Does This Gift Card Offer Sound Scammy to You?


For taking part in an online survey, I received a gift card offer. But after considering a few options, I decided something didn’t add up.

It seemed like a very generous gift card offer. If I spent five to 10 minutes answering a survey about a customer service experience, they’d send me a reward. That reward, they said, would come in the form of a $150 gift card.

We always hear about various gift card scams this time of year. But what happened here doesn’t seem to match any of the classic scams that get reported.

I made sure there was nothing in the survey that raised any red flags. I answered the questions, making sure there was nothing of a particularly personal nature involved. Sure enough, the gift card offer then arrived in my email. I faced a choice of categories of businesses to select. I had to pick two, and then I would receive an pair of options for gift cards for either of those two businesses.

The categories themselves didn’t really appeal to me. But finally, I selected something along the lines of “wireless audio.” The $150 gift card then gave me a chance to buy pro-grade noise-canceling earbuds.

I had to do some research

I never heard of the gift card company. I never heard of the company that makes the fancy-schmancy earbuds. But I Googled some reviews and found that the earbuds seem to be on the level. (I made sure the reviews weren’t housed solely on the manufacturer’s website.)

I found it curious that the write-up made no mention of Apple or Android. But in searching reviews, I did determine that these earbuds are compatible with iPhones.

When I browsed the manufacturer’s site, however, I saw these same earbuds, which have a regular price of $249, on sale for $199.

Well, now, I thought, if they’re having a sale and I have a $150 gift card, that tells me that I should be able to land these earbuds for just $50. Math was never my strong suit, but even I can figure that much out.

But a funny thing happened

After the earbud company sent me a couple of emails reminding me about that gift card offer, which was set to expire about a week later, I went back to the website. Yes, the earbuds were still there. Yes, they were still on sale for $199, $50 off the regular price.

When I entered the gift card code, the site gave an error: The offer wasn’t available for that item.

But wait: the email showed that exact model of earbuds. So I went back to the email and clicked the link there. Sure enough, it took me back to that site for the same earbuds. But now the sale price of $199 was gone and the original price was back: $249.

I maneuvered away and tried the whole process again. The company won’t let me use the gift card for the item at its sale price.

That’s not how gift cards work

I realize retailers have lots of nasty little tricks up their sleeves. One of them involves buy-one-get-one-free campaigns. Some grocery stores, for example, sell 20-ounce Diet Coke 6-packs for $4 each on a typical “sale.” (Before the pandemic, that typical sale price was about $2.) In any case, when the same store does a buy-one-get-one-free sale on that particular product, the price for one jumps up to the suggested retail price, which is a little more than $6. Many stores, however, now offer a buy-two-get-one free, which means you pay more than $12 for the three. That works out to be more than the $4 sale price.

It looks like a bargain…until you do the math.

But no matter what’s on sale, no store jumps the prices back up to the original retail just because you have a gift card.

The retailer is supposed to get paid the value of the gift card. That removes that part of the burden from the customer.

If I walk in to Best Buy, for example, with a $100 gift card and I see that the item I want is suddenly on sale for $40 off, then I would expect to pay a total of $140 less for the item. Best Buy wouldn’t raise the price by $40, canceling the sale price, to penalize me for having a gift card.

If they did, you can be sure I wouldn’t shop there.

And you can be sure I didn’t buy the earbuds from this company.

The whole thing just seems very sketchy to me. When someone gives me a gift card, I’m not going to pay a higher price to get a discount.

What would you have done under those terms?

the authorPatrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 30 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.