The Logical Fallacy of Gift Certificates

You’ve decided to give your spouse a gift certificate for a massage! What a thoughtful gesture! You feel good. Your spouse will feel good. They come out of the treatment and proudly hand over their thoughtfully-boughten gift certificate.

And then they ask for an insurance receipt*.

And then everyone’s day is ruined.

“What do you mean, I don’t get an insurance receipt?” they say.

“You got a free massage!” we say. “What more could you want?”

“But my spouse, then – surely they got an insurance receipt when they paid for the gift certificate?”

“Certainly not,” we say. “Why, that would be fraud!”

“This tip, then – the tip wasn’t included, so I tipped you out of my very own pocket, surely that can be given an insurance receipt.”




Welcome, all, to the hell that is gift certificates.

The very idea of a gift certificate – so I would think – is that it is a gift. A thing given without expectation of reciprocation. A free thing.

The entire point of an insurance receipt is that you pay for a massage and then get reimbursed for that expense. (Full price, a portion, whatever, I don’t care.) Follow me closely here, because this is where shit starts to get real: a GC means you got that massage for free. YOU got it for free. So if you get an insurance receipt for it, that means you’re essentially being paid to get a free massage.

Why yes, that does sound lovely! That is exactly what you were going for! You were very clever to think of it and definitely no insurance provider would ever think that is an unreasonable situation.

Okay yeah great but it is FRAAAAAAAAUD. And that’s something that will get the RMT unregistered and out of a career. Not to mention whatever multiple-thousand dollar fine that we have to pay for your shenanigans.

No, the spouse doesn’t get an insurance receipt, either. Why? Same thing. Free money.  Not cool. Stop looking so kicked-in-the-teeth.

So why even bother with GCs, if you can’t get anything out of them?

Well, it’s a nice gesture for people who aren’t under each other’s insurance policies, you cynic. Mostly it works in the company’s favour, since they get the money without needing to worry about whether or not they’ll actually need to back it up with a service.

Here’s the thing to keep in mind: when you’re buying a GC for a massage, you are not actually buying a massage. You are buying a physical or electronic chit which can then be redeemed for a massage. The massage at this point is entirely theoretical and one-step removed from the point of sale.

So say even after having this uninspiring anti-pep talk, you still want to get your spouse (or whoever else in on your insurance plan) a massage, but you do want that sweet sweet insurance receipt that goes with it. WHAT DO?

Welcome, all, to the second circle of hell.

You can set up an account under your name. You can set up an account under your intended recipient’s name. Then, you can put money directly into your intended’s account. (You don’t even need to set up your own account if you’re okay with your intended getting the insurance receipt written out under their own name.)

Given that a GC essentially puts free money into a person’s account, what’s the big difference between purchasing a GC and not getting an insurance receipt and just giving money directly to the person and getting an insurance receipt?



Frankly, you could do this for your friend, too. Just put money on their account and BAM, they can use it for some sweet insurance receipt action. (You don’t get the insurance receipt, but it’s a nice gesture for your friend, if they want to use the theoretically reimbursed money to take you out to dinner.) You could do this for anyone. Wouldn’t that truly be the greatest gift of all!

If you’re expecting a grand explanation as to why GCs aren’t equivalent to direct money in the account, alas, I am no philosopher. The best I can throw out is that when you purchase a GC, you are purchasing an expensive piece of paper which can be redeemed for a service, not the service itself. And you don’t get an insurance receipt for a tip (not even if it was included in the price of the GC, or indeed with any purchase), because that money is assumed to also be a gift – a very wonderful and welcome gift to your therapist, who has given you a wonderful and welcome massage, and you tip out of the goodness of your heart without expecting anything in return. Because god damn the whole transaction will turn into a perpetual motion exercise of one gift being given in exchange for another gift and on and on and on until quite frankly your GC can go to hell.

Where you already are.

Because gift certificates.


So what’s the recommendation here? Bottom line, if you want an insurance receipt and the recipient is on your insurance plan, put money directly into their account and they can be given a 3rd party receipt. If you want the recipient to get an insurance receipt regardless of your insurance plan, put money directly into their account and they get an insurance receipt all to themselves. If you want an insurance receipt and the recipient isn’t under your insurance plan, find another recipient ’cause you ain’t gettin’ sheeit.

About the only time I personally my own opinion would buy a GC for a massage is if the place is not set up to put money into someone’s account or if it was a gift. You know… that thing that you give when you can’t expect anything in return.

(And also I would put a tip on that GC because ain’t nothing more awkward than when you tell your client everything’s been paid for and they ask if a tip was included and you have to say, “Welllll, nnnnno, BUT THIS WAS A GIFT SO PLEASE DON’T WORRY ABOUT IT” and they say “Oh no please I insist” and you’re back to cursing the logical fallacy that is gift certificates again.)


also please whatever cash exchange you and your friend want to do in order to get an insurance receipt please don’t do it in front of us, these mental legal gymnastics are splitting my mental crotch enough as it is


*I’m going to keep saying ‘insurance receipt’ instead of simply ‘receipt’ because they are two different things and these waters are murky enough thank you.

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