Gift cards can be a savior for busy holiday shoppers as well as a way for recipients to avoid facing another plaid tie under the tree.
And despite their criticism of being a thoughtless gift, we're buying more of them than ever.
For retailers, it's a great way to earn profits before selling products. For savvy consumers, they can also be advantageous.
First, the major pitfall for consumers: About $5 billion, or about 6 percent, of what Americans spend on gift cards this year won't be used, including what's lost to fees, according to TowerGroup. That's down from a high of 10 percent in 2007, said Brian Riley, research director at the financial-services consulting firm.