The best times to use your holiday gift cards
From travel to jewelry to home goods, what – and when – you should buy with your holiday gift cards.
As you bask in the glory that is your Christmas haul of 2012, you may be pawing over a gift card or two. And After Christmas Sales might seem like an extremely tempting place to start redeeming them. But depending on what you're looking for, you might get the most value out of your card if you wait to shop. From consumer electronics to apparel, to MP3s and beyond, we've combed the dealnews archives to offer the best timeframes in which to spend your holiday giftcards.
Best Time to Buy: Late December and Early January
Potential Discount: Up to 50% off
While the typical Black Friday onslaught of brand new all-time low HDTV prices are long gone, we will soon see steep discounts on brand-name HDTVs, which are usually absent during the post-Thanksgiving shopping holiday. So far we've seen 42" and 47" LCD and plasma HDTVs from LG at all-time lows available at the likes of Amazon, newegg, and TigerDirect, but many more are sure to follow, if you patiently wait for a deal. TVs generally continue their slow decline through the year and bottom out in the summer before Black Friday slashes them again even further.
Best Time to Buy: January and February
Potential Discount: 15% to 60% off
January is also a good time to look into fitness equipment. A popular New Year's resolution is to get in shape, and both gyms and fitness gear manufacturers aim to lure shoppers into using their products or services to accomplish this goal. As a result, we saw several special coupons and sales online for equipment, including bikes, treadmills, elliptical trainers, complete home gyms, and training accessories and DVDs.
Best Time to Buy: January to April
Potential Discount: Up to 30% off
Last January saw the highest number of Editors' Choice vacation packages of any month, which means several fight and hotel combo deals were at their lowest price of the year. Top destinations included Jamaica, Dominican Republic, and the Bahamas. Just note that many of these prices are for March and early April travel, the latter of which is a great time to book cruises. Look to Carnival Cruise Lines for the best deals. If your gift card is for airfare travel exclusively, remember that the best time to book a cheap flight is six weeks in advance.
Best Time to Buy: Late January and February
Potential Discount: Up to 80% off with stacking coupons
Winter apparel will see excellent discounts today, especially if you don't mind redeeming a printable coupon in-store. But judging from the offers we saw on December 26 last year, several of those sales will become even better in January. For example, Old Navy took an additional 15% off sale and clearance items in early January last year. But just two weeks later we saw an additional 50% off clearance items, making for an Editors' Choice deal. Pay close attention to our price comparison statements in today's deals; if the discount has been offered recently, there's a good chance you might see something stronger next month. Last year, we saw sales that took up to 80% off and offered stacking coupons that slashed as much as an extra 60% off.
Best Time to Buy: February
Potential Discount: 20% to 60% off
In January numerous manufacturers will announce new products at CES, which means retailers will begin trying to move old inventory to make room for new releases. Tablets, MP3 players, and gadgets like GPS units will thus start to see clearance price cuts. But, if it's specifically a new digital camera you're after, keep in mind that November sees more than twice as many Editors' Choice-caliber camera deals than any other month.
Best Time to Buy: February and March
Potential Discount: Up to 75% off
While we'll see a number of "White Sales" in January, bedding and linens will see deeper discounts come President's Day courtesy of sitewide discounts at various department stores with discounts of up to 75% off bedding and furniture. Make note though that office furniture specifically will actually see more Editors' Choice deals in April and May.
Best Time to Buy: Late February and March
Potential Discount: Up to 50% off
Valentine's Day is the next buying holiday on the horizon, but it's rare to find any outstanding jewelry deals in the weeks immediately preceding. That said,LivingSocial and other daily deals sites may offer credits to BlueNile and other jewelry merchants at up to 50% off in the coming weeks. Securing that added value will pay off even more beginning February 15, and throughout March, as the best time to buy jewelry is in the time frame between Valentine's Day and Mother's Day in May.
Best Time to Buy: August
Potential Discount: Up to 50% off
Typically the best time to get a laptop is around Black Friday, but you might not want to wait another 11 months to use your gift card. The next closest opportunity when we see notebook prices consistently sink to impressive lows occurs over the summer, specifically in the form of Back to School sales in August.
Best Time to Buy: Varies
Potential Discount: 70% to 90% off
Amazon's monthly $5 album sale brings with it the best of the bargain bin. From pop favorites like Lady Gaga to well-known indie darlings like The Arcade Fire, you can load up every gig on that iPod. However, periodically throughout the year, the mega store will offer a sale that discounts such albums to as low as $1 to $3; to catch such a price cut, you'll want to set up an email alert or keep an eye on the Amazon MP3 store. iTunes can be a little bit more difficult to predict as far as music sales go, because they don't openly advertise markdowns.
Even though, in general, it pays to wait to use your gift card to shop for these categories, you might still find an excellent deal or two during the After Christmas Sales. We thus recommend that you pay attention to our Editors' Choice listings, and if any are marked as all-time low discounts, it's probably worth scratching off that PIN.
A note: you may have noticed most summer months are absent from this list. That's not to say there aren't great deals to be had throughout June, July, and August, but we're sure any of the numerous excellent deals that pop up in the interim will likely pique your interest; after all, no one wants to see on a gift card for too long. For more price trend information, check out our consumer shopping research page.
Emily Dovi is a copy editor for dealnews.com, a website devoted to finding the best deals on consumer goods. The site pledges to list the best deal, whether or not it's from an advertiser, although it does work with advertisers to craft deals for readers. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here. This feature first appeared in dealnews.com.