worth looking out for them.

You can save up to around 20% buying gift cards through Zeek, an app-based gift voucher marketplace.

Download the free app and register to see a list of gift cards up for sale. These change on a regular basis but we’ve just spotted cards for House of Fraser, Argos, Ted Baker, Starbucks, Boots and Tesco with up to 10% off.

Or you can earn 5% in cashback buying your gift cards through cashback sites like Topcashback.

Its ‘TopGiftCard’ deals include Starbucks, Toys R Us and Currys PC World.

Earn money back on your everyday spending: compare cashback credit cards