What gift cards disallow alcohol & would be useful to college students?
August 11, 2018 3:35 PM   Subscribe

I will be awarding prizes to first-year college students, most of them with financial need, at a college in Oakland, California. A rule of the grant is that we can't give students any card that could be used to buy alcohol. That rules out the two cards that students most requested when asked: Amazon and Target.

The cards will be for $20-$25. Walmart has special gift cards that can't be used for alcohol, but there aren't Walmarts locally, and students don't shop there. Students also asked for Starbucks, but it's not clear that it passes the no-alcohol test.

We do not have an onsite book store, and everyone buys their books online. The students are already on meal plans, and the dining rooms sell alcohol. They already have transit passes.

We've thought of a few types of gift cards that would work: iTunes and Lyft. Any other ideas?
posted by espertus to Work & Money (36 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I am pretty sure you can't buy alcohol with an Amazon gift card. Are you 100% sure of that? As for Starbucks- wouldn't the kids have to travel to Seattle to buy alcohol?
posted by fshgrl at 3:44 PM on August 11, 2018 [5 favorites]


How about to a Bed Bath and Beyond type store for new dorm stuff or a Staples for supplies?
posted by greta simone at 3:47 PM on August 11, 2018 [6 favorites]


Where I live, grocery stores don't sell alcohol. If this is the case for you I would suggest that; I LOVED getting gift cards for local grocery stores when I was a student and frankly still do.
posted by DTMFA at 3:51 PM on August 11, 2018 [2 favorites]


Staples or Office Depot for school supplies, backpacks, printer ink/paper, computer accessories, etc?
posted by JoeZydeco at 3:58 PM on August 11, 2018 [1 favorite]


If you really don’t think Starbucks works, do you have any other coffee shops on campus? Because coffee gift cards are the best gift cards when you’re a student.
posted by DoubleLune at 3:58 PM on August 11, 2018


I don't think any reasonable interpretation of the rules of your grant is going to include the ability to exchange the gift card value for alcohol in a way that requires expending more than the value of the gift card to actually get to the single location several states away that might possibly do this, when it's an international chain. By that standard, any gift card could be exchanged for alcohol because you can sell them for cash considerably more easily. I'd do at least some basic sanity-checking on how you interpret this.
posted by Sequence at 3:59 PM on August 11, 2018 [23 favorites]


Prime Now does enable people to buy alcohol for delivery via gift card, so I'm assuming that's why OP has ruled out Amazon.

While you can still get alcohol at non-US-based Starbucks locations (there are some in Canada), most US locations have stopped selling beer and wine, and I'm pretty sure only the Seattle Reserve store has a cocktail program. Canada and Seattle are pretty far away... but if the policy is as strict as OP suggests, that may still be a problem. Still, it should be less of a problem than Amazon. Do you have other coffee chains -- local ones, or larger ones like Caribou?

Even if the students are on meal plans, maybe popular local restaurants or movie theatres would be welcome choices? Even students with financial need (maybe especially students with financial need) deserve a special treat now and again.
posted by halation at 4:01 PM on August 11, 2018 [1 favorite]


Is there a Peet's near campus, or another cafe?

If you're in Rockridge, I think Blick does gift cards.

Maybe a ticket to a local museum, if they don't already have free access with their student IDs?
posted by kiripin at 4:04 PM on August 11, 2018 [2 favorites]


Peet's would be an obvious alternative if Starbucks is a no go.
posted by hoyland at 4:06 PM on August 11, 2018 [2 favorites]


How about abebooks or Barnes and Noble? Or a local food delivery place that doesn’t sell alcohol? As a poor college kid, ordering a pizza once a semester would have helped me to fit in way better.
posted by tchemgrrl at 4:30 PM on August 11, 2018 [1 favorite]


At any sort of retail store that offers "special gift cards that can't be used for alcohol", couldn't the student just buy something and immediately exchange it? I would have thought any contractual obligation you enter into with a retailer when you buy the gift card to give it to the student would be no less flimsy than giving the student cash and requiring them to sign a contract saying they won't buy alcohol.
posted by XMLicious at 4:39 PM on August 11, 2018 [2 favorites]


Movie theater gift card, or if there's a Kohl's or a Mashalls or Home Goods, those are also great for some clothing/furnishing needs...
posted by TwoStride at 4:42 PM on August 11, 2018


Certainly, students could in theory trade gift cards for alcohol. I am not defending the rule, just playing along with it
posted by espertus at 4:42 PM on August 11, 2018


Grocery stores and drug stores here do sell alcohol.
posted by espertus at 4:43 PM on August 11, 2018


I recommend against iTunes, as many students aren't Apple/iOS/iPhone users and wouldn't consider it a meaningful prize. Sure, you can have an account without those, but it's still going to be a dud of a prize if it's for something they'd have to set up outside of their normal connected ecosystem. (I speak from personal experience while eyeing the last $20 iTunes gift card on my desk I haven't yet been able to sell...)

That said, Netflix or Hulu are fairly universal and easier to adopt. And if they already have accounts, gift cards will just pay for their continued subscription.

Lyft isn't a bad idea (especially if you're at the Oakland college that's kinda far away from everything and only on a few bus lines), and neither is Peet's--they definitely don't sell alcohol in any location, unless things have changed drastically since I left the area a few years ago.

And didn't one of the major drugstore chains in the area (Walgreens or CVS) lose their liquor license and decide to stop selling even when they got it back? Drugstores are kinda boring but super useful!

Other ideas:

-Local movie theater
-Ticketmaster/Ticketfly/LiveNation/whatever service sells tickets for local shows
-Museums
-Restaurant delivery service like GrubHub, Eat24, Caviar, etc. (when I lived in the area, no one would deliver alcohol)
-Art supply store

(Does Amazon really not work?)
posted by rhiannonstone at 4:44 PM on August 11, 2018


Prime Now does enable people to buy alcohol for delivery via gift card

Maybe it's a state by state thing but we couldn't order booze via gift card in WA state last year. They said it was a tax/ legal thing.

It will be a problem in CA to find a place that sells food and not booze. I'd caution against pizza or similar for those of us with dietary restrictions. Maybe a gift card for school supplies/ book store/ laundry. Marshalls does gift cards, so do a lot of malls and you can spend it at any store in the mall. That would have been useful to me as a student who owned maybe two sweaters and one pair of shoes at a time.

Offer a selection and let them choose then email them the card?
posted by fshgrl at 4:49 PM on August 11, 2018 [1 favorite]


Given you're in California where grocery stores can all sell all kinds of alcohol, I'd think clothing, dorm-level furniture, school supplies. JoeZydeco and gretasimone's suggestions of Bed Bath and Beyond, Office Depot, Staples are what I came to say. I was going to say Target but then I remembered Target has been selling alcohol in California since before I could drink so that won't work for you. Marshall's? TJ Maxx? Maybe Home Goods (do your first year students live on campus or are they all in nearby apartments)?
posted by Pandora Kouti at 4:54 PM on August 11, 2018 [1 favorite]


I am not defending the rule, just playing along with it

I mean, yeah, but there's playing along with the letter of the law and playing along with the spirit of it. The grant was given to you with those limitations for certain reasons. I think we can reasonably say that includes not enabling student drinking. If you KNOW that the grant-giver would really object to your supporting any enterprise that sells alcohol, period, then it's reasonable to try to follow the guidelines this strictly! But if you don't actually think that, use a more ordinary level of vetting, because once you get to the point of giving out gift cards to Staples, I think you're losing a lot of the motivational value of this grant money.

Other coffee shops or food locations around campus would be cool, but I was a low-income college student and I definitely wasn't regularly shopping at a lot of the places being listed as alternatives here, and $25 loses a lot of its utility if you're being forced to go somewhere you wouldn't normally for things that are normally going to cost you more than $25.
posted by Sequence at 5:00 PM on August 11, 2018 [14 favorites]


You might call whatever the dominant grocery store chain is in your area and ask if they have non-alcohol gift cards. The local chain in StL (Schnucks) offers them and we've used them for studies that involved participants with a history of substance abuse.
posted by Ufez Jones at 5:06 PM on August 11, 2018 [4 favorites]


They might gripe a little about the quality, but I've known few college students that would utterly turn up their noses at gift cards for Papa John's or Domino's. If there's a local version of GrubHub, that might be perfect. Even with meal plans, it's nice to have something different or a late night meal.
posted by Candleman at 5:12 PM on August 11, 2018 [1 favorite]


Offer a selection and let them choose then email them the card

This is the best idea. I’d give them a choice of Peet’s, BBB, or Staples.
posted by JenMarie at 5:39 PM on August 11, 2018 [1 favorite]


Can you just give them a $20 bill? You're in the east bay, a non zero number of people don't shop at national chains if they can help it and local coffee is readily available. And gift cards suck. Spend only $16.85 at a store you wouldn't otherwise go to and the change becomes additional profit for some national chain. Every gift card given to me has gone to waste.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 5:48 PM on August 11, 2018 [2 favorites]


the way in which you play along doesn't need to honor the boilerplate word of a faceless and avaricious corporate entity above the word of your students

I feel like it would be more helpful for OP if people took them at their word, here. Policies at academic institutions regarding grants and reimbursements often involve restrictions that seem arcane and absurd but are nevertheless inflexible (and involve the submission of all the receipts). I assume that if OP had any latitude at all, here, the question would not have been asked. Telling OP to tilt at this particular windmill may feel good, but it's not likely to accomplish anything much beyond making OP's colleagues and higher-ups annoyed -- or, worst-case, end up putting the grant program in jeopardy due to a policy violation if OP just goes rogue.
posted by halation at 6:10 PM on August 11, 2018 [18 favorites]


IKEA?
posted by unknowncommand at 6:16 PM on August 11, 2018 [2 favorites]


Best Buy! No alcohol, and everyone occasionally needs a flash drive or new pair of earbuds.
posted by Autumnheart at 6:28 PM on August 11, 2018 [3 favorites]


On the transit pass front, I'm guessing their passes aren't good on BART. It's not exciting, but it would get used. Lyft assumes they have access to a credit or debit card and a smartphone, which, depending on the population, might not be the case for all your students.
posted by hoyland at 6:29 PM on August 11, 2018 [2 favorites]


Policies at academic institutions regarding grants and reimbursements often involve restrictions that seem arcane and absurd but are nevertheless inflexible (and involve the submission of all the receipts).

As another academic who occasionally has to deal with regulations like this, I will second this point emphatically.

Anyway: nthing Best Buy, Peet's, Staples, BB&B, IKEA. A sporting goods store like Big 5? I also agree with the suggestion that students should be given choices.
posted by thomas j wise at 6:46 PM on August 11, 2018


If you have an Aldi's near campus, you can request gift cards that restrict the purchase of alcohol; see directions here.

A Lyft or Uber gift card choice could also be very useful--which one depends on your campus culture.

Postmates gift cards cannot be used towards the purchase of alcohol per their terms and conditions.
posted by neda at 6:50 PM on August 11, 2018 [2 favorites]


While I would like to offer something practical, a cinema gift certificate might be super welcome for people who don’t often have the disposable income for a movie, and it would seem like more of a reward.
posted by greermahoney at 7:14 PM on August 11, 2018 [2 favorites]


Eat24, Lyft or Philz. Pete's Coffee would probably also be good too!
posted by Toddles at 8:23 PM on August 11, 2018 [1 favorite]


Since they are low income I would definitely go with the no-alcohol grocery card.

$25 loses a lot of its utility if you're being forced to go somewhere you wouldn't normally for things that are normally going to cost you more than $25.

I wholeheartedly agree with this. If I got a $25 gift card for Bed Bath & Beyond or IKEA, I would immediately sell it to buy groceries.
posted by AFABulous at 9:12 PM on August 11, 2018 [2 favorites]


A smaller hardware store like True Value or your local equivalent might make for a useful gift certificate. Especially if there's one close to campus that stocks things for the college kids nearby so your students' likely needs are taken into account.
posted by Mizu at 5:37 AM on August 12, 2018 [1 favorite]


I neglected to mention that there are no coffee shops or restaurants on campus. The nearest businesses are a few blocks off campus. :-(
posted by espertus at 6:11 PM on August 12, 2018


I mean, yeah, but there's playing along with the letter of the law and playing along with the spirit of it. The grant was given to you with those limitations for certain reasons.

The grant wasn't given to me, and I don't have signing power. I am reporting what was told to me by people who do have signing power.
posted by espertus at 6:13 PM on August 12, 2018 [1 favorite]


Can you just give them a $20 bill?

I wish. I've been tempted to just give them gift cards to places I like to shop and buying them from the students at face value, but it might look like I'm doing something unethical, even though I wouldn't profit from it.
posted by espertus at 6:16 PM on August 12, 2018 [2 favorites]


Thank you for all of the great ideas! I plan to offer them their choice of:
  • iTunes (every one of the students has an iPhone)
  • Lyft
  • Peet's Coffee
All lof these are available online in small denominations.

I would love to include GrubHub or Eat24, but alcohol. :-(
posted by espertus at 6:33 PM on August 12, 2018 [2 favorites]


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