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Consumer watch: New options for gift vouchers and cards

Nov. 30, 2009 - 07:06PM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 30, 2009 - 07:06PM  |  
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Good news for military shoppers: Commissary officials have come up with a new gift certificate program that doesn't tack on extra fees. And more exchange customers can use gift cards online.

If you buy a $25 gift voucher, you pay $25, unlike the previous CertifiChecks program, which added a $4.95 fee paid to the third-party vendor that administered the program.

Defense Commissary Agency officials will run the new program, which eliminates the need to charge customers extra for the gift certificates.

The drawback is that you can't buy them online, as you could with CertifiChecks. And the new gift certificates have expiration dates, as did the old CertifiChecks.

Officials had searched for an alternative after CertifiChecks Inc. went out of business Feb. 26.

These new "gift vouchers," in $25 denominations, are available in commissaries at customer service areas, cash offices and full-service checkout lanes. The vouchers have been sent worldwide and were scheduled to be available everywhere by the end of October, Defense Commissary Agency spokesman Kevin Robinson said.

Anyone can buy the vouchers, but only those with commissary privileges can redeem them. Those who don't have commissary privileges can go to customer service areas inside the stores to buy the vouchers.

Thinking about a gift card?

The Exchange Online stores now accept Army and Air Force Exchange Service gift cards.

When you're ready to pay for your purchases through the Exchange Online at www.aafes.com">www.aafes.com, www.usmc-mccs.org">www.usmc-mccs.org or www.navy-nex.com">www.navy-nex.com, just enter the AAFES gift card number and its unique PIN code.

The gift cards are available in denominations from $10 to $500.

AAFES, which administers the Exchange Online stores, plans to work with the Navy Exchanges and Marine Corps Exchanges to allow online acceptance of their gift cards, as well, said AAFES spokesman Judd Anstey.

Currently, all the exchanges accept one another's gift cards. (Coast Guard exchanges do not have a gift card program.)

If you're a Marine or sailor using an AAFES gift card for a purchase — even if it's on the www.aafes.com">www.aafes.com site — your service will still get the credit when it comes to receiving dividends to morale, welfare and recreation programs. A portion of all military exchange profits helps fund these MWR programs.

Only authorized customers can use the gift cards, but anyone, including those who don't have exchange shopping privileges, can send a gift card by calling 800-527-2345 or by logging on to www.aafes.com">www.aafes.com and clicking the "Gift Cards/Certificates for Our Troops" icon.

Gift cards are a popular option for many people who want to stretch their gift dollars and ensure the recipients get something they really want. But when you consider gift cards, watch for fees and other charges.

The Credit Card Accountability and Disclosure Act of 2009 has some provisions about gift cards and certificates that make it illegal to sell gift cards or gift certificates with expiration dates less than five years from the time they were bought or from the time funds were last loaded to the gift card.

The new law also makes it illegal to charge dormancy fees unless there has been no activity on a card for 12 months. But that law doesn't take effect until August, so until then, it's still buyer beware. Some things to consider:

• Check for expiration dates. Commissary gift vouchers have expiration dates; exchange gift cards do not. The Credit Card Act gift certificate provisions do not apply to commissary gift vouchers because they are issued in paper form only.

• Does the gift card have an additional purchase fee? Commissary vouchers and exchange gift cards do not.

• Are fees charged when you don't use the gift card over a certain period? Navy exchange gift cards and commissary vouchers have no dormancy fees, but Marine Corps and AAFES gift cards charge $2 per month when a card has been inactive for 24 consecutive months. The $2 is deducted each month until the card is used again or depleted.

Some other gift cards outside the gates start charging after six months of nonuse, and they may charge more than $2 a month. That will change once the law takes effect.

• Are there monthly maintenance fees? Commissary and exchange gift vouchers/cards have none.

• If you're giving a retail gift card, make sure it's for a place where the recipient will shop.

Make every dollar count!

———

Questions or comments? Contact staff writer kjowers@militarytimes.com?subject=Question from ArmyTimes.com reader">Karen Jowers at kjowers@militarytimes.com">kjowers@militarytimes.com.

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