California Restaurant Coupons, Gift Certificates, and the Law
Reader Steve writes in with this question:
Is there a law in california that restaurant coupons do not expire?
Great question Steve. The answer is: NO, there is no such law regarding restaurant coupons not expiring.
HOWEVER, this belief could have been derived from these two scenarios:
1) Restaurant A always has a coupon for $5 off a pizza. In fact, anyone would be lame to NOT have one of these, they issue so many. If you look closely those will have expiration dates on them. However, chances are that if you bring in one that’s already expired, the staff member may just assume you could grab another one (with a later expiration date), since there are piles of them one the counter anyway.
2) There is a California law that says that gift certificates do not expire (with a few exceptions).
As the authorities at Nolo Press state:
People who live in California are in luck. It’s against California law to put time limits on gift certificates (with a few exceptions, including gift certificates for food, from nonprofit fundraisers, and from awards programs).
Oops, Steve, the exception includes gift certificates for food. So even if you had a gift certificate for a dinner for two at PF Chang’s, that expiration date WILL hold.
What you could try to do is ask for cash back instead of using the gift certificate…it would be smart of the food operation to do that, to preserve public relations. But, I think the whole reason businesses issue gift certificates and rebate offers is in the hopes that a large percentage of consumers will never collect on it. Free money for them, right? Tsk tsk.
And don’t cave in if the business tries to charge you a fee to process your expired gift certificate, which basically decreases the stated value of it. These fees are being challenged in the courts and if you show that you’re aware of this, they may back off.
California Civil Code Section 1749.5, TITLE 1.4A. GIFT CERTIFICATES, states:
1749.5. (a) On or after January 1, 1997, it is unlawful for any
person or entity to sell a gift certificate to a purchaser containing
an expiration date. Any gift certificate sold after that date shall
be redeemable in cash for its cash value, or subject to replacement
with a new gift certificate at no cost to the purchaser or holder.
(b) A gift certificate sold without an expiration date is valid
until redeemed or replaced.
(c) This section shall not apply to any of the following gift
certificates issued on or after January 1, 1998, provided the
expiration date appears in capital letters in at least 10-point font
on the front of the gift certificate:
(1) Gift certificates that are distributed by the issuer to a
consumer pursuant to an awards, loyalty, or promotional program
without any money or other thing of value being given in exchange for
the gift certificate by the consumer.
(2) Gift certificates that are sold below face value at a volume
discount to employers or to nonprofit and charitable organizations
for fundraising purposes if the expiration date on those gift
certificates is not more than 30 days after the date of sale.
(3) Gift certificates that are issued for a food product.
Of course, big disclaimer here that no Grubbers here are legal experts and all that, and if you take any advice here it’s at your own risk blah blah.