Buying gift cards for Christmas? Read this first to make sure you don’t get ripped off.

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When was the last time you bought someone a gift card? Considering Christmas is less than TWO WEEKS AWAY, we’re going to say it was probably quite recently.

You’re not alone – every year, Australians spend $2.5 billion on buying gift cards to give to that person in our lives who’s impossible to buy for.

Quick, convenient and full of potential, everyone loves a good gift card, right? Although money to spend on something you really want will always trump yet another body wash set, there are some downsides to gift cards.

Namely, that not all gift cards are created equal. In fact, some can be pretty darn sneaky.

We asked financial experts, Rate City for the insider tips into which gift cards we should be buying, and the results were bloody eye opening.

Apple and Bunnings gift cards are some of the best on the market with no expiry date attached to the use of the card. Clothing retailers such as Cue and H&M are also leading the way offering shoppers 36 months to purchase a present before the gift card officially expires.

“Gift cards are meant to operate just like cash, but in reality they come with pages of terms and conditions that often work in the retailers’ favour,” RateCity money editor, Sally Tindall told Mamamia.

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“Short expiry dates are the biggest offender, but shoppers also get caught out with postage and activation fees and conditions on where and how the money is spent. The other way shoppers end up forfeiting their cash, is by only spending part of the value of the gift card. Often the balance left behind is never spent, and when the card expiries, retailers keep the difference.

“While a couple of dollars here and there doesn’t sound like much, collectively, Australians spent $2.5 billion every year on gift cards. The Commonwealth Consumers Affairs Advisory Council estimated that up to eight per cent of cards are never used, which equates to up to $200 million in ‘e-change’ that is lost by Australian consumers each year.”

"Gift cards are meant to operate just like cash, but in reality they come with pages of terms and conditions that often work in the retailers’ favour." Image: Getty.

Before you grab just any old gift card off the shelf next time you're in a rush to get to a Christmas party, there's a couple of things Tindall says will stop you from throwing your money away.

The expiry date

"Make sure you check your expiry dates carefully. If your gift card doesn’t clearly state when the offer runs out, contact the retailer and ask them to write it on the card or keep a copy of the purchase receipt," warned Tindall.

According to RateCity, Bunnings, Apple and Netflix are among the best value gift cards to give, with all three having unlimited expiry dates. Bunnings will even give the user the leftover amount on the card if it's below $9.95. Not far behind are Cue, H&M and IKEA all with 36 months to spend.

Some to be aware of include Youfoodz, independent beauty salons and Ella Bache (with three and six month short term expiry periods), Endota Spa and Myer, who will both charge you $10 and $4.95 respectively to deliver the card, Sportsgirl, which you can't use online, and Westfield centre cards, which not all Westfield shops will accept.

The fine print

Before purchasing your gift card check the fine print for any fees attached to mailing out or activating the card. Treat your gift card like cash, if it is lost or stolen, retailers will not honour the card.

Shoppers should also make sure they understand what happens to their gift card if the retailer goes bankrupt. In many cases, gift cards are unusable if a company becomes insolvent. "The collapse of electronics giant Dick Smith highlighted this issue back in 2016," Tindall said.

LISTEN: Speaking of Christmas things we know nothing about, Mamamia Out Loud is here with some advice about navigating Christmas party small talk (post continues after audio...)

And if you've been given a gift card...

Remember to use the thing!

"Make sure you spend the full amount on the gift card before the expiry date," she urged.

"It’s very easy to make one purchase and forget you have a small balance left over on your card. If this is you, it’s worth asking the retailer to transfer the remaining funds to a new gift card. Although, there is no legal requirement for retailers to help you, some are happy to play ball, as a show of good customer service."

See below for a full list of common gift cards and their expiry periods:

Three months: Youfoodz, Waxworks.

Six months: Ella Bache.

12 months: Jaggard, Westfield, Country Road, Dan Murphys, Hoyts, Booktopia, Ticketmaster, Flight Centre, Barbeques Galore, Peter Alexander, Qantas, Virgin Australia, Woolworths wish, Woolworths essentials grocery, Kidstuff, Mac, Merivale, Sportsgirl, Ella Rouge, Endota Spa, Best Spas, Hair Body and Soul, Good Food, Bed Bath n' Table, Spa.com.au, Lowes, Bonds, Rebel Sport, Speedo, T2, Bra n' Things.

18 months: Adrenaline Experiences.

24 months: Myer, David Jones, Kmart, Good Guys, JB Hi-Fi, Coles Giftcard, Asos.

36 months: Cue, H&M, IKEA.

Unlimted expiry: Apple, Bing Lee, Netflix, Bunnings.

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