According to a holiday survey from the National Retail Federation, 61% of Americans said they wanted to receive a gift card this season. That's at the top of wish lists, above clothes and accessories (55%), music/books/movies (39%), electronics (33%), home décor (24%) and jewelry (23%).
But only 27% of Millennials, who grew up with gift cards, wanted a gift card for Christmas and instead preferred a gift to open.
Online student loan marketplace LendEDU.com studied the most sought-after gift cards and listed them in descending order: Amazon (AMZN) - Get Report , Walmart (WMT) - Get Report , Target (TGT) - Get Report, Best Buy (BBY) - Get Report , and Subway. But these cards sold for only 2% to 5% less than face value, compared with 1-800-Flowers (FLWS) - Get Report , H&M or Dress Barn gift cards which offered, on average, 30% off face value on their sites. Even Dunkin' Donuts (DNKN) - Get Report and Godiva mark down their gift cards by 25%.
So how do you find the gift cards that basically give you or your loved ones free money? Troll gift-card sites such as Restaurant.com, Gift Card Granny or eBay year-round, or follow consumer site DealNews and take advantage of December specials. Here are nine gift-card deals to consider before it's too late:
Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas and Regal Cinemas: Movie theater chains can get a bit stingy with their gift cards, but Regal and Alamo are giving away $10 in concessions with each of their $50 gift cards before Dec. 31 (only at Regal theaters).
Amazon: You can get a $10 Amazon credit free with a $100 gift-card reload, if you're an Amazon Prime customer.
BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse: BJ's basically wants to buy you a round. This brewpub chain knows that beer sales have been flat or slumping lately and is offering a $10 bonus card, along with a 20% off VIP card, with every $50 gift card to boost your spirits. Spend $100, and you'll get a $25 bonus card and 20% off VIP. This deal is good through New Year's Day.
Bucca Di Beppo: Casual dining restaurant traffic has been down for years, which is why this Italian chain is handing you 40% discount through Dec. 31 by offering not one -- but two -- $10 bonus cards with every $50 gift card.
DSW: Every little bit helps when shopping for shoes, which makes the $20 bonus card when you buy a $100 gift card through Dec. 26 particularly valuable.
Nintendo eShop: Downloadable content for all of those Nintendo Switch games gets to be pricey. Buy a PayPal Digital Gift Card on eBay valued at $50 for $42.50 isn't much of a bargain, but this brand doesn't generally offer discounts.
Panera Bread: The fast-casual trend has slowed down a bit, which makes it more difficult for Panera to compete with Starbucks, Dunkin and other restaurants that won't be offering huge discounts this season. Panera is giving away $10 bonus cards with each $50 card before Dec. 31.
StubHub: Don't want to just give someone theater, concert or sports tickets and pin them to a date? Well, PayPal Digital Gifts on eBay offers $100 StubHub gift cards for $85, which is a great way to lower the cost of Amazon tickets or squeeze at least two more people into a midseason Brooklyn Nets game.
Taco Bell: You've been shopping for weeks, and you're tired, stressed and hungry. Buy a $25 gift card at Taco Bell, and you get a meal combo for free to recharge your engine.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.