Unexpiring Gift Card Expires: The Travelocity Dilemma

Expired Yet Unexpiring?

What should you do if your gift card that never expires suddenly expires?

That’s what Maya Rath would like to know. Back in 2010, her boss gave her a $250 gift card for Travelocity. “I never stay in hotels,” she says. So the card sat in her drawer, unused.

Rath wasn’t worried because there was no expiration date on the card. But when she recently tried to redeem the gift card, Travelocity said it had expired and referred her to CashStar, a company that manages its gift cards.

Rath’s problem pulls the veil from the $835 billion gift card industry and practices that make it difficult — and sometimes impossible — to get your money. It also raises some important questions: Do gift cards expire? What should you do if your gift card expires? Are gift cards worth it?

The Mystery of Rath’s Travelocity Card

Rath’s $250 gift card was a “thank you” for her years of service to her company, and she was grateful for the gesture. But she had no idea what to do with the card. Rath doesn’t travel a lot and almost never stays in hotels.

But there’s one thing she’s sure of: Her card does not expire.

“It specifically says on the card that it never expires,” she says. “I even contacted Travelocity when I got it to make sure that was the case.” So Rath was shocked when she tried to redeem the card online and was told that it was no good.

Frustration and Questions

Here’s how the online chat with Travelocity went:

Rath: I have a very old Travelocity gift card for $250 that your website is saying is not valid. Can you please help me? It says on the card that it never expires.

Travelocity: Please check the expiration date. Thank you.

Rath: There is no expiration date.

Travelocity: Can you send here the screenshot of your gift card?

Rath: I just did. Can you see it?

Travelocity: Upon checking, your gift card was in 2010. There is an expiration date.

Rath: No there is not!

Travelocity: It expires on August 8, 2010. It was given to me in October 2010. How could there be an expiration date before that?

Rath: No way!!!!!! I want to speak to a supervisor. I had called when I got this to make sure there was no expiration date on it, and they told me there was not. I will be FURIOUS!!

Oh boy, Travelocity was about to feel Rath’s wrath.

Do Gift Cards Expire?

Yes. But it’s complicated. Some federal laws apply. Each state in the United States also has its own laws governing gift card expiration dates. Here’s what you need to know:

You have at least five years to use your card
The Credit Card Act of 2009, a consumer protection law, mandates that most gift cards be redeemable for at least five years. It also limits certain fees.

The expiration date must be clearly disclosed
Gift cards issued by companies like Travelocity typically have an expiration date or a “good through” date printed on the back of the card. If they don’t, you can assume that the card will not expire. Note: If the company goes bankrupt or is acquired, the new company may or may not honor the gift card.

Your state may also govern gift cards
Most gift cards in California don’t expire. Some states also have tough laws that prevent fees from eroding the value of your purchase. In California, Oklahoma, and Washington, state law prevents fees from beginning before three years of inactivity and limits them to $1 per month.

If a state has no laws regarding gift card expirations, then the Credit Act of 2009 applies. However, some retailers may choose to honor their cards beyond the expiration date. It never hurts to ask!

What Should You Do if Your Gift Card Expires?

If you have an expired gift card, don’t panic. There may be ways to recover your money.

Contact the company. Politely explain the problem and ask if there’s a policy on expired gift cards. Sometimes, businesses will accept an expired gift card — I’ve seen this happen. Ask for a grace period. As a one-time courtesy, some retailers may extend the expiration date or allow you to use the remaining balance. Appeal to an executive. Business policies about gift cards can be flexible. After all, the company took your money and is giving you nothing in return — they should think twice before doing that, even if it is legal. Here’s our list of company executives. Pro tip: If you’ve discovered an old, unused gift card, do not wait. The sooner you ask the business about the credit, the better your chances of getting some or all of the money.

Are Gift Cards Worth It?

Some say gift cards are the financial instrument of the devil. If you’ve seen how criminals abuse them — and how some companies look the other way — you might be inclined to agree. Here’s a short list of reasons gift cards are so problematic:

Junk fees
Some gift cards can have extra fees for “maintenance” or “activation.” These junk fees directly benefit the company or the processor. Obviously, you should not have to pay extra to access your money.

Card losses
If you lose a physical gift card, the company will not replace it. However, it still gets to keep your money. How is that fair? Companies tell you to treat your cards “like cash,” so you’ve been warned. Indeed, the “breakage” rate — an industry term for revenue gained by retailers through unredeemed, expired, or lost gift cards — is off the charts. About $1 billion worth of gift cards aren’t redeemed every year, a fact companies know.

Loyalty program shenanigans
Gift cards are one of the preferred tools of loyalty program “experts.” By leveraging loopholes in loyalty programs, hackers can earn massive amounts of points through gift card transactions. For example, hackers can buy gift cards at a discounted rate from a retailer and then make purchases that will earn them points. These activities are fraudulent and can result in you getting suspended from your program.

For all these reasons — and because of cases like Rath’s — I strongly recommend people avoid using gift cards.

Bounced Around Between CashStar and Travelocity

Eventually, Rath switched to email to plead her case. That was a great idea since it allowed her to collect her thoughts.

Travelocity, which in the meantime had been acquired by Expedia, deferred to a third party called CashStar:

“Because Travelocity is not the provider for the gift card you have purchased, you must contact CashStar for assistance in this matter going forward. Travelocity cannot assist in refunds or troubleshooting to find out why your e-gift card is not working.”

Rath tried to contact CashStar and was finally able to reach it on the social network X. That didn’t go well, either. “CashStar deleted my correspondence with them,” she says. “The whole thing is so completely shady.”

Yes, it is.

The rules are pretty clear. Under California law, her gift card — which was issued in 2010 — can’t expire. Travelocity is directly responsible for the card since the card bears Travelocity’s name.

I contacted Expedia, Travelocity’s parent company, on Rath’s behalf. A representative responded quickly.

“While the gift card was issued by CashStar and ultimately, they would need to verify the validity, we realize this has been a frustrating experience,” a representative told me. “As a courtesy, we have provided a $250 credit to Ms. Rath’s Expedia account to use towards her next booking.”

And hopefully, that credit will not expire. But if it ever does — well, she knows where to find me.

#GiftCardProblems #ConsumerRights #TravelIssues #Travelocity #CustomerServiceFail

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