Have you ever tried to use a gift card and were told you need to use it all at once? Learn the rules to find out if this practice is allowed in BC and what you can do.

“Use the whole gift card now or forfeit the balance”

We’ve heard from a few consumers that they have purchased gift cards and been told by the business that the entire amount needs to be used at once, or they forfeit the remaining balance.

For example: Jenna receives a $200 gift card from a restaurant and when she goes to use it on a $80 bill, the restaurant manager explains she must use the entire amount that night or she will lose the remaining balance ($120). Frustrated and unhappy about losing the money, Jenna decides to get $100 worth of takeout and ends up forfeiting $20.

So, is that allowed? Does my gift card have to be used all at once?

The short answer is no. Most gift cards in BC for a dollar amount are not allowed to expire and are valid until they are fully redeemed, meaning the full amount is spent and no money is left on it. A business cannot place restrictions or terms that require you to spend it all at one time or lose the remaining balance.

The gift card laws in BC

A gift card or voucher for a dollar amount (a $50 gift card to a spa) is not allowed to expire and is valid until fully redeemed. There are exceptions. Expiry dates are allowed for gift cards:

  • issued for a specific good or service (a gift card for a manicure)
  • sold at a discount (a promotion or auction)
  • sold for charitable purposes
  • bought before 2009 (when the law came into force)

Expiry dates are also allowed for store credit or vouchers given to you when you return/cancel a non-refundable good or service. 

If the card is not allowed to expire, it’s valid until fully redeemed, meaning you can’t be forced to spend it all at one time.

If the card is allowed to expire under the rules (such as promotional cards, etc.), a business may put terms requiring you to use it all at once. This information should be communicated at the time of purchase.

What to do if the business isn’t following the gift card rules

The first thing to do is try to work with the business to reach a solution. You can start by pointing them to the relevant laws about gift cards in BC. Some businesses are not aware of the laws in BC and are eager to change their practices once they learn the rules.

If you still can’t resolve the issue with the business, you can file a complaint with us. Please try to work it out with the business first before contacting our office.

Where to go for more information

The laws we oversee speak to expiry dates, what information must be disclosed to you, and when fees can be charged. Learn more about BC’s gift card laws by exploring our website.

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About Consumer Protection BC

We are not-for-profit regulator responsible for overseeing certain industries and specific consumer transactions in British Columbia. If your concern is captured under the laws we enforce, we will use the tools at our disposal to assist you. If we can’t help you directly, we will try to offer a referral to a relevant organization, if one exists. Other times, court or legal assistance may be the best option. Explore our website at www.consumerprotectionbc.ca.