By  on August 22, 2007

There was nothing difficult about finding or purchasing gift cards at stores in midtown Manhattan in the past few days. Learning the terms governing their use was harder. Terms generally were not offered unless requested; some could be found on the card itself.

Forays to Starbucks, Old Navy and Macy's all turned up the cards at cash registers. None required purchase fees.

When I told the manager at a Starbucks on Lexington Avenue that I wanted a gift card, she asked me if I had found the type I was looking for. I had. After telling her I wanted to purchase a $5 card, she asked me if I wanted a gift case for it. I did. A quick swipe of the card in the cash register and a five-spot later, I had my card. (A beige and brown-flecked gift case, too.)

While perusing the pre-paid card selection at Old Navy on 34th Street, a cashier showed me where I could find additional choices. When I asked her if there was a minimum amount required to be put on a card, she said it was $5. By asking her more questions I learned there were no user fees or expiration dates. "It can only be used at Old Navy," she said, adding, "I wish Gap's other [store] cards could be used here. People walk in and ask if they can use their cards from Gap, and they can't." (A new Options gift card, offered at oldnavy.com, can be used at Old Navy, Gap and Banana Republic. "Isn't that a credit card?" the cashier at Old Navy asked. She had not yet seen the new Options gift cards.)

Inquiring at the information desk at Macy's Herald Square on where I could buy a gift card, a smiling store associate told me they were available at any register in the store. She gestured for emphasis. A quick survey of two cashier desks in the nearby handbags department revealed a half-dozen or so choices. Any minimum value I needed to store on the card? "As much as you're feeling," said a sales associate. My card was placed in a bright red-and-white holder, masquerading as a Macy's shopping bag, without my having to request it.

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