Apple Won't Sell You A Computer Because You've Got Too Many Gift Cards

Charlie asked her family to chip in towards a new (refurbished) Apple computer by sending her Apple gift cards for Christmas. All told she received 8 cards with a total of $900 distributed among them. Since Christmas she’s been saving her pennies and finally the other day she went on-line to buy her computer. There were only 4 slots for gift cards per transaction. No problem, she thought. She’d just call Apple and buy the computer that way. From her email:

So I called 1-800-My-Apple to speak with someone who could maybe help me. The first person I spoke to, after putting me on hold two or three times to speak to supervisors, tried to sell me a printer and speakers, saying that I could use four gift cards, plus a credit card to buy the computer, and use up the remaining cards for my accessories. I was confused and upset, and before I became rude thanked him for his time, and ended the phone call.

After glancing around the Apple site, I came across the gift card faq which about 11 questions down clearly states: There is no limit to the numbers of cards you can use when making a purchase through 1-800-MY-APPLE.

So did Charlie get her computer? No, she didn’t. Apple’s gift card FAQ is, apparently, false. Their solution was for Charlie to drive 3 hours to an Apple store so they could convert her cards into one card, so she can then go home and order her refurbished computer through the website because they’re not available in stores. No word on if they’re going to pay for the travel expenses on a 6 hour commute. Read her email inside.

Charlie writes:

For Christmas, I asked all of my friends and family for Apple gift cards. In total, I received 8 gift cards with their values totaling to $900. For two -almost three- months, I saved up the remaining money I need to purchase an iMac. So today, I go online to buy the computer and I run into a slight problem.. there were only enough slots for four of my eight gift cards. So I called 1-800-My-Apple to speak with someone who could maybe help me. The first person I spoke to, after putting me on hold two or three times to speak to supervisors, tried to sell me a printer and speakers, saying that I could use four gift cards, plus a credit card to buy the computer, and use up the remaining cards for my accessories. I was confused and upset, and before I became rude thanked him for his time, and ended the phone call.

After glancing around the Apple site, I came across the gift card faq which about 11 questions down clearly states: There is no limit to the numbers of cards you can use when making a purchase through 1-800-MY-APPLE

So armed with this knowledge, I called back. Everyone that I spoke to explained to me that the system was set up so that they could not enter any more than four gift cards for one purchase. One person suggested that I use the gift cards to purchase a larger gift card, but another person I spoke to said that this was not possible. I was transferred over and over again, and even disconnected one time. At the end of about three hours, the only solution I was given was to go to my nearest Apple store — a 3 hour drive away. This six hour commute would be only to consolidate the gift cards, because the iMac I want to buy is refurbished, and so I still have to make the purchase online. I even asked for a refund on the gift cards, but they can only be refunded to the original purchasers, most of who are extended relatives that I only hear from around the holidays.

I just don’t understand, all I want it to give them my money. Oh wait– they already have $900 of it in the form of gift card purchases.

C’mon, Apple. You already have Charlie’s money. Sell her a computer! —MEGHANN MARCO

Gift Card FAQ [Apple]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Amsterdaam says:

    That seems unreasonable, it leads me to believe that the back-office ordering system is very similar to the web site itself. She probably tried to create multiple orders so that she could use all of the gift cards.

  2. matt1978 says:

    Why do posters try to guess what people did? That’s like me saying “The first poster didn’t seem to read the post, and made a large assumption, even though the subject of the story explained in great detail what she did”

  3. dwarf74 says:

    I have a friend who had something similar at Circuit City. She got gift cards from her friends and family – 5 in total – but was only able to use 4.

    I don’t think it’s because of any malice – generally. I think it’s a simple system constraint.

    I suggested she go to the store, buy a $200 item with 4 of her gift cards, return it while she was still in the store, then use the credit to purchase the digital camera she wanted.

    This didn’t turn out to be necessary – a supervisor got things straightened out for her… Still, I think my way was funnier.

  4. emax4 says:

    Apple is pretty cool and reasonable, but the only reason I think they’re not allowing it is because of the recent scams with gift cards, where someone can write down the number, then keep checking t see if they’re activated, then spend them right away without actually having the card.

    Have you written to the webmasters on Apple’s website pointing out the error? Maybe they’re aware of the info being on the site but not being put into play. Is there a CompUSA or Circuit City around that stocks the Apple model you’re looking for? Maybe it’s a shorter trip than 3 hours to the nearest Apple Store.

    I checked the FAQ and here’s what I found:

    Can I use multiple gift cards when making a purchase?
    Yes. You can use up to six cards when making a purchase at a retail Apple Store and up to four cards at the online Apple Store or when making a purchase through 1-800-MY-APPLE.

    Maybe they just changed this.

  5. phelander says:

    I would be happy, if she mailed me the gift cards, to get them converted to one and sent back to her. And before you say “Oh sure, that’s a scam” I will give all pertinent information and any assurances that she needs to make sure I am legit. I am just offering a nice thing to do for someone in need.

  6. phelander says:

    The reason being, I have an Apple Store right here near me. It is easier than a 6 hour drive to mail it.

  7. KevinQ says:

    I was afraid I was going to have this problem with Best Buy because, like Charlie, I asked for gift cards for Christmas to help me buy my new camera.

    I bought the camera in the store. I brought out my 8 gift cards. The CSR gave a rueful chuckle, and proceeded to swipe all my cards. I was happy.


  8. dmc says:

    Call an Apple Retail store and ask to speak to a manager (this is important otherwise you may get blown off by the sales staff). Explain your situation and ask if it would be possible for them to take your gift card numbers over the phone in order to purchase two consolidated gift cards, which they could then read those numbers to you over the phone. Since gift cards don’t require ID for use, this should not be a problem.

  9. SmoovyG says:

    Would it be possible to use the various gift cards to purchase larger gift cards online?

  10. Amsterdaam says:

    @matt1978: Matt, as a previous employee of Amazon and HSN, I tend to look at that it’s like on their end. I apologize if this is not adequite commenting to you.

  11. lindyman77 says:

    Above is the golden goose page that will get things done at Apple. I wrote to several individuals on this page about a lemon Core Duo Macbook Pro and after about 2 weeks of haggling over a post-60 day purchase was sent a replacement C2D Macbook Pro for free. In consumerist style, choose the contacts closest to the problem, write a detailed, specific e-mail describing your situation, and wait for a response. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was taken care of with in a week. Also don’t be afraid to invoke the Consumerist name. I did and it got me a brand new MBP from corporate.

  12. kalikidtx says:

    ok easy one, buy something at an apple store that costs 4 gift cards. then return tha item immediately and those four cards will be refunded into one card. then you will have 5 gift cards. do that one more time, and you will have 2 giftcards that hold all the money. a little bit of work, but then she can go home and purchase whatever she wants from the website with 2 giftcards.

  13. Amsterdaam says:

    @matt1978: And also, I was referring to the CSR, not the customer.

  14. Elaine Chow says:

    Hahaha, I know this is a cheap shot, but Amsterdaam spells like Lindsay Lohan. Adequite, indeed. :P

    Anyway, I’m betting that whoever wrote the FAQ policy really did just get it wrong, especially if the 1800-APPLE dudes spent all that time trying to figure out how to input more than four gift cards at a time.

    I would say phelander’s solution seems best at this time – and if you don’t trust a stranger on the net (even if I’m sure phelander’s super awesome) – try asking your friends or closer relatives if any of them can do it for you.

    Sure it’ll take a little longer for mail to get to and fro, but it’s probably worth it to not drive 3 hours each way. And you don’t need the iMac right now, right?

  15. dickius says:

    She should use her cards (4 at a time) to order a couple of large/expensive items that are currently out of stock. She can then cancel the orders before they ship (i.e., 5 minutes later) and Apple will give her store credit or gift cards in larger amounts (i.e., each refund should be in the form of one large refund/gift card). This will reduce the total number of gift cards while keeping the same gift card value. She’ll then have just a few (hopefully not more than 4) gift cards that she can use to order what she wanted in the first place. I think this might work.

  16. royal72 says:

    this is completely not helpful, but don’t get gift cards in the first place. they absolutely, positively suck and most of them are done through credit card companies now and we all know they will make their money (read the fine print)! give cash, send a check. if you have a hard time saving, which i can personally understand, have a family member hold the money in trust till you’re ready to get your mac.

  17. kerry says:

    dmc‘s got the right idea. The retail store managers are pretty customer service oriented, I can see this working.

  18. Treved says:

    if you don’t trust phelander, i’ll help you out. i can spit on an apple store from my office window. i’m also an attorney working at a prominent firm, so i’m not going to scam you for a few hundred bucks, and in the process lose my license. let me know.

  19. spanky says:

    Gift cards are just a nice way to say, “Happy Birthday, Mom! Pick out something nice for yourself. Something that’s not crack.”

  20. pestie says:

    Once again, Apple sucks. But I doubt it’ll deter the fanboys. If this were any other company, they’d be getting torn to shreds.

  21. archer117 says:

    After all that and she still wants an Apple?

  22. Chimaera2005 says:

    What a sad sad limitation on Apple’s part. If I wanted to buy a new Mac Pro with 35 gift cards, I should be able to do that.

  23. Aaron Pratt says:

    Barring any better option, I think you’d at least be able to consolidate the gift cards at the Apple Store and then place your order from one of the computers right in the store.

    I’d exhaust other options that didn’t involve a six hour round trip, however, before I did that.

  24. sniperx says:

    I’ve had similar issue with trying to give Apple my money.. I actually got fed up at one point and repeated that same statement about how incredibly difficult it is to give Apple my money.

    In my case I was in charge of making the purchase for our company. We ordered it online with the company credit card, obviously under an Executive’s name. We faxed in a letter from said executive on company letterhead as directed by the Apple business support person in that particular store I was going to pick up the products from.

    Well I make the 2 hour drive and got there 30 minutes before they were closing, and they claimed they couldn’t release the products to me because it was company policy to not give products to someone who’s name is not on the card, even though I had the card in hand, my ID and a letter notifying them that I am allowed to pick up the products.

    I ended up picking up the items the next day when the original person I talked to was in the store, though they said this was a one time thing and they normally don’t allow it. They claim the CEO of the company has to be present to pick up the products, because you know, CEOs have nothing better to do than drive hours to an Apple store to pick up some things.

    Lesson learned, stay away from Apple when making business purchases.

  25. okto says:

    Chimaera: they code the site for the 99% of people, not the 1%. Simple cost-benefit: it’s not worth the server overhead of a floating array of gift card entries per order to accomodate the ten people a month who need that functionality.

    Plus, you can place your order through Telesales (1.800.MY.APPL) and use as many forms of payment as you want.
    Same for the brick-and-mortar Stores; we had someone use six different forms of payment at my Store once, and my manager said she had seen nine or more a few times.

  26. color_guru says:

    why do people even give gift cards, a wad of cash works just as well.

  27. theboss2007 says:

    As a former Apple Store employee, out stores do the best they can to accomodate our customers. Gift card policies are set the way they are because like most companies, our gift cards are handled by a third party. Our POS systems are only designed to handle nine different forms of payment (cash, cc, check, etc…). It is simply a limitation of our POS. What we can do in the store is convert all of the cards to one and what the 1800 my apple people shoud do, is convert all the cards to one as well. If it means only combining four at a time, so be it. You should have them convert four cards into one…and then convert the next four into another card, leaving you with three cards; which is then plenty to make your purchase. Trust me, Apple wants your business, and the last thing we want to do is send away unhappy customers. Talk to any Mac user…we are genearlly happy with the way Apple stands by their customers. Best of luck!

  28. kerry says:

    @color_guru: Not really. Cash often has a way of disappearing or shrinking before it goes to the thing you wanted to buy with it. My grandmother gives me $20 for my birthday every year and every year I promise myself I’ll buy something special with it, then end up using it to buy groceries or something. Gift cards ensure that the receiver will get a gift out of your money.
    (I’m not normally a big apologizer for gift cards, i just think they’re a bit better than cash for gifting, if you buy one the recipient wants.)

  29. Chimaera2005 says:

    The lady said she dialed 1-800-MY-APPL and they would not allow her to use all 8 gift cards. I agree the website should cater to the majority, but the phone sales line should have been able to accomodate her. Driving six hours to consolidate those giftcards is a horrible experience and I don’t blame her for writing in.

  30. I can understand why there would be a limit on these things…

    When I worked at Best Buy (Lord help me), I had one customer who had I think around 30 gift cards to use on a large purchase of a computer. I didn’t assume anything was wrong, and I verified with my managers and they said it was fine. As I walked away they kind of snickered a bit, and I soon knew why… As I entered the gift cards into the system, the system got progressively slower, seemingly exponentially. About halfway through the gift cards I had been standing there for roughly an hour as the system churned along for whatever reason. I began to ask around to see if there was a better way to do this and my coworkers confirmed that there was not. Needless to say, we stood there for quite a while longer.

    So anyway, yes, I can understand limits on gift cards just for the sake of the sales system, but 4 or even 6 is a ludicrous limit. It’s not like the money isn’t going to Apple anyway.

  31. chrisx says:

    sniperx said: “Lesson learned, stay away from Apple when making business purchases.”

    That’s funny… I had the exact OPPOSITE experience! I was interning at a large production studio in LA and had purchased 5 iMacs through a business rep at an Apple Store. I used a Credit Card that was in the name of a VERY large Hollywood director (we’re talking household name here) who owned the production company.

    They didn’t bat an eyelash, charged the card and gladly helped load all the computers into my car.

    Maybe these things are more common in Southern California, with Interns like me running around to do all the big shot’s dirty work, but it really was no problem at all.

  32. homeplate51 says:

    i have used as many as ten cards at a time at best buy – and it never seems to upset their system – these days you need to be consumer friendly to survive.

  33. tinymon says:

    Sometimes folks in an order center are using the web site, not a different order system. Which may be what is happening here since they cannot use more gift cards than you can on the web site.

  34. yougogirl says:

    Not speaking from inside knowledge, it makes no sense to not accept as many gift cards that you choose to use. I have had my own gift card woes of sorts and have learned that when all else fails, go to buy, trade or sell your cards at There is a small exchange fee, but it has always been worth it for me.

  35. ? graffiksguru says:

    @kalikidtx: she still has a 6 hour commute to go to the apple store. I don’t see why the 1800APPLE people couldn’t just do what theboss2007 said. Everyone I know with apples, love their customer service.