Is what I did "wrong"?

A bar I often visit does a seasonal promotion this time of year. If you buy a gift card, you get a second “promo” card for free. Buy a $50 gift card and get a $10 promo card. Buy a $100 gift card and get a $25 promo card free.

(Promo cards are like gift cards but are only good for 30 days from purchase)

The idea is you buy a card which you give as a gift, then use the promo card yourself.

I bought two $100 gift cards for myself. I’ll use the promo cards first, then eventually use the gift cards for myself. It seems a no-brainer, since I’d be spending the $200 anyway, and this way I get a $50 rebate.

A friend, whose opinion I generally agree with, says I’m gaming the system and it’s wrong. I think his opinion is being swayed by the fact that we are friends with the owner of the bar.

What say you?

If at no point you’re asked to claim the gift cards are for another person, then you’re buying pseudo-currency and it’s yours to do with as you see fit. The bar owner gets 2 Franklins with a possibility that the gift card will not be redeemed, you get a bonus as long as you fully redeem the gift card, simply how many promotions work.

Does the offer stipulate this? Is there a restriction on who can use the gift card and when? What’s to stop any patron who comes in for a few drinks just buying gift cards and using them immediately to pay their tab? I.e., how is the owner stopping this becoming just a discount off every bar tab?

Bars tend to have a fixed overhead, with a large marginal profit on sales. If the offer is not just being used to discount every current tab, I imagine that the bar owner is quite happy to get $100 up front in return for providing a future $125-worth of booze that probably costs him $25.

As for the friendship thing, you can turn it around too. If what you’re doing doesn’t violate the rules, that presumably means the bar owner is happy with the economics. If you’re the bar owner’s friend, why would he want you to get a worse deal than he’d offer to a stranger?

It sounds to me like the bar owner didn’t think this through: she probably intended the promotion to bring new customers to her bar, and the promo card is a thank-you for helping her with her advertising. I get a referral bonus for folks who sign up for a certain subscription-based website using my link; this promotion probably has the same intention.

If that’s the case, you’re mildly subverting the system by not bringing in new customers to the bar, so maybe that’s very mildly gaming the system.

But, again, mild; and I think if you invite a few friends out to drink at the bar, you’d fulfill the spirit of the promotion anyway.

Not worth worrying about, but if you are worried, call some buddies down to the bar to share a drink and talk the place up.

Like any promotion that relies on most people behaving a certain way to not become an unprofitable universal discount it is wrong if you adhere to Kant’s categorical imperative. So do you subscribe to Kantian ethics?

Or to put it in a different way. It’s a behavior that, if adopted by many, would ruin the system, but it’s rare enough that, for the convenience of everyone, it’s not prohibited. Are you fine with being part of the acceptable number of “bad users”?

Eh, it’s not the Kennedy assasination. The aim was probably to bring new people to the bar, so you could offset any guilt you feel by using your promo card to bring a friend to the bar and buy him a beer, introducing him to the place.

No, not wrong.

I don’t think this is a reasonable model here. It would be quite straightforward for the bar to simply stipulate that one or both cards cannot be spent the same day, that’s common with discount vouchers. That simple rule would prevent the cards being used to get an immediate discount off every current bar tab. I would guess that the bar owner would then be quite happy to offer a prepaid discount off any future business, given the usual expectation of failure to use some proportion of cards and the marginal profit on booze sales. Then life is much more straightforward for everyone one, they can all just follow the actual rules without having to worry about guessing what the unwritten rules might be.

It’s not wrong. Gift cards are designed to (a) give the merchant an immediate influx of cash rather than waiting for someone to give them money piecemeal in the future and (b) hopefully you won’t use the full value of the card and they get free money. While it’s nice if they get a new customer, what they really want is to lock money up in their pockets.

You’re providing this, giving the bar $200 now instead of $40 a night over five nights. They decided that this is worth a discount via the promo cards. Whether that was wise is on them but you’re not subverting anything.

I’d say you are gaming the system, but not for that much. It’s sort of like using a groupon for a place you already frequent. Groupon costs business owners a ton of money so they want to use it to bring in new people as opposed to taking an existing customer and giving them (just about) a free lunch.

It shouldn’t ruin the system. Whether or not the purchaser uses both or gives the gift cards away, it will still be the same for the bar owner. And, in the case that the receiver of the gift card is already a regular customer, which is usually the case with gift cards, it’s not even that they lost the opportunity to get a new customer.
Even in the case that it is so abused as to cause a financial problem, it could probably be tweaked here and there to be fixed.

It isn’t quite the same, but your gift card strategy reminds me of a lottery ticket strategy. Steve Dahl (Chicago radio) suggested having the numbers from your ticket duplicated on a second ticket so that if you won, but so did someone else, you still got 2/3 instead of 1/2.

On the rare occasions when I play, I get 10 duplicate tickets. I’m not playing because there’s a positive expected return on the basic economics. So I want a positive expected utility, from the potential for how much I’d enjoy annoying anyone I shared the jackpot with.

Life is full of unwritten rules, many of them important. I’m not saying Kantian ethics is the only true ethics, and that the behavior in this thread is objectively indisputably wrong, but “this presumed unwritten rule or intention could have been policed and/or been a written rule, and it would have been easier on everyone” is not an actual argument against the existence of the unwritten rule.

Nope, no stipulations on use. More people haven’t copied me because they are, on average, not all that bright a group.

Well, I feel a lot better about the situation. I’ve been a great customer from the start, and I’ve helped the business grow and prosper. I share their posts on Facebook and invite my friends to check the place out. In fact, the friend who criticized me learned about the place from me a few years back.


The intent of the system is there in the OP: “The idea is you buy a card which you give as a gift, then use the promo card yourself.” The intent is to incentivize buying and giving gift cards. Now a lot of recipients might be regulars, and them getting a gift card might not be much different than buying one for themselves, but some of them might be less frequent customers or new customers, making the cost of the promo card worth it for the bar owner. There may be fewer of them, or even none, but buying the card for yourself definitely reduces to zero the chance the bar owner will get much of a return for the investment of that promo card.

Personally I think that then doing so is wrong. I probably wouldn’t have come to that conclusion without some thinking about it, but that doesn’t make it right. The OP probably didn’t think it was wrong when he did it, but he felt it less than obvious in hindsight (or his choice to post about it here is rather weird).

Now again I’m not saying it is objectively indubitably wrong, but it appears to me that most “yeah, it’s fine” answerers here actually think it’s iffy behavior, but feel it’s such a minor transgression that it shouldn’t be wrong, and then construct ad hoc arguments for why it’s not even iffy.

How about this situation - you get a gift card for a friend and the bonus card for you. Your friend gets a gift card for you and a bonus care for him/herself. Same, same.

I don’t see any problem with it. You could even argue that it is a reward for being a good customer,

Which brings up a second point. $250 credit at a bar would last* me* a long long time.

You have in no way done anything wrong. I frequently do that. I will often buy gift cards at Kroger to get fuel point bonuses.

:frowning: I stop at the bar on average twice a week. A couple of beers, a snack, and a mix six to go I spend on average $40 with tip. If my gf is with me, that amount goes up exponentially (she doesn’t look at the price column, I do).

Yeah, anytime we make a large purchase at a big-box (washer/dryer) we buy a gift card at Giant Eagle for fuel points.

I guess it depends on what the owner wanted out of it and if they made that known. If the owner did it as a promo to help bring in new customers and said the sign said ‘buy a gift card to give to someone, get a free one for yourself’, some could argue that it’s wrong to buy them for yourself. But as was mentioned above, they may just be doing to incentive people to hand them a bunch of cash and they don’t care what the reasons are.

If it’s wrong, it’s also wrong to buy discounted gift cards at a store, for that store, to use yourself. But right or wrong, if Target were to tell me they’re selling $50 gift cards for $40, I’d buy them as I checkout, just for the discount.