Do Restaurant Gift Cards Expire? Complete Guide

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Do restaurant gift cards expire

Do restaurant gift cards expire?


Every year, thousands of restaurants either give out or sell gift cards to their loyal customers.

These gift cards or certificates typically give customers a rebate on a meal and save them good money.

Often, customers earn these cards if they come to a restaurant a specific number of times, though other restaurants make their cards strictly a must-purchase affair.


The unique nature of restaurant gift cards makes it essential for you to understand their expiration dates and how they affect the ways you use your certificate.

Like with other types of gift cards and reward items, expiration dates do exist for these items.

However, the federal government and most states strictly limit when and how these items can be used appropriately in a restaurant.


Expiration is Possible


Gift cards are not the same as coupons because they have federal regulations put into place to ensure that they don’t expire too quick for you to enjoy them.

A federal law passed in 2009 has made it illegal for gift cards or certificates to expire for five years after they have been issued.

Some gift cards may never expire, though this situation is rare as most will put the minimum expiration date on their certificates.


This rule was signed into law as a way of protecting people from restaurants taking advantage of expiration dates.

For example, many restaurants gave out these types of certificates to people who purchased them and then set a strict expiration date that made using the card very difficult.

In this way, the company would walk away with some money while you had nothing out of the deal.


Thankfully, you can now hold onto your gift cards or certificates for up to five years before they go bad.

In this way, you have a better chance of using them later on or if you happen to find them later.

Studies have found that a majority of these types of customer rewards end up shuffled into a drawer or a dresser and never got used.

Restaurants prefer this because they, again, get something for nothing.


Make sure to remember, though, that most state laws may vary and could influence expiration dates in some ways.

For example, many states have a one-year limit for loyalty cards and other types of rewards that go into effect if you are inactive on your account.

A dormant account would be one that hadn’t used the gift or loyalty card in a year. Other states are less stringent on this rule.


As always, make sure that you read through the fine print of your gift certificate or any loyalty card to ensure that they won’t expire too soon on you.

Federal and state law dictates that all cards and documents of this type must have easy-to-understand fine print and expiration dates printed on the ticket, as well as use restrictions.

This information ensures that you not only use your card before it goes bad but helps you save money when you use this type of coupon.


Inactivity Fees are Very Limited


Before the previously mentioned federal law in 2009, companies that gave gift cards and certificates could charge the customer inactivity fees on the card.

For example, somebody who bought a $50 restaurant gift certificate may have had to pay $5 on the card for every month that it wasn’t in use.

This clever ruse helped to steal the value of a card and render them useless to the consumer.


After the 2009 law, however, the Federal Reserve made it more challenging to set fees and unexpected costs on these types of gift cards.

For example, they limited inactivity or dormancy fees to cards that have been inactive for at least 12 months.

This regulation also limited the number of payments to just one per month to ensure that the consumer didn’t lose too much money on this item.


Just as importantly, this act made disclosure of these fees necessary.

Restaurants and other retailers couldn’t start charging the account secretly but must tell the consumer when the costs activate.

Just as importantly, they must discuss these fees before they sell or give out a gift card. In this way, the experience is as transparent as possible to ensure that you don’t lose money.


And, even more critically, other fees were severely limited on these types of cards.

For example, membership dues and other kinds of costs were cut from most types of gift certificates.

Though you could still join a loyalty program, most were free unless the benefits of the program were equal to the cost of the program fees.

The idea was to ensure that the restaurant or facility profited while you didn’t end up paying excessive money for a reward program that offered minimal benefits.

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