The gift that does not keep on giving

A little more than a year ago, a valued colleague and cherished friend thoughtfully presented me with an iTunes Gift Certificate as a token of their esteem. Unlike your typical iTunes gift card which comes in cash denominations, this card offered a set number of downloads—15 songs to be exact. So I redeemed the gift, downloaded 10 songs, and set aside the remaining five for another day.

And then I promptly forgot all about them.

Flash ahead to last week when another valued colleague and cherished friend thoughtfully presented me with an iTunes Gift Certificate, this one with a cash value. I logged on to the iTunes Music Store, redeemed the new gift certificate…and noticed that the five remaining songs from the previous year’s gift certificate had been wiped off the face of the earth.

I seem to recall that the 15-download gift card mentioned something about an expiration date when I redeemed it. However, since I am not in the habit of meticulously logging the whys and wherefores of whether and when iTunes Store credits expire, that drop-dead date obviously slipped my mind as I went about my daily routines. A quick e-mail sent via Apple’s iTunes Store Customer Service page confirmed that the fault for the disappearing downloads was entirely my own. According to the e-mail:

I’m sorry to hear that the 5 promotional song credits you had left on your account from last year have disappeared.

After reviewing your account I discovered these credits expired on 12/8/06. I understand there may be some confusion on why these expired. Song credits have an expiration date, gift cards that are redeemed like cash onto your account do not expire.

I regret to inform you that the iTunes Store does not supply replacement song codes for unused promotional song codes that have expired.

Please contact the promotion sponsor for information about this promotion.

The e-mail goes on to included some argle-bargle about how to log in to my iTunes account to see an updated listing of my store credit—presumably so I can watch unredeemed gift certificates disappear in real time—but I think the take-away points from this e-mail are these:

  • This only involves song credits, not cash gift certificates, so if someone gave you a $15 gift card this holiday season, don’t fret about it disappearing in the dead of night.
  • The song-credit option doesn’t appear to be an Apple operation; indeed, in checking out the gift card order page, your only option appears to be cash cards. (Now as to Apple’s suggestion that I contact the promotion sponsor, I’d love to know how to do that since a) the 15-song credits were a gift and b) I’m so doddering and forgetful I can’t even remember expiration dates, let alone who was offering iTunes downloads.)
  • If I’m looking for any form of redress, I had best look elsewhere; Apple disavows any responsibility for my failure to fully take advantage of someone else’s free downloads in a timely fashion.

And I can’t say that I blame anyone at Apple for that stance—like the e-mail says, it’s not their promotion. Still, at the end of the day, you’re redeeming songs through iTunes, not some third-party vendor or site—a less understanding person than myself might put the blame on Apple, whether the company deserves it or not, and vow to never patronize iTunes again.

So I have a suggestion for Apple—a way to improve the iTunes experience and reduce the chances of this sort of thing happening to other people. Why not make it so that the song-download promotions that involve expiration dates include notifications for when the deadline is drawing near? I’m thinking an e-mail sent a week or so before the credits expire would do the trick—or better yet, include the option for Mac users to easily set up an iCal notification at the time they redeem such gift certificates.

I don’t know how many iTunes users have found themselves in the same boat as me. And perhaps the fact that I can’t find any song-download gift-giving options means that expiring credits won’t ever be an issue again. But if it is an issue, adding some sort of notification option seems like a pretty easy, user-friendly fix—an Apple-like approach to a very un-Apple-like turn of events.

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