Which is the best credit card-branded gift card?
July 29, 2013 8:17 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to send my sister some money to use while she's traveling, and for practical reasons (I have to mail it, some airlines only take credit cards on board the plane, don't want her carrying around lots of cash), I'd like to send her a pre-paid Visa/Amex/whatever gift card that she can use as a credit card. But I've heard horror stories about them being difficult to use. Is there one that's worth getting? Note that it will be for short-term use, so I'm not too worried about recurring fees; I just want to make sure that she can actually use the card I send her for things like buying food and paying for cabs (assuming she is traveling to a magical land where cabs take credit cards). She's traveling within the US. I have a local grocery store with a huge gift card selection, but also would be OK with buying it online if I can have it shipped quickly.
posted by rhiannonstone to Work & Money (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'd go with Visa because Amex is accepted maybe 95% of the time and Visa really is accepted almost everywhere that takes plastic at all.

And many, many more cabs and other mobile business spots like street food vendors are taking plastic now, thanks to the various quick and easy mobile payment technologies.

You can buy these at most stores and load them up. I'd say she should be fine with any of them, provided she'll use the balance soon.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:21 AM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

One thing to note is that most restaurants don't accept gift cards.

You may be better off with traveler's cheques.
posted by General Malaise at 8:23 AM on July 29, 2013

You might ask a bank to make sure you're getting a card that is a true Visa, but if it's a Visa card most places are going to take it, regardless of how it's funded. I found traveler's checks to be a problem to use even back in the 90s...
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:26 AM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

You may be better off with traveler's cheques.

I haven't seen a Traveler's Check in decades! I know a lot of places in Europe don't take them, or charge hideousl conversion rates to hassle with them.

Go with a Visa. Here's a resource for evaluating Pre-Paid debit cards. Also, see if your bank can provide one.

Another option is to transfer money into her checking account that she can access with her Debit card.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:26 AM on July 29, 2013

Response by poster: Traveler's checks are definitely not an option, I know from experience on both sides of the counter that very few places accept them anymore and they're just a hassle to deal with in general.

But is it true that most restaurants don't accept gift cards? I understand the potential issues with a restaurant authorizing a card for more than the purchase price in anticipation of a tip, but for small purchases on a largeish gift card that shouldn't be an issue. Do many restaurants outright refuse to accept gift cards? The Visa gift card website says gift cards are accepted everywhere Visa credit cards are, but I know that what the website says and what the merchant does at the time of purchase don't always match...
posted by rhiannonstone at 8:45 AM on July 29, 2013

One thing to note is that most restaurants don't accept gift cards.

I've never seen a restaurant refuse a VISA pre-paid card. They run them exactly like a debit card. Heck, most chain restaurants issue their own branded gift cards.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:47 AM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Visa or Mastercard have pretty universal acceptance within the US. randomkeystrike above said Amex is accepted about 95% of the time and that sounds about right - I'd have guessed 90%. The others are not worth bothering with.
posted by RedOrGreen at 11:25 AM on July 29, 2013

Best answer: From a purely logistical standpoint, I prefer to use a bunch of $25 ones rather than higher denominations, as I have a hard time remembering my balances. Easier to just say "$25 in this one, and the rest on the other card." Plus if I lose one it's not so bad.

I think you can check the balance with many/most prepaid cards. All you need is the information provided on the card, if I recall correctly. My mother loves sending these things as gifts, so I've used them a few times in the past.

But I rather dislike them, because 1) I already have a debit card and a credit card, 2) spending down the last amount is annoying, because you'll have to deal with splitting the bill, and 3) the purchaser is out $6 for the convenience of having an inconvenient extra card.

Personally, I'd send a check, which your sister can then deposit and use her own credit and/or debit card, or she can cash it. No money lost in the transaction (unless she cashes it somewhere other than her bank), no worry about that last $2.57 or $10.32 on the card, and you can cancel a check if it's stolen or lost, while a prepaid card is free money.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:43 AM on July 29, 2013

Best answer: If your grocery stores are like the ones near me, the "best" one to buy IMO is the prepaid Visa/MC offering from US Bank or Metabank, which are usually branded as "generic" Visa or Mastercard prepaid cards. These come with a $5.95 fee paid at the point-of-purchase, and the variable reload versions go up to $500 in stored value.

Note, however, that these cards don't give you cash access. In other words, you can't stick 'em in an ATM and get cash out. The other prepaid cards in your grocery store's rack are likely things like Green Dot or My Vanilla, which have inactivity fees, PIN transaction fees, etc. -- but they also support things like reloading via direct deposit and ATM access, which probably isn't of interest to you. But the US Bank / Metabank "generic" cards don't have any of those fees and don't need to be registered, etc.

And although the "generic" ones I like say "Debit Card", they are usable as credit cards, and should theoretically be accepted by any merchant who takes credit cards. So they should work in a taxi that takes credit cards. However, restaurants and pay-at-the-pump gas stations and perhaps others will put a hold on the card for more than the purchase amount, which can sometimes lead to issues.

If you look online, there's a slight preference for the Metabank Visa MC's because of the way PINs are handled and compatibility with some very specific systems, but those reviews/preferences are more geared towards the Flyertalk crowd and not the way it sounds like you'll be wanting.

I believe there's a similar Chase product, which you can purchase for no fees online if you have a Chase credit card.
posted by QuantumMeruit at 1:31 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oops, I should have said, "preference for the Metabank Visa GC's". Curse you, short edit window!
posted by QuantumMeruit at 1:38 PM on July 29, 2013

Response by poster: Follow-up: I ended up getting her a non-reloadable Vanilla Visa, mostly because that's all I could find on short notice. If I do this again, I'll go directly through one of my banks or credit cards and order one online (where you can get the recipient's name imprinted on it!). She had no issues using it for food and sundries during her trip. Thanks for all the help!
posted by rhiannonstone at 12:17 PM on August 28, 2013

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