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Apple's Black Friday gift card offer isn't a great deal: Here's why iPhone sale hunters should skip it

Commentary: Looking for the best deals on iPhones, iPads, Macs and AirPods this holiday season? Look beyond the Apple Store.


The Apple Store will once again offer gift cards with certain purchases, but the exact values will vary. 

This story is part of Holiday Gift Guide 2021, our list of ideas, by topic, by recipient and by price, to help you discover the perfect gift.

There are plenty of discounts to be had on Apple gear this Black Friday, but the Apple Store isn't the best place to find them. The company on Wednesday unveiled the deals for its Apple Shopping Event, which runs Black Friday through Cyber Monday. As we've come to expect, the Apple Store isn't being generous with discounts on iPhones, iPads, Macs and AirPods sticker prices -- but it is offering gift cards. 

The exact gift card amount each product will get varies, but Apple's preview site is a bit misleading. As opposed to revealing the exact details, Apple decided to hide specifics for some parts of its product line by grouping them into categories. AirPods, for example, can "get up to a $75 Apple gift card" if you're buying a set of regular AirPods (second- or third-generation), AirPods Pro or AirPods Max. However, the key phrase is "up to." 

Read more: The best Apple deals so far

Poking through the fine print, you'll find Apple has a handy table that reveals the actual deals details. Buying second- or third-generation AirPods only gets you a $25 gift card, and the AirPods Pro net a $50 gift card. Only the $549 AirPods Max offer the full $75 gift card. 

It's even trickier with accessories like the AirTags four-pack. Normally retailing for $99, Apple has this product placed in the "up to $50" gift card category. A quick look at that fine print shows that you will actually get a $25 gift card. 

While this is actually a pretty good deal on the four-pack -- which aren't really discounted anywhere else as of this writing -- it's not quite as good as Apple's teaser makes it seem. 

Want a deal? It pays to look elsewhere

Apple rarely discounts its products directly. Instead, if you're looking for a deal on Apple products you're better off shopping at Amazon, Best Buy, B&H, Walmart or countless other retailers. 

The Apple Watch SE is $60 off at Best Buy while Apple is only offering a $50 gift card. AirPods Pro have been regularly discounted to $159 over the past few days at Amazon and Walmart-- Apple charges $249 and over the weekend will only include a $50 gift card. 

Even if you purchase on an Apple Card, which nets you an extra 3% through cashback, you still could be coming out behind depending on the product you're buying. 

Apple Store versus other retailer savings

Product Gift card offer Current savings Apple Store "penalty"
MacBook Air M1 512GB $100 $150 -$50
Apple Watch SE $50 $60 -$10
Beats Studio Buds $25 $50 -$25
AirPods Pro $50 $90 -$40

Where Apple's gift card deal might make sense

It is worth noting that there is a potential scenario where you could make the most of Apple's holiday generosity: trade-ins. While the company doesn't always have the best trade-in deals, its process is among the easiest ways and simplest when it comes to turning in old gear and getting credit for it. 

If you're looking for an iPhone, Apple Watch, iPad or Mac you could trade-in your device, get credit towards the purchase and still get the gift card. The latter will need to be used for a future purchase, but all told this could add up to quickly to a nice savings. 

If you use the company's education store (particularly helpful for finding official discounts on Macs and iPads) and the Apple Card you could end up with some solid savings while properly disposing of your older machine.