To get the most value out of gift card, spend it sooner rather than later. Breyault recommends using a gift card within three to six months of receiving it.
If you wait too long to use a gift card, the value could be diminished by fees.
"Many people, myself included, have seen the balance in a gift card die a slow death due to inactivity fees," Ridout says.
New rules extend expiration dates and limit fees on gift cards purchased after Aug. 22, 2010. To avoid inactivity fees, you'll need to make a purchase with a gift card within 12 months of receiving it.
Store gift cards, or "closed-loop" cards, don't typically charge fees, but general-use gift cards, such as Visa or American Express gift cards, do.
So if you received a general-use gift card prior to Aug. 22, you'll want to be especially mindful of fees.
"Consumers who received a gift card purchased prior to Aug. 22 should be sure to review any documentation that came with the card. Often, this is printed on the back of the cards themselves," Breyault says. "Watch out for fees labeled 'dormancy,' 'inactivity,' 'maintenance' or similar-sounding fees."