It's Christmas and you just received the gift card equivalent of Ralphie's pink bunny suit.
While you may not be able to exchange that card for a Red Ryder BB gun, the toy coveted in the classic holiday movie "A Christmas Story," you can trade it in -- for money.
Gift cards -- be it a physical card or an online gift certificate -- are a common present during the holidays. The National Retail Federation estimates consumers will spend an average of $172.74 on gift cards this season, up from $163.16 last year, and expects total spending on gift cards will be $31.74 billion.
"People love gift cards," said Chuck Davis, CEO of Swagbucks, a site that rewards gift cards to people who complete online promotional tasks like playing games or taking surveys.
Swagbucks commissioned a survey from market research company Prodege to find out more about this year's gift-giving trends. Prodege found that more than 74 percent of the 10,000 online shoppers surveyed plan to buy gift cards for immediate family members or partners. It also discovered that roughly 25 percent of shoppers have at least one unspent gift card -- between $25 to $50 in value -- left over from the last holiday season.
That's where gift card exchanges can help turn that bunny suit into something Ralphie would use. But beware. The Better Business Bureau cautions consumers about trade-in programs that may take your card without providing money in return. Shoppers need to consider the types of cards they're trading in and the exchange site that will give them the best value.
One place to start looking is Gift Card Granny, an online gift-card marketplace where consumers can compare exchange rates from up to a dozen sites at the same time. The top exchanges currently listed on the Gift Card Granny are Giftcards.com, Gift Card Zen, ABC Gift Cards, Cardpool and Monster Gift Cards. The site also shows cards are listed on eBay and Raise, an app that lets users sell and buy electronic gift cards on the fly.
Rates vary. You might be able to get $6 for a $10 Peet's Coffee and Tea gift card on one site, but $6.50 for the same card on another.
Some sites, like ABC Gift Cards and Cardpool, will offer more if you choose an Amazon gift card instead of money. Other sites will give better rates if you opt for payment through PayPal versus a physical check mailed to you. And some sites require a minimum value, like $20, before they'll even redeem a card.
Luke Knowles, who founded Gift Card Granny four years ago, said consumers typically get back about 85 percent of the card's value. "It's really supply and demand," he said.
The most popular gift cards are attached to retail stores with a wide selection of goods, such as Walmart, Target and Amazon. In these cases, sellers may offer up to 92 percent of the card's value, Knowles said. Cards from smaller chains, like local restaurants, are worth less. You may only end up with 50 percent of the value, said Knowles, who said it's better to sell these on Craigslist to get the best deal.
The bottom line from the BBB? Don't forget to read all the fine print, use the BBB reviews as a resource and be sure to shop around for the best price.
Read more about the different ways to exchange gift cards in this CNET How To.