Yeah, gift cards are a joke. Great way for a company to get money up front, then either put a short term expiration date or assess a service fee after a certain amount of time (i.e. $1.50 a month until the balance is gone).
The WORST of the gift cards is the AMEX gift card. 1) Gifter has to pay a premium on top of the value, 2) Giftee cannot go over the value of the card or will have to pay a fee; 3) Giftee is hit with service fee if card is not used over time.
Whenver I get one of those, I take it straight to wal mart and buy a wal-mart gift card for the same value. Then I do my grocery shopping. When the bill comes to more than the amount of the gift card, you swipe the card and then pay the difference.
Split tender transactions are another option with the AMEX gift card, but if the casier screws up, you're the one paying the fee. Other option would be to leave a small balance on the card, but that sucks too.