We’ve been receiving periodic reports over the past couple of weeks of readers seeing $200 gift cards with increased fees on the packaging. Whereas most $200 and variable-load $20-$200 gift cards have long featured a fee of $6.95. Recently, we’ve had some readers report packaging indicating a $7.95 fee. Then, this week, Staples advertised their fee-free Mastercard gift card sale as being a “$7.95 value” and I figured that the change is probably coming. That became even more apparent to me when I visited a Staples store yesterday and I found a rack that had some cards with a $6.95 fee and others with a $7.95 fee. All of them rung up fee-free, but it looks like the more newly-produced cards will feature a higher fee moving forward.
When we first received reports of this weeks ago, I wondered whether that had been a typo on some card packaging or some other confusion since I hadn’t yet seen any cards with a $7.95 fee. However, when I was picking up cards at a Staples yesterday, I noticed that there was a difference in packaging on some of the Mastercard gift cards on the rack. Some of the Mastercard Gift Cards looked the same as they always have, but there were also several hangers with cards that had a stop sign and a hologram foil on the back:
I have noticed that same hologram on some other cards I’ve bought recently at Lowe’s. I then realized that the new hologram packaging also featured a few price — $7.95 (as shown in the picture above). I then noticed that the expiration date examples on the front of the packaging differed — with the newer sample expiration date of 3/31 on the cards with the $7.95 packaging (versus 5/30 on the $6.95 cards).
I decided to buy 4 of each type of card to see what would happen with the fee-free promotion (note: I’ve encountered several employees unfamiliar with the new 8-per-customer-per-day limit, but I walk into the store with the weekly ad up on my phone and it’s been honored for me each time). Interestingly, all of them rung up without a fee — but the receipt does reflect that I had a $6.95 savings on some and a $7.95 savings on others.
That leads me to believe that this change is here to stay. The register is obviously programmed to charge the $7.95 activation fee on the newer cards. That’s probably a non-issue for the Staples cards since Staples is still advertising them as fee-free even with the newly-increased fee. However, assuming these increased-fee cards are not produced specifically for Staples, this could reduce the intrigue a bit on deals run at Office Max / Office Depot (which would suddenly no longer be fee-free if they continue to only offer $15 off of $300 or more) and Lowe’s. That’s not to say that gift cards deals at those stores won’t still be good deals, they’ll just lose a little luster.
I don’t yet know whether this change will also spread to Visa Gift Cards, though I imagine it probably will. Neither do I know for sure that this new fee structure will move to other cards or whether “Everywhere” Visas will also be affected. Time will tell.
I imagine that most readers are only buying these cards when they are fee-free or close to it, so I don’t imagine that this change will be highly consequential for most of us (and in fact if the additional dollar fee they collect when the cards are not fee free helps to continue to fuel the fee-free deals, so be it). Still, it’s good to know where things stand — and it sounds like these fees will likely increase soon at a store near you if they haven’t already.