Just last week, I was at Chipotle frantically digging through my wallet looking for my gift card. I knew it was somewhere in my pile of plastic, but couldn't find it for the life of me. In the end, my "free" burrito ended up costing me cash, as my gift card was permanently misplaced.
Stores and restaurants absolutely love gift cards because of unorganized people like me. But with a few simple steps, you can easily protect those valuable gift card balances in the event you lose or misplace one.
1. Stash Your Activation Receipt
This is clearly the most obvious, yet overlooked, step to protect yourself. It's often overlooked because the gift card giver doesn't always include the receipt with the card. But if they do, or if you bought the gift card yourself, then by all means stash the receipt someplace safe. In the event you lose the card, you can simply call the retailer or restaurant customer service line and they can access your account balance via the activation receipt. They'll then easily re-issue you a new card.
2. Write Down Gift Card Numbers
If you don't have a receipt, then you can just put pen to paper and copy down the gift card numbers for safe keeping. While this can seem a tedious exercise for a measly $5 Starbucks gift card, you'll be glad you did if you lose a $100 Best Buy card.
3. Get Tech Savvy With a Virtual Wallet
Perhaps the most convenient and fool-proof way of protecting your gift card balances is using a virtual wallet like Google Wallet. You simply download the app to your smartphone (Android or iPhone), enter the card number, balance, snap a picture of the card (front and back) and the app takes care of the rest. You simply present the app when checking out, the cashier scans the corresponding barcode on your phone, and your balance is automatically reduced.
4. Not That Tech Savvy? Just Snap a Pic
If you're just not tech savvy and the idea of adding a gift card to a virtual wallet gives you a headache, I have an easy solution for you. Just use your smartphone or camera to snap a picture of the gift card numbers when you get the card. This is an easy way to access your gift card if you end up losing it.
5. Trace Your Footsteps
If you failed to keep the receipt and/or the gift card number was never recorded, but you used the lost gift card at least once online, you may still have recourse. Your card information may have been recorded when shopping online from the retailer's website. Whether or not your gift card info was saved varies by retailer, but when you are desperate to recapture your account balance, it's worth a shot.
6. Register Your Card With the Retailer
Many retailers and restaurants allow you to actually register your card with them online. Some of the more popular include Crate & Barrel, Starbucks, and Tully's Coffee. By doing so, you get balance protection and a quick replacement card in the event you lose yours. Also, you can often use your gift card for rewards and earn free treats and reward points. The Starbucks gift card is famous for this.
Bottom Line: Treat a Gift Card Like Cash
By treating gift cards like cash (which they essentially are), you'll be more proactive when it comes to protecting their balances. By doing just a little bit of work to protect yourself, you'll never be stuck buying a burrito again after you were sure it would be free. Or is that just my story?