Travel

Treat gift cards and certificates like cash

Question: At the L.A. Times Travel show in February, I won a round-trip ticket on EVA Air for travel to Taiwan. I lost the award letter, and EVA tells me it can't be replaced. I'd like to use it. Can anyone help?

Gulnara Acosta

Long Beach

Answer: Alas, like many things in life, this one apparently can't be solved but will serve as a lesson in our personal book of hard-won knowledge.

I asked EVA to help Acosta, and here was the response from spokesperson Mary Graybill: "With sincere apologies to Ms. Acosta, EVA cannot issue a ticket without that certificate. Everyone at EVA sincerely hopes that Ms. Acosta put it in a safe place and that she finds it before it expires in February….

"The certificate is like a gift card. Whoever has the gift card in hand can use it. Someone else could have Ms. Acosta's certificate and use it. It's like a Starbucks gift card…. (though, obviously, of greater value). Starbucks can't replace it because, more than likely, someone used it."

Graybill closed by saying that she hoped EVA could welcome Acosta on a flight soon.

That's not going to happen. In follow-up correspondence from Acosta, she told me that she had shredded the document.

Hers is a cautionary tale for many of us this holiday season who receive gift cards or gift certificates, whether they're from airlines, hotels, rental car agencies or other travel providers: Treat them like cash. In the rush of the holidays, it's easy to say, "Oh, I'll just put this aside in this safe place and get it later," a favorite but flawed tactic in the Hamm household, because that safe place is never a place I seem to be able to find a second time.

A more effective system, says Shelley Hunter, founder of GiftCardGirlfriend.com, now a part of GiftCards.com, is to use techniques — either low tech or high tech — to keep track of your bounty.

Low tech: Take pictures, front and back, of your gift card or certificate, she said, and if there's a serial number, enter it into whatever notes file you keep, whether it's in your smartphone (make sure it's password protected) or your Mac or PC (ditto on password protection).

Higher tech: Gyft and GoWallet, among other apps, keep your numbers safe and allow you to redeem the card and track balances.

The gift card tops the holiday wish list of 60% of Americans, according to the National Retail Federation, but many people feel awkward about giving them. Why?

It's as though you're putting a price on the relationship, Hunter said, as if you are saying, "Our relationship is worth about $25." A gift whose value isn't immediately obvious doesn't come with such baggage.

Her solution: Make the gift card more personal. If you're buying movie gift cards, for instance, include some theater candy (Milk Duds, anyone?) and popcorn. Or you can give gift cards imprinted with a photo that means something to that person; some sites have pre-loaded pictures, but others allow you to upload a photo; GiftCardGirlfriend.com has suggestions of sites and ideas for the pictures. If you're giving a gift to be used for travel, perhaps a card with a photo of the destination.

What elevates the gift above the clinical is that personal touch. So even if it's just a note ("Hope this takes you to your favorite destination!"), you've moved beyond the realm of a card that just lies there.

Whatever card you decide to give, do the recipient a favor and record the number, just in case. Saving that person from himself or herself may be the best gift of all.

Have a travel dilemma? Write to travel@latimes.com. We regret we cannot answer every inquiry.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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