There are few experiences more frustrating than attempting to redeem the contents of a gift card and being turned down. Restaurants, both of high caliber and quick service variety, are guilty of such offenses more often than they would like to admit, telling a frustrated guest that their card has expired and no longer holds any value. Fortunately, new federal legislation went into effect on Sunday, expanding the terms of redemption for pre-paid gift cards and incentive offers.

The new gift card rules state that gift cards must be good for at least five years from the purchase date, and any money later added to the card must also be good for at least five years. According to National Restaurant News, “the legislation, which affects gift cards sold or issued on or after Aug. 22, is designed to address concerns raised in recent years by consumers, who are increasingly buying gift cards.” One of the biggest issues? There's no expiration date on actual money, so why should there be one on a plastic gift card loaded with prepaid cash? The legislation tackles that problem by permitting gift card holders to redeem any unspent funds on a card even after it expires, and also limits fees for dormancy or inactivity.

So dig out that forgotten stash of restaurant gift cards — we all have at least one — and see if they've expired. If not, put them to good use; they're free money after all. But if your card's time has in fact come and gone, don't worry too much: the next generation will have a much longer shelf life.

LA Weekly