Gift cards deals to die for

To give, or not to give a gift card? No matter how impersonal it may seem, this holiday season it's a proposition that will be hard to resist. Retailers are stepping up offers that include gift cards as bonuses or dangling free cards with purchases.

They're doing so for good reason: Gift cards will be the most requested gift during this year's holiday season, according to a recent report by the National Retail Federation. According to the NRF's survey, 55% of adults in the United States want a gift card this year. Retailers have definitely taken note. Research firm First Data expects retailers to use cards as promotional tools this season more than ever before.

Walmart, for instance, is offering a $100 gift card with the purchase of a Blackberry smart phone beginning Saturday and continuing through the following week. Toys R Us is running several promotions that award gift cards with purchases of its Big Book items like a free $10 gift card with any purchase of $75 or more, a $10 gift card when buying any iPod priced $100 or more, and a free $5 gift card with any iTunes gift card purchase.

Getting free, or bonus, gift cards with the purchase of gift cards is also becoming a common marketing tool. At the Container Store, shoppers receive a free $25 gift card when they buy $100 worth of cards. Some hotels and restaurant chains, including big steak houses like Morton's, are also giving gift cards away with gift card purchases. However, be aware that these so-called freebies often carry more restrictions than typical cards. Retailers may not allow you to redeem them until after the holidays so you can't use them as gifts to others. Nevertheless, if you check the fine print and know the rules, the cards can provide real savings -- as long as you're patient.

If you have several people on your holiday shopping list, Costco offers packages of gift cards to places like Starbucks at a discounted rate.

Just be aware any hidden costs or restrictions, like those recently outlined by Walletpop blogger Lita Epstein. has an easy-to-use chart comparing gift cards issued by large retailers and financial institutions like American Express and Discover. And remember, use caution when buying gift cards from some retailers on precarious financial footing. If the store isn't around in January, that card isn't much of a gift.
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