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Best Gift Cards to Give (and Get) for the Holidays

Enjoy a little something extra, whether you're gifting someone or gifting yourself.

If you’re a holiday gift-giving traditionalist, you look at gift cards as a lazy cop-out: Little thought, even littler effort. In other words, perfect for me. So here’s a hearty humbug to all you Debbie Downers out there, and a gift to all you gift card fanatics: We searched for the season’s best gift cards for giving and receiving.

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A bit of advice before we dive in: If you have unused gift cards tucked away, by all means use them. Americans purchased nearly $130 billion in gift cards in 2015, estimated consulting firm CEB, yet some $1 billion worth of them went unredeemed.Alternatively, sell your unwanted gift cards online. You won’t get face value, but it beats letting them sit idle in your wallet or the back of a drawer. GiftCardGranny.com is a good place to start.

The Gift Cards You Give Yourself. You’re probably already wise to the fact that I’m a big fan of gift cards. I buy them for myself all the time. Is that because I’m my biggest fan? No. It’s because I like to save money. For example, I buy Apple iTunes gift cards at warehouse clubs BJ’s and Costco whenever my iTunes account is getting low. I load the card value into my iTunes account to purchase music, e-books and more. So where’s the bargain? The two wholesale clubs sell the cards every day for a few bucks below face value. In the past few weeks, both clubs have priced the $100 iTunes gift cards at around $87, a steal. Costco also sells me two $50 gift cards to California Pizza Kitchen for $80.

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Buy a Gift Card, Get a Gift Card. There are tons of gift cards being offered by chain restaurants nationwide that will give you a gift card for buying a gift card. You can gift that to someone else or use at your own leisure. Examples include Applebee’s, Bonefish Grill and Carrabba’s Italian Grill. At all three, buy $50 in gift cards, get a free $10 gift card. The deals site DealNews.com lists a bunch of others.

Starbucks. Even if your gift recipient isn’t a fan of coffee or tea, they can find something to drink or eat at the chain that has a shop nearly everywhere. Benjamin Glaser of DealNews.com tracked down this deal: $15 worth of Starbucks credit for $10. It pops up on Groupon. Also, Sam’s Club discounts Starbucks gift cards. For example, you can buy a three-pack of $10 Starbucks gift cards for $29.

Amazon, Walmart, Target, Kohl's and Best Buy. The savings experts at Offers.com went rogue and did a survey to find the most popular retailer sites this holiday season. Those five stores lead the list. Here’s the logic: “By buying a gift card to one of these stores, you are guaranteed to make the recipient on your list happy,” reasons Offers.com’s Kerry Sherin. “These stores offer products from a variety of categories and will allow the recipient to really explore the gift options at his or her own taste.”

Target, McDonald’s, GameStop, Chipotle and Chick-Fil-A. These five topped the list of this year’s best gift cards as ranked by the loan-comparison website Lendedu.com. The site based its findings on the number of monthly Google searches for a gift card (“popularity”), the average discount buyers get and the average resale value as a percent for each card, among other factors.

Netflix. Netflix? Really? Yes, according to personal finance site WalletHub.com. Netflix topped WalletHub’s rankings of the best gift cards (in a tie with Target), based on popularity, shipping fee, average buyer discount and average resale value. Savvy buyers get a small 2.5% discount on the card, but the recipient can resell a $100 Netflix gift card for almost $82, on average.

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