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Holiday bonus: It’s in the gift cards

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For holiday bargain hunters, a free gift card with purchase seems like an ideal (and generous) bonus. Spend $50, receive a $10 gift card. A great deal and a great stocking stuffer, right? Only if you’re a regular, says James A. Roberts, author of “Shiny Objects: Why We Spend Money We Don’t Have in Search of Happiness We Can’t Buy.”

“These deals can encourage consumers to spend more than they would otherwise,” Roberts said. “Gift cards also make us buy things we normally wouldn’t, so small bonus cards can work against the better interests of consumers.” Which is why many retailers and restaurants — cashing in on holiday gift-giving — are doling out gift cards when you buy, hoping to draw you and the gift-card recipient back at a later date. But these deals benefit consumers most not when you’re gifting, but when you’re buying for yourself. “$60 [value] for $50 pays off, so long as you’re a loyal customer,” Roberts said. So buy from your favorite establishments (with caution), and treat yourself this holiday. Remember: It’s only a deal if you’re actually going to use it!

Restaurants

Have a restaurant you frequent? Stock up on gift cards and receive reward cards to use in early 2012.

Morton’s the Steakhouse: Purchase $300 in gift cards and receive a $50 rewards card. If you spend $500, you’ll receive a $100 reward card. Reward cards are valid from Jan. 1 to March 31. For locations or to buy online, go to mortons.com.

Outback Steakhouse: Buy $100 in gift cards and get a $20 rewards card. Reward cards can be used from Jan. 1 to Feb. 10. For locations and to buy online, go to outback.com.

California Pizza Kitchen: If you buy $100 in gift cards, you’ll receive $20 rewards card, which are valid from Jan. 3 to March 6. For locations and to buy online, go to cpk.com.

Godiva Chocolatier: Spend $50 on gift cards and you’ll receive a $10 rewards card, which will buy you a box of four decadent truffles. Reward cards are valid from Dec. 26 to Jan. 31. Find locations and shop online at godiva.com.

Life’s little extras

Whether you’re buying Christmas ornaments or movie tickets, get perks for stocking up on life’s little extras.

Best Buy: Wondering what to get your eye-rolling tween niece or nephew? Buy two Kinect or Xbox 360 games online or in store and receive a $25 Best Buy gift card. For details on available games, go to bestbuy.com.

CVS: Stock up on the necessities of the season: wrapping paper, tags, cards, boxes and bags. Spend $30 on specially marked holiday items and receive a $10 coupon. You need a CVS rewards card and the coupon for $10 reward prints when you make your purchase. Available in stores through Dec. 24. For details, go to cvs.com.

AMC Theatres: With the annual rush of movies with Oscar buzz, gift cards are perfect for the film aficionados in your life. Buy $30 in cards and receive a $5 concession card so you can buy the popcorn. Gift cards must be purchased at the theater. Concession card are good until Feb. 29. For theater locations and details, go to amctheatres.com.

Clothing and shoes

No one wants to spend money on socks and underwear. These small bonuses offer just enough value to pick up necessities for the new year.

L.L.Bean: Spend $50 online or in stores and receive a $10 reward card. This offer isn’t good for gift-card purchases, so be daring and buy Uncle Charlie a sweater instead. (The bonus from Bean is that it no longer charges shipping fees.) Reward cards can be used through Feb. 14. For locations or to shop online, go to llbean.com.

Kohl’s: Spend $50 at a store or online, and you’ll get $10 reward coupon that can be used Dec. 25 to Jan. 1. Kohl’s isn’t open on Christmas, but for shoppers who can’t wait, the coupon is redeemable online that day. For locations and to shop online, go to kohls.com.

DSW: Buy $50 in gift cards at a store or online and receive a $5 reward card that you can use from Jan. 14-29 to get those killer boots you’ve had your eye on. Go to dsw.com for details and locations.

THE BOTTOM LINE Before buying, read the fine print and search for the strings attached. Many reward cards are one-time use only or have expiration dates. Some don’t allow for online purchases. Gift cards with purchase benefit returning and loyal customers, who won’t be deterred by the details of the deal.

More from Holiday Guide: Festive recipes they’ll love, holiday-ready homes and no-fuss party-planning Gift ideas: Kid-tested toys, critic-approved entertainment picks and more options for evey budget Gadget gifts: Which smartphones, tablets and tech toys to add to your list A stress-free holiday: Advice from the experts on dealing with family, travel and health this season. Celebrate in Washington: Find local holiday activities

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