Boost Your Holiday Shopping Power With Plastic. Yes, Plastic.

Galleria Mall - How to have more spending power
Galleria Mall - How to have more spending power

Americans are ready to shop again this holiday season. A new survey from the National Retail Federation shows consumers are preparing to spend an average of $749.51 on gifts, up from $740.57 last year. Overall holiday spending is expected to rise 4.1 percent to $586.1 billion. And online shopping revenue could reach $68.4 billion, up 15 percent, according to Forrester Research.

Deal hunters will be out in force next week, when retailers kick off the season with huge discounts for Black Friday and its online cousin, Cyber Monday. (AMZN) has a full list of current, upcoming, and expired deals available at its site. Meanwhile, Target (TGT) and Walmart (WMT) both plan to start offering deals before the Thanksgiving turkey even has a chance to digest.

Will you go that far?

Avoid the Crowds and Save a Different Way

You don't have to set an alarm clock or fight your way through throngs of shoppers to save, says credit card researcher You might save just as much using a shopping-savvy credit card -- even $500 or more, presuming, of course, that you aren't piling up debt in order to realize "savings."

If you're debt-free (remember, hefty interest charges and fees have a way of wiping out discounts fast) and looking to save even more this season, here are four ways the best holiday shopping cards, as identified by CardHub, can save you a small fortune:

1. For those who want their reward ASAP. While it's right to be wary of any bank that promises rich rewards in exchange for signing on the dotted line, some deals are too good to ignore. JPMorgan Chase's (JPM) Sapphire Preferred Card offers just this sort of arrangement.

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New customers enjoy no annual fee for a year, and after spending $3,000 in the first three months, get 40,000 bonus points, equal to $500 in travel credits or a $400 statement refund to offset your shopping bill. Either way, Sapphire offers "the best initial bonus on the market," says CardHub chief executive Odysseas Papadimitriou, who previously served as a senior director in Capital One's credit card division.

2. For shoppers who want spread the holiday cheer throughout the year. Short-term bonuses are good, but sustainable savings on everyday items are even better. For this sort of deal, CardHub recommends American Express' (AXP) Blue Cash Preferred card. New customers get a $150 cash back bonus after spending $1,000 in the first three months, canceling out two years' worth of annual fees.

On an ongoing basis, Blue Cash pays back 6 percent on supermarket spending (up to $6,000 annually), 3 percent at gas stations, 3 percent at department stores, and 1 percent on everything else. Papadimitriou calls it the best everyday rewards card for people who aren't frequent travelers.

3. For big spenders. For those planning on making larger purchases, some cards will give you an up-front loan at 0 percent interest. CardHub likes Citigroup's (C) no annual fee Diamond Preferred, which offers new customers 18 months without interest payments.

"If you don't foresee being able to foot the entire bill [for your gifts] within the month, you might want to apply for a card that won't start charging you interest for a while," Papadimitriou says.

Alternatively, you could bank what holiday savings you do have and earn during the card's trial period, paying off the balance with your fattened-up funds before interest charges kick in.

4. For one-stop shoppers. Is it Darwinian to prey on others weaknesses? Not when it comes to holiday shopping. Consumers who sign up for ailing retailer J.C. Penney's (JCP) Store Card can expect to get an additional 20 percent off apparel, shoes, handbags, and fashion jewelry, and 10 percent off fine jewelry, watches, and home merchandise when purchased the same day as approval.

Just be careful. Find yourself carrying a balance and you'll end up paying an awful 26.99 percent in interest annually. Too many Americans pay too much in interest as is.

What credit cards are you using right now? Are you shopping for a better deal or fresh from taking advantage of a sweet deal? Make your voice heard by leaving a comment in the space below.

Motley Fool contributor Tim Beyers didn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article at the time of publication. The Motley Fool owns shares of Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of and creating a write covered strangle position in American Express.

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