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The Holiday Season's Best Gift Cards

Which cards offer the biggest bang for your buck?

Posted on 11/13/17 by Austin O'Connor

Gift card rankings

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Once shunned, gift cards are now the most wanted item on many people's holiday wish lists.

With more than 40 percent of people putting gift cards at the top of their holiday wish lists this year, the odds are good that you’ll be giving or getting one or more at some point soon. But which gift card gets you the best deal? 

According to the editors at Wallethub, it’s an iTunes card. The website ranked gift cards across five categories — including popularity, associated fees, average buyer discount, average resale value and retailer reliability — to come up with an overall score, and iTunes took the top spot, edging out runners-up Starbucks and Walmart gift cards, which tied for second place.

Rounding out the 10 top gift cards, according to Wallethub’s methodology, were Victoria’s Secret, Target, Amazon, Best Buy, Chipotle, Fandango and Sephora.

The giving of gift cards, once shunned as a thoughtless gesture, is now welcomed, says Wallethub analyst Jill Gonzalez.

"We saw this trend [of increasing popularity of gift cards] rise over the past five years or so," Gonzalez recently told CNBC. "You used to dread getting a gift card, thinking, 'What am I going to do with it?’ But I think it has a lot to do with the fact that you can use it from home, you can use it whenever you want, and you have a little more leeway in terms of what you're buying with it."

As the popularity of gift cards has grown, websites that offer consumers more flexibility in using them — and in buying and exchanging them — have, as well. Online sites like Gift Card Granny and Raise offer users a way to sell their unwanted cards, or to purchase such cards at a discount. According to the Wallethub survey, the gift card with the highest resale value is a Netflix card. On average, a $100 Netflix card can be sold for about $85 at exchange sites. And a Dunkin’ Donuts gift card offers exchange buyers the best chance for a discount, with the average card being sold on the exchange sites for about 25 percent less than its retail value.

In the survey, Amazon and Visa gift cards tied as the most popular this season. The Visa card, and other gift cards associated with credit cards such as Mastercard and American Express, comes with a caveat along with a Christmas bow, as there are much higher fees associated with them than there are for retailer-specific cards. Among the cards gaining popularity this year, according to Wallethub, are the Trader Joe’s card (up 81 spots from last year’s ranking to crack the top 50), Olive Garden (No. 32) and Chik-Fil-A (No. 23), which rose 21 and 20 spots in the rankings, respectively. Perhaps surprisingly, given the top ranking for the iTunes card, the Apple Store gift card dropped precipitously in the annual rankings, falling 23 spots to 43rd place.

Here’s the full Wallethub ranking of the 10 most popular gifts cards for the 2017 holiday season.

  1. Amazon
  2. Visa
  3. Walmart
  4. iTunes
  5. American Express
  6. Target
  7. Starbucks
  8. Disney
  9. Sephora
  10. eBay

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