Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Gift Certificate Expiration Dates

Question: Do gift certificates expire? I am in California and I just found some gift certificates that I received for Christmas in 2000. Are they still any good?

Answer: With Christmas coming up, I've been getting a lot of questions about gift certificates. Under California law, most gift certificates cannot contain an expiration date, and are valid until redeemed or replaced.

There are exceptions to this rule: (1) certificates issued prior to January 1, 1997; (2) certificates that are distributed under various awards programs; (2) certificates that are sold to employers or to nonprofit and charitable organization for fundraising purposes; (4) and certificates for food products.

California law also bans nearly all service fees on retailer gift cards and gift certificates with one limited exception. On a rechargeable card with a balance of $5 or less, the issuer may charge a dormancy fee of $1 per month after 24 months of inactivity. Even a balance inquiry counts as activity that prevents this fee. All other service fees are prohibited.

California law even allows for the cash redemption of gift certificates. Click here to read the full text of the law regarding gift certificates in California.

About the Author
Carl H. Starrett II has been a licensed attorney since 1993 and is a member in good standing with the California State Bar and the San Diego County Bar Association. Mr. Starrett practices in the areas of bankruptcy, business litigation, construction, corporate planning and debt collection.


Unknown said...


I know this was an old post, but I'm holding three two-year-old gift certificates from a local business in Redding, California that has claimed to have recently changed hands. The new owner is refusing to honor my certificates. What does the law say about this?

Brian Cummings

Carl Starrett said...

The answer to your question depends on how the new owner bought the business. If the business is a corporation and he bought the corporation, the corporation is still liable. If it was a sole proprietorship, the new owner may or may not be liable depending on how the sale was structured. If the certificates are large enough, you might consider suing in small claims court and let a judge rule on the issue.

Unknown said...

What about e-tickets for theme/amusement parks? I have heard that e-tickets are considered the same as a gift certificate under California law, so the one's I purchased this year but didn't use would still be good for next year.

Carl Starrett said...

The statute doesn't say anything specifically about e-tickets for amusement or theme parks. The statute just says "gift certificates" and "gift cards". There may be an opinion from a Court of Appeal in California ruling that e-tickets are gift certificates, but I have not seen such a ruling.

Anonymous said...

I'm hoping you can help me out. I have a gift certificate for a hot air balloon ride that was given to me as a Christmas gift in 2006. It expired today... It is good at several location throughout the country, including CA where I live and plan to use it. The business is based in Connecticut. Is the issuer required to replace it because of my residency and where I plan to use it? Thanks in advance for your help!

Anonymous said...

My husband received payment for consulting work in California in the form of a gift certificate from a boutique hotel in California. Is it legal for them to have an expiration date? If not, how do I communicate this with them?
It wouldn't have been issued via any awards program, since it's not part of a chain.
Thank you for your time and help!

Anonymous said...

I have a $5 paper gift certificate for Arby's that has an expiration date of 2006 on it. (it was purchased as part of a scrip program at school.) Arby's refused to take it today (2/8/2009)for payment for a meal. I live in Califonia. Were they right to not accept it?

Anonymous said...

Cathy, I work at for Arby's and I had the same problem with a customer today. She came through the drive thru and tried to pay with two of those certificates. After I informed her that they were expired, she totally threw a fit and was extremely rude. I kept my calm and informed her that if she came back in the morning, the general manager would be able to speak to her about it. Even after she was all verbally abusive with me I gave her the store number and the manager's name. She called a few minutes later and proceeded with her abuse. If you guys look in the beginning of this page it says "EXCEPTIONS: FOOD PRODUCTS". Somebody probably owes me an apology...