Beware, rebate cards can expire very quickly

With mail-in rebates, the odds are against you from the start.  My own experience is that I only get an actual response to a mail-in rebate about half the time, even if I have done everything right.  Then rebates started to appear as Visa/MasterCard cards, with none of the protections of most state laws or the new federal gift card laws.

It seems like they are becoming an even worse deal as rebate companies seem to be experimenting with shorter expiration dates.  Take this recent experience by a journalist:

Imagine my anger and humiliation when I pulled the card out in August, only to note two key dates: “Valid From 03/10” and “Good Thru 07/10.”

When he contacted the company that manages the rebate card program, he discovered:

A fact sheet on the site promoting rebate cards says this: “Checks expire within 3 or 4 months. While there are some exceptions, most rebate cards do not expire for at least 12 months.”

Clearly because of his experience, some rebate cards, and ALL rebate checks expire in substantially less than 12 months.  I think most people simply don’t pay attention to expiration dates and these companies must realize that shortening expiration dates is a good way to reduce redemption; it is better to deal with a few angry customers to save quite a bit of money.

We’ve previously posted some tips on getting the most value out of rebate cards, like:

  • Trick number one:  Take the card into your bank and attempt to have it turned into cash.  Apparently this is allowed on some cards.
  • Trick number two:  Use the card to buy another open-loop gift card, one that DOES have the gift card safeguards.

This particular customer decided to force the issue with the rebate company and demand a new card for his remaining balance:

I employed a strategy espoused by Richard Birke, director of Willamette University’s Center for Dispute Resolution. Everything is negotiable, he says. Plus, it never hurts to ask.

When I called the rebate card’s 800 number, I asked the rep to speak to a supervisor. None was there, she said, but she’d forward my request to one for review. Check back in 10 days on the status, she said.

Three calls and two weeks later, a rep named John told me my $85.80 had been reloaded on another card. I’d receive it in four weeks.