Survey compares holiday gift cards

Published On: Nov 13 2012 12:42:57 PM CST   Updated On: Nov 14 2012 06:37:48 AM CST

This holiday season, Americans are expected to ring up billions in gift card purchases.  A new survey offers insight on how consumers can get the most bang for their buck.

The Card Act of 2009 extended many provisions regarding fees, terms and conditions to gift cards, but a new survey shows consumers still need to be aware of what they are buying.

In the lead-up to the holiday shopping season, Bankrate.com looked at 63 gift cards, eight issued by banks and credit card companies and 55 from retailers and restaurants.

General use gift cards were far more likely to have fees attached. Purchase fees ranged from $2.95 to $6.95. Inactivity fees could eat up $3 per month after the first year.

Experts say the trade off is more freedom.

"That's the biggest advantage of one of the general purpose gift cards is the flexibility it gives to the person you give the gift card to. Store branded gift cards you have to use at the chain or the brand so that limits it, but there are fewer fees that come with those cards," said Janna Herron, a Bankrate.com Credit Card Analyst.

Two-thirds of issuers said they would replace lost or stolen cards, though some require that you register the card or have a receipt.

"Consumers should look on the back of their gift card to find out what they really need to do to protect themselves," said Herron.

Ninety-five percent of the cards surveyed did not have an expiration date.

For more results of the survey, visit http://www.bankrate.com/finance/credit-cards/compare-gift-cards.aspx.