Gift-card spending in the U.S. is expected to reach an all-time high in the U.S. of $29.8 billion this holiday season, according to the National Retail Federation’s annual Gift Card Spending Survey.

Nearly one in five Americans will give the gift of hot coffee, up from 13 percent last year. Department stores and restaurants are the top two choices for gift-card purchases, comprising about 40 percent and 34 percent of the market, respectively.

In addition, about 20 percent of the total will be spent on gift cards from electronics stores, with another 13 percent spent on gift cards to online retailers.

Holiday shoppers will spend an average of $163.16 on gift cards, up 4 percent over the $156.86 they spent last year and the highest amount in the survey’s 11-year history,” said Bethany Aronhalt, a spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation.

While it is known that not every gift card is used, Aronhalt says the NRF does not know exactly what happens to unspent gift-card balances.

When gift cards aren’t used, their balance is either consumed by the retailer, or handed over to the state. In the year 2007, 10 percent of total gift-card value -- or 3.5 billion -- went unspent in the U.S., the highest amount on record. In 2008, New York state reaped an estimated $9.6 million from unused gift cards. On average, $2 billion from gift cards goes unspent every year.

“... Traditional gift cards aren’t the only winners this holiday season.  As more and more Americans are tied to their mobile devices, we expect digital gift cards to be especially popular with consumers,” said NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay in a press release

Unused Gift Cards Burning a Hole in Your Pocket? Sell Them Online.

Don’t become one of the people who just leaves gift cards sitting in the drawer, collecting dust. With a little motivation and a few clicks, you can turn that store credit into cash -- albeit at a discounted rate.

Websites like, and will exchange your unused cards for cash. These sites typically accept 100s of retailers’ cards, and each has different payment rates.

You can find the best offer for your card using, a comparison site. Typically, the seller will receive between 60 percent and 90 percent of the card’s original worth.