iTunes Gift Card on Canadian App Store? (Updated)


Disappointed by an iTunes gift card

Disappointed by an iTunes gift card


[Update, December 27 8:55 pm: I received a reply from Apple:

Dear Alexandre,

Hello my name is Todd and i am happy to assist you. I understand that you would like a refund for your gift card that you purchased without knowing that you couldn’t purchase applications unfortunately i am unable to approve a refund because once a Gift Card has been redeemed, it no longer has any value. The store credit on the card has been completely transferred to the account it was redeemed to. I did some research and i came across this link where apple customers go and send feedback about issues they have experienced and I think you may find this informative.

Thank you Alexandre for choosing iTunes Store and have a great day.


iTunes Store Customer Support

please note: I work Thursday – Monday 7AM – 4PM CST

So it seems that the restriction is due to Canadian law. Which makes it even more surprising that none of the documentation available to users in the process of redeeming the code contains no mention of this restriction. I find Apple’s lack of attention to this issue a tad bit more troubling in context.]

I’m usually rather levelheaded and I don’t get angry that easily.

Apparently, iTunes gift cards can’t be used on the App Store portion of the Canadian version of the iTunes store. It seems that, in the US, gift cards can in fact be used on the App Store.

This is quite disappointing.

Because of diverse international moves, I currently don’t have access to a valid credit card in my own name. During this time, I’ve noticed a few applications on the iTunes App Store that I would like to purchase but, since I didn’t have a credit card, I couldn’t purchase them. I do have a Canadian Paypal account but the Canadian iTunes doesn’t accept Paypal payments (while the US version of iTunes does). I thought that Paypal was able to provide temporary credit card numbers but it seems that I was mistaken.

So I thought about using an iTunes gift card.

And I started thinking about this as a gift to myself. Not exactly a reward for good behaviour but a “feel good” purchase. I don’t tend to be that much into consumerism but I thought an iTunes gift card would make sense.

So, today, I went to purchase an iTunes gift card for use on the App Store portion of the iTunes Store.

I felt quite good about it. The weather today is bad enough that we are advised to stay home unless necessary. There’s ice all over and the sidewalks are extremely slippery. But I felt good about going to a store to purchase an iTunes gift card. In a way, I was “earning” this card. Exercising a lot of caution, I went to a pharmacy which, I thought, would sell iTunes gift cards. I know that Jean Coutu sells them. Turns out that this smaller pharmacy doesn’t. So I was told to go to a «dépanneur» (convenience store) a bit further, which did have iTunes gift cards. Had I known, I would probably have gone to another convenience store: Laval, like other places in Quebec, has dépanneurs everywhere. Still, since that dépanneur was rather close and is one of the bigger ones in the neighbourhood, I thought I’d go to that one.

And I did find iTunes gift cards. Problem is, the only ones they had were 25$. I would have preferred a 15$ card since I only need a few dollars for the main purchase I want to make on the iTunes App Store. But, given the context, I thought I’d buy the 25$ card. This is pretty much as close as I can get to an “upsell” and I thought about it before doing it. It’s not an impulse purchase since I’ve been planning to get an iTunes gift card for weeks, if not months. But it’s more money than I thought I would spend on iTunes, for a while.

Coming back home, I felt quite good. Not exactly giddy, but I got something close to a slight “consumption rush.” I so irregularly do purchases like these that it was a unique occasion to partake into consumer culture.

As I was doing all this, I was listening to the latest episode of The Word Nerds which is about currency (both linguistic and monetary). It was very difficult to walk but it all felt quite fun. I wasn’t simply running an errand, I was being self-indulgent.

In fact, I went to get French fries at a local greasy spoon, known for its fries. It may be an extreme overstatement but a commenter on Google Maps calls this place “Best Restaurant in North America.” The place was built, very close to my childhood home, the year I was born. It was rebuilt during the year and now looks like a typical Quebec greasy spoon chain. But their fries are still as good as they were before. And since “self-indulgence” was the theme of my afteroon, it all seemed fitting.

Speaking of indulgence, what I wanted to purchase is a game: Enjoy Sudoku. I’ve been playing with the free “Enjoy Sudoku Daily” version for a while. This free version has a number of restrictions that the 2.99$ version doesn’t have. If I had had access to a credit card at the time, I would have purchased the “premium version” right away. And I do use the free version daily, so I’ve been giving this a fair bit of thought in the meantime.

So imagine my deception when, after redeeming my iTunes gift card, I noticed that I wasn’t able to purchase Enjoy Sudoku. The gift certificate amount shows up in iTunes but, when I try to purchase the game, I get a message saying that I need to change my payment information. I tried different things, including redeeming the card again (which obviously didn’t work). I tried with other applications, even though I didn’t really have a second one which I really wanted to buy. I read the fine print on the card itself, on the card’s packaging, and on the Apple website. Couldn’t find any explanation. Through Web searches, I notice that gift card purchases apparently work on the App Store portion of the US iTunes site. Of course, that web forum might be wrong, but it’d be surprising if somebody else hadn’t posted a message denying the possibility to use iTunes gift cards on App Store given the context (a well-known Mac site, a somewhat elaborate discussion, this habit of forum posters and bloggers to pinpoint any kind of issue with Apple or other corporations…).

The legal fine print on the Apple Canada website does have one sentence which could be interpreted to legally cover the restriction of applications from purchases made with the iTunes gift card:

Not all products may be available.

This type of catch-all phrasing is fairly common in legalese and I do understand that it protects Apple from liability over products which cannot be purchased with an iTunes gift card, for whatever reason. But no mention is made of which products might be unavailable for purchase with an iTunes gift card. In fact, the exact same terms are in the fine print for the US version of the iTunes store. While it makes a lot of sense to embed such a statement in legal fine print, making people pay direct attention to this statement may have negative consequences for Apple as it can sound as if iTunes gift cards are unreliable or insufficient.

I eventually found an iTunes FAQ on the Canadian version of Apple support which explicitly mentions this restriction:

What can I buy with an iTunes Gift Card or iTunes Gift Certificate?

iTunes Gift Cards and iTunes Gift Certificates can be used to purchase music, videos and audio books from the iTunes Store. iTunes Gift Cards and iTunes Gift Certificates may not be used on the Canadian store to purchase applications and games. iTunes Gift Cards and iTunes Gift Certificates are not accepted for online Apple Store purchases.


(Emphasis mine.)

As clear as can be. Had I known this, I would never have purchased this iTunes gift card. And I do accept this restriction, though it seems quite arbitrary. But I personally find it rather strange that a statement about this restriction is buried in the FAQ instead of being included on the card itself.

The US version of the same FAQ doesn’t mention applications:

What can I buy with an iTunes Gift Card or iTunes Gift Certificate?

iTunes Gift Cards and iTunes Gift Certificates can be used to purchase music, videos, TV shows, and audio books from the iTunes Store. At this time, iTunes Gift Cards and iTunes Gift Certificates are not accepted for online Apple Store purchases.

Since, as far as I know, iTunes gift cards can in fact be used to purchase applications, the omission is interesting. One might assume that application purchases are allowed “unless stated otherwise.” In fact, another difference between the two statements is quite intriguing: “At this time” iTunes Gift Cards are not accepted for online Apple Store purchases. While it may not mean anything about Apple Store purchases through iTunes cards in the future. But it does imply that they have been thinking about the possibility. As a significant part of Apple’s success has to do with its use of convenient payment systems, this “at this time” quote is rather intriguing.

So I feel rather dejected. Nothing extreme or tragic. But I feel at the same time disappointed and misled. I’ve had diverse experiences with Apple, in the past, some of which were almost epic. But this one is more frustrating, for a variety of reasons.

Sure, “it’s only 25$.” But I can do quite a lot with 25$. Yesterday, I bought two devices for just a bit more than this and I had been considering these purchases for a while. Altogether, the webcam, mouse, and Sudoku Daily were my holiday gifts to myself. Given my financial situation, these are not insignificant, in terms of money. I’ve had very positive experiences which cost much less than 25$, including some cost-free ones but also some reasonably-priced ones.

But it’s really not about the money. It’s partly about the principle: I hate being misled. When I do get misled by advertising, my attitude toward consumerism gets more negative. In this case, I get to think of Apple as representative of the flaws of consumerism. I’ve been a Mac geek since 1987 and I still enjoy Apple products. But I’m no Apple fanboy and occasions like these leave a surprisingly sour taste in my mouth.

The problem is compounded by the fact that Apple’s iTunes is a “closed ecosystem.” I listen respectfully to others who complain about Apple but I typically don’t have much of a problem with this lack of openness. Such a simple issue as not being able to use an iTunes gift card to purchase something on the iTunes App Store is enough to make me think about diverse disadvantages of the iTunes structure.

If it hadn’t been for the restrictive App Store, I could have purchased Enjoy Sudoku directly through Paypal. In fact, the developers already have a Paypal button for donations and I can assume that they’d be fine with selling the native application directly on their site. In the US, I could have purchased the application directly on iTunes with a US Paypal account. In this context, it now seems exceedingly strange that iTunes gift cards would not be usable on the iTunes App Store.

Which brings me back to a sore point with Apple: the company is frequently accused of “hating Canada.” Of course, the sentiment may be associated to Canadian jealousy over our neighbours in the United States. But Apple has done a number of things which have tended to anger Canadians. Perhaps the most obvious example was the fiasco over the Canadian iPhone as Rogers and Fido, Canada’s only cellphone providers for the iPhone, initially created such abusive plans that there was a very public outcry from people who wanted to purchase those cellphones. Rogers later changed its iPhone plans but the harm had been done. Apple may be seen as a victim, in this case, but the fiasco still gave credence to the notion that Apple hates Canada.

Yet this notion isn’t new. I personally remember diverse occasions through which Canadian users of Apple products had specific complaints about how we were treated. Much of the issues had to do with discrepancies over prices or problems with local customer support. And many of these were fairly isolated cases. But isolated incidents appear like a pattern to people if they’re burnt twice by the same flame.

Not that this means I’ll boycott Apple or that I’m likely to take part in one of those class action lawsuits which seem to “fall” on Apple with a certain regularity. But my opinion of Apple is much lower this afternoon than it has been in the past.

I’m sending the following to Apple Canada’s customer service (follow-up: 62621014). Not that I really expect a favourable resolution but I like to go on record about things like these.

I would like to either be credited 25$ for purchases on the App Store section of the iTunes store or reimbursed for this gift card.

I bought a 25$ iTunes gift card specifically to purchase applications on the App Store. The front of the card’s packaging says that I can use it “for music and more.” Nothing on the small print at the back of the packaging or on the card itself says that the card may not be used on the App Store. Even the legal terms of the card have no mention of this restriction:

The only passage of that page which can be understood to cover this exception is the following:

Not all products may be available.

Bringing attention to this sentence may not be a very good strategy as it can imply that some music, videos, and audiobooks are also restricted.

The only explicit and direct mention of this restriction is here, in the support section of the site:

What can I buy with an iTunes Gift Card or iTunes Gift Certificate?

iTunes Gift Cards and iTunes Gift Certificates can be used to purchase music, videos and audio books from the iTunes Store. iTunes Gift Cards and iTunes Gift Certificates may not be used on the Canadian store to purchase applications and games.

25 thoughts on “iTunes Gift Card on Canadian App Store? (Updated)”

  1. I got a iTunes Gift Card for X-mas. I don’t need any music (I like to buy CDs and rip them myself) and wanted to buy myself some apps. And today I also found out that I can’t. It sucks.

    BTW, a friend of mine in Vancouver buys US gift certificates when he’s visiting there. He then uses them to buy TV shows and movies in the US iTunes Store to play them on his i*hone and Apple TV. Apple apparently doesn’t do an IP check to see where you are currently located so that works. At least for now.

    Now I have to find someone who buys music from iTunes and wants my card. Or buy some unprotected iTunes plus tracks.

  2. @Mare Thanks for the comment!
    Living in the US, I did get a US-based iTunes account but I don’t have a valid credit card there. Going to the US (physically) just to get an iTunes gift card would be a bit extreme. And there’s a notion that it may be somehow illegal to use an iTunes US account while residing in Canada (these things are weird).
    Of course, this is a very silly thing to be frustrated about. But, if we don’t say anything, such clueless practises will continue.
    Ah, well…

    BTW, I might be wrong but I think that, once you redeem the code, you can’t transfer this credit to another iTunes account. iTunes Plus music is decent enough (I did buy some in the past) but it then feels like a “forced sale.” It’s almost like the old Columbia music club… 😎

  3. Do the dépanneurs in Canada sell prepaid Visa and Mastercards? I see those everywhere in the US.

    That won’t help you get your money back from Apple, but perhaps it would be an option for getting the game you want.

  4. Hi Alexandre (et al.),

    Your story is a direct reflection of mine, except that I went whole-hog and bought myself a $150 gift certificate, the full balance of which now sits uselessly in my Canadian iTunes account.

    I’ve been thinking about the prepaid credit cards, even though it seems like an idealistic compromise (conforming to a flawed system, rather than breaking it). However, I’m in Montreal, and i did see the cards advertised at Insta-Cheque/Money-Mart last spring. In the last five years, they’ve been on and off the market here in Canada (for reasons I’m not privy to), so I don’t know what the status is now.

    There’s some very user-friendly IP-blocking software (called Hotspot Shield) that allows Canadians to view streaming video on US sites like Hulu, NBC, etc. I’m thinking of using this to try to create an alternative iTunes account that may or may not hide the fact that I’m in Canada, then purchasing a (smaller) gift certificate to see if that works.

    Would anybody out there know if iTunes determines the location of a customer by the IP address they are using to try to make a purchase, by the IP-address used when creating an iTunes account, or through the location-of-sale of the gift card itself? Mare made some mention of this in his/her post above, but was second-hand info, and qualified with “apparently…” I’m wondering if anyone out there has made any first-hand efforts to circumnavigate around all this crap and can share any info before I blow another wad on the company I am quickly growing to hate.

  5. @Loyal Wow.
    I already felt silly to discuss a 25$ loss (but it was about the implications, not about the money). You make me feel even sillier.

    I can tell you, from first-hand experience, that iTunes doesn’t in fact check IP addresses at this point (though it reserves the right to do so). I have a US account that I opened while in the US. It’s still active. I’m not purchasing stuff with it at this point but I do know that it would work for purchasing apps if my US credit card were valid. (It expired recently.)
    I’ve also read enough reports to assure you that the location-of-sale of the gift card is what matters. So, if you want to do this, find a US gift card (which isn’t that hard to do).
    I’ve also read about Insta-Chèque/Money Mart cards and easyHome locations sell something similar. From what I can see, there’s another type of prepaid credit card which requires a bigger amount upfront (500$) and works as a way to (re)build credit. From what I understand, the prepaid cards sold at Money Mart and easyHome don’t do anything for your credit history but they can be used to make those online purchases.

    Sometimes, I just wish that Paypal would sell “virtual credit cards” based on our accounts. Or that Paypal would be accepted everywhere. Or that Canadian bank cards worked as credit cards, as they do in the US.
    I like Canadian banks for several reasons but this is something which could work more efficiently. It might even be a reason behind the perceived lag in Quebec’s online purchases.

    Ah, well…

  6. Geez, don’t feel silly, Alex. The dork is me, for slapping down a healthy portion of my budget on a dead end. From now on, I’ll be taking baby steps when it comes to dealing with iTunes gift cards.

    Thank you so much for all the info! You certainly saved me from going through all those steps and arriving at disappointment. And the pre-paid credit card info is also really valuable (as I was thinking of getting one anyway, outside of all this Apple-drama). I totally agree that Paypal should be universally accepted in Canada as a form of payment–or, at the very least, at major retail sites.

    I guess, then, that the US gift card will represent my last attempt to buck the credit-card system, rather than be absorbed by it. Do you know of any method to snatch one of these little gems, outside of making a physical run for the border?

    Thanks again for the feedback. It’s funny that Canada has such excellent internet infrastructure (broadband/wireless/accessibility), combined with trade laws and regulations that date back to the 18th century. I’m surprised I don’t need to send two horses in exchange for an iPod app.

  7. @Loyal
    I’ve heard that some people purchase US iTunes cards on eBay but I didn’t even look.
    Canada sure is weird. I’d actually disagree on the Internet infrastructure. It’s decent and parts of it are somewhat better than in the US (though other parts aren’t as good). But other parts of the World are much better than North America in terms of ‘Net access.

    As for the credit card system, maybe the financial crisis will provide new alternatives to it. Personally, I’d enjoy a life without credit.

  8. I’ve probably been lucky in the regions I’ve lived in up here, with respect to internet access. In the early days, I was always ahead, speed-wise, of the people I was communicating with online.

    As far as weird goes, I’m born-and-raised, so Canada feels as normal as an old sock to me (with the exception of our internet regulations, of course). However, I’m only a few years into my Montreal experience, and I can say that living here is like living in a David Lynch film; sometimes steeped in euphoria, intermittently terrifying, occasionally perverse, but always worth it.

    I guess my half-assed, slapped-together metaphor depends on one’s opinion of David Lynch films (and of Montreal), but it’s a slow day at work and I’m passing the time before I can go home and chip away at this bloody iPod drama.

    I will definitely by checking eBay tonight–thanks for the tip, and again for all your help! If I happen upon any jaw-dropping breakthroughs, I’ll post them here.


    “…maybe the financial crisis will provide new alternatives” -> Funny, I had the same thought. A life without credit, indeed.

  9. No where on the card does it state you cannot purchase anything other than tunes in Canada. I think in this situation it should be refunded… This is not the way to do business with your customers. I have no reason to purchase $15 worth of music. This is bull****

  10. @Loyal Your assessment of Montreal does seem to make sense. I was born and raised in Laval (walking distance from Henri-Bourassa metro) and I’ve heard similar things from out-of-towners, once they get to spend some time here. What’s funny, though, is that there are whole dimensions of Montreal which seem quite obscure to those who haven’t been raised here. The Two Solitudes still exist.

    @Kelly Of course, I tend to agree. And Apple isn’t doing anything about this. I understand that the origin of the problem isn’t on their end of things but they should really do something about this.
    If only we could transfer that amount to somebody else. But even DRM-free tracks (iTunes Plus) are constraining (as they contain identifying information).

  11. I was mad enough that they don’t take paypal in Canada. They really should put something on the card. I even read the fine print on the back of the card before I bought it, nothing. I bought a few games, then found out it was charging my dad’s credit card. I e-mailed them and I got a really nice guy. He reversed the charges to the credit card, and offered to un-redeam the card (Which apparently you can do). I don’t think I will though, because it looks suspicious trying to return a card with a scratched off code, I don’t think they would take it. Once again I am happy with their customer service though.

  12. @Ryguy Thanks for sharing!
    Didn’t know they could unredeem the card. This is precisely what I’d like to do.
    Maybe I’ll try calling them. Yes, it sounds a bit silly for a 25$ card and I don’t want to spend even more time on this. But something is off.
    Now, I’m not saying I got bad customer service. But I didn’t get great customer service either and I think there was a mistake somewhere along the way, in terms of cards and applications/games purchases. They should have told us before we redeemed those cards.

  13. Had I read this site prior ro today I could have saved myself some money and grief. I do not own a credit card myself. I work and make good enough money I dont have the want to borrow money. So I went and bought a card for $50. Thinking I could get all sorts of cool stuff for my brand new iTouch which I just purchased yesterday. Went to future shop and the guy that helped me even said that the card will work for apps. Came home, redeemed the card. My account balance says $50.00.. yet I can’t buy a single game/app for my itouch. All I get to do is stare at this nice healthy balance that for now, I can’t touch, unless of course I buy music which I do not want to do. I have enough music as it is. So now I sit here, waiting for a reply. If this does not get resolved I will try and get Future Shop to try and give me store credit and I aosl will go to my local news and report this as it has not become very public about Canada’s access to iTunes apps. I find it a complete rip off and can’t believe that if nothing happens, that iTunes will continue to STEAL people’s hard earned money during a time of a shitty economy.

    Eve, Vancouver BC

  14. I too have the same situation. I actually phoned apple support today, (January 28th 2009) and they told me to purchase the a card and I would have no problem purchasing apps from the iTunes store. What gives??? Now I find out they are misrepresenting themselves. Didn’t Apple just settle a class action lawsuit over battery life in their older iPods?

  15. the response I got

    “Dear ****

    I understand your confusion as to why you’re being prompted for billing information when attempting to purchase a game, as you have available store credit on your account. My name is ****, and I’m going to do all that I can to be sure this issue is resolved. Regrettably, at this time, you will not be able to purchase games or applications with store credit or an iTunes Gift Card in Canada as customers residing in Canada may only purchase games and applications using a credit card. However, the iTunes Store does offer many other options to use your store credit on, such as music, videos, movies, audiobooks, or movie rentals, to name a few of the possibilities.

    I sincerely apologize for this inconvenience and hope that you will be able to find something else from the wide selection offered in the iTunes Store that you may enjoy and will bring a smile to your face. Best wishes to you in the future, and if there’s anything else that I may assist you with, please know that I’m only an email away and more than happy to do anything I’m able to enhance your iTunes experience.”

  16. @Eve Thanks a lot for sharing! Did this person really say “bring a smile to your face?” Wow!

    @Ken The plot thickens. I’m actually convinced that there was miscommunication within the company. Doing the right thing, Apple would reimburse us right away and put a warning in the redeeming page in iTunes.

  17. I just do not understand this. Why is there not the proper information regarding the iTunes card. If you can not use it for the better purchases, then it should clearly state this with little to NO confusion. By not putting this anywhere, not only are the consumers mislead, but it is also making the people who sell the product look either, “stupid, not knowledgeable about a product they are selling”, or it makes them look like they are “a part of the scheme”. Either way it is bad business, and word of mouth travels faster than any commercial they put up. In the long run, if it doesn’t change, they will lose business from looking like crooks.

  18. @Eve We’re pretty much agreed that it doesn’t make any sense and that it surely will make them lose some business. My guess still is that there’s been a mix-up but they probably think that the problem is “small enough” that it doesn’t need to be addressed very directly. Even if it did become a class action lawsuit, it probably wouldn’t have that much of a visible effect on the company’s business. The thing they may not realize is the set of more subtle effects, such as a slight decrease in “mindshare” or a slight increase in the “Apple hates Canada” sentiment. Too small to be measurable but these things can snowball.

  19. i’m sorry you folks can’t get what you want on canada’s itunes with the gift cards. our gift cards here in the usa buy anything on itunes. you can buy usa gift cards online and get it’s code and the usa itunes password emailed to you. use it to download from the american itunes store (apps and all).

  20. Update: Apple admits that it’s not a legal issue which prevents it from accepting gift cards on the Canadian App Store.
    Still wondering why they wouldn’t make good on their terms of service.

  21. I have the same issue as you. After Christmas this year, I now have $80 in iTunes gift cards. I had $0 in them before. I have no albums I really would like to buy right now, and I also prefer to buy them as a CD and then put them on iTunes. I have a long list of paid apps I would like to buy. I would like to know why you can’t buy apps with them in Canada.

  22. Can you help me, I have purchased a itunes card and cannot access the site nor does it recignise my card pin number or card number. So what do I do now. I have tried all the information on back of card and nothing. Where do I go from here.? Regards Shawn Kowalyk

    1. To make sure we’re clear.. You pressed the “redeem card” button in iTunes? As far as I remember, it’s in your account, as if it were a payment option..

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