What's the deal with those VISA gift cards?

You can buy em at the grocery store. The number looks just like a credit card / debit card number?

Can you use them online? Could I pay for my SDMB membership with one?

Sure, they’re just pre-paid credit cards (or maybe they operate as debit cards, I forget).

Okay, but how does it work in this real-life situation?

I had a $100 one that I got as a rebate. I spent $80 or so on it.

So, I want to buy something online that’s $50. Do I just put that card in and it then recalculates the total and tells me I’ve got $30 left to pay?

Come to think of it, answer quick, because I think I’ve got till the end of July to use this thing.


I got one of this gift cards, it would be approved if the amount was available but denied if the amount was over the available amount. IIRC I abandoned mine with about $0.20 on it as it was hard to charge the exact amount (gas stations will precharge about $75-$100, so jsut getting $0.20 of gas wouldn’t work

There are two different animals here. One is just a gift card, albeit one with a Visa logo on it. It’s immediately useable to pay for things, once it’s been paid for and activated at the register.

The other is an actual Visa (or MasterCard) card, which you use the same way you’d use any other card, except that generally speaking, depending on the merchant, you can only put money onto it with cash or other plastic, not with checks.

And: It is NOT immediately useable once it’s been paid for–if you read the fine print, you’ll see that you have to call an 800 number and give them an address where they can mail you the card. Which they say takes about 7 days.

I sell these all the time at Walgreens, and I’ve had innumerable customers go away mad because their “instant Visa card” isn’t really an “instant Visa card” at all–it’s either just a gift card, or they have to wait a week for their “Visa card”.

What you’ve got there is one of the gift cards. You use it like you’d use any other gift card. If the online site would let you use gift cards to pay for things, then yeah, you just put the number in.

However, most online shopping I’ve ever done has required a lump sum payment; I’ve never encountered an Internet vendor that had their order form set up to allow me to use, say, my Visa for part of it, and then my MasterCard for the rest.

Read the fine print again; I’d be very surprised if you have to use it all up in the next couple of weeks. There was a big brouhaha a while back about gift card issuers charging fees for use after a certain period of time, and I’ve never heard of them expiring.

In my experience - no. The POS requests authorization for $50, you have $20, card is declined. If the store will work with you, maybe they’ll charge $20 on one card and the additional however, but there are two (or three) separate systems at work, the register doesn’t know how much you have in the bank/on the card/whatever, only if you have enough.

Did that make any sense at all?

At my store, if you know exactly how much you’ve got on your card, you can tell the cashier to tell the register to pay for only so much of your purchase with the card, and then it will, if she does it right. But it’s totally dependent on you knowing the right amount. If you don’t have that much on there, it’ll refuse the purchase.

See, if you’re telling them or even implying that “instant Visa card” means it’s usable the minute the customer steps away from the point of sale, and it isn’t, then that’s deceptive.

MoneyMart in Canada sells a prepaid MasterCcard that actually is “instantly” ready for use. You go there and buy it and load money on it, then the shop gives you a generic card that has a valid number but says “Preferred Customer” or some such. Then a week or so later, you get the permanent card on the mail, with the same number and your name on it. But you can use the generic card the moment you leave MoneyMart.

Not fine print, but a Visa with an expiration date of 07/2007.



Many of the cards I deal with at my job (hundreds of different issuers which include true pre-paid cards and gift cards from Visa, Mastercard and Discover) have monthly inactivity fees that start after a certain number of days or months of inactivity. They also all have expiration dates, which tend to be far enough in the future that any money on the cards would be consumed by fees well before the date. Every so often a customer who’s been charged fees will make some noise about some state law or other that says cards can’t charge fees or can’t expire, and our response is to refer them up to the people who actually issue/sell the cards. It’s always fun to get someone who’s been given a card for Christmas two years ago and never used it who call in to find that it’s all been dribbled away in $2 monthly fees. Personally I’m always mystified at someone’s leaving free money sitting around for months or years at a time. I never had any trouble, on those occasions when I’ve received such a card, in finding something to spend it on.

So use it before the end of the month, and speaking as one of the reps you’ll probably end up speaking to if you let it expire, please don’t call up demanding a replacement if it expires with money on it.

Peon, I demand a new card!

But seriously, am I supposed to call the number on the card, find out the total, and then play The Price Is Right where I do my best to spend as close as I can (without going over)?

Cuz that kinda blows. I liked it better in the olden days when they sent checks.


I once dug out a JC Penney gift certificate that was over 15 years old. It was one of those hand-written types.

They accepted it.


Take it to a store of some kind, and spend some amount of money over what the 20 dollars you have left. Ask the nice cashier that you’d like to put 20 dollars on that card, and pay the rest with cash/check/other card/seashells, and they should be able to do it. I split tender on things all the time. (and I also hate dealing with these cards, because NO ONE knows how much is on them, and assume that it works like a store gift card where it’ll just take as much as it can off.)

Kiss my hairy white ASS, customer!

(nothing personal, I’ve just been wanting to say that for the last year)

Pay the balance over the card amount first and present the gift card last.

No, that’s kind of the point I was making: that I go out of my way to explain to these people (our store is in the Inner City Not-Very-Bright Don’t-Know-How-To-Use-Their-Own-Link-Card section of town) that it ISN’T an “instant Visa card”. While I’m still standing there holding the thing in my hand, before we even get to the “ringing up” part, I say, “Now, you know they mail you the card? And it takes seven days?”

And that’s when they go away mad.

Thank you for the clarification, Otto, I didn’t realize they could have expiration dates on them. And I thought the whole “inactivity fees” thing had been solved. Guess it hasn’t. Bad cess to 'em, the sneaky bastidges. :mad:

Ah, okay then. It’s not you who is advertising the ‘one-week Visa cards’ as ‘instant’. That’s a relief. Does the point-of-sale display say ‘instant card’? Maybe it means ‘instant approval’…

We have a credit card which gives rebates in the form of gift cards. We discovered that the card companies love them because people leave money on them, since it is such a pain to get down to 0. We’ve given up on them, but if we get one we buy a gift certificate for an equal amount from our grocery store, which we can spend in dribs and drabs, or all at once without splitting a charge.

Store cards, like Starbucks or B&N, don’t seem to have any problem with using a card up and letting you give money for the rest.

There is no problem using up the whole amount. As said before in this thread, tell the cashier you would like to put $23.57 on this card and the rest on that card or cash. I have done this with several gift card I have received via workplace rewards programs. The AMEX cards I have received also included a toll free number to find out exactly how much is on the card.

I’m sure you’d get plenty of offers for that. :smiley:

I don’t know if that’s necessary at all retailers, but you can do it in either order at Wal-Mart, where I work. As long as the [del]peon[/del] cashier does it correctly.