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'Tis the season for free gift cards

Freebies attached to full-price gift cards are abundant during the holidays. Now is a good time to stock up on gift cards, both for you and for others. 

By Karla BowsherContributor / December 2, 2012

This 2009 file photo shows a gift card kiosk in New York. New federal rules for gift cards mean user have longer to use them and don't face as many costs up front. Many restaurants and retailers offer 'bonus' gift cards during the holidays, so now is a good time to stock up if you visit any one place frequently.

Mark Lennihan/AP/File

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The two best ways to find gift cards for less than they’re worth is to buy discounted gift cards from online exchanges or to buy full-price gift cards that come with freebies.

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The latter offer only comes around during the holidays, so now’s the time to stock up for yourself if you frequent any of these restaurants or shops. For example, buying a $50 gift card that comes with a $15 freebie is like paying $50 for $65 of goods. So if you spend the gift card and freebie yourself, you save up to 30 percent – or more if you’re buying sale- or clearance-priced items.

If you don’t frequent these places, though, that savings may not be worth it because most of these freebies expire within three months of the new year. Buy if you’re shopping for anyone who likes these restaurants and stores, there’s no reason to pass up what is essentially free currency – whether you enjoy the freebie yourself or pass it on to the gift recipient.

Restaurants

Applebee’s

  • Offer details: Free $10 digital bonus card with a $50 digital gift card purchase
  • Offer ends: Not specified
  • Offer available: In restaurants, online
  • U.S. locations: Every state except Hawaii

Benihana

Black Angus Steakhouse

  • Offer details: Free $5 bonus bucks (valid Jan. 1 through Feb. 13) with a $50 gift card purchase
  • Offer ends: Dec. 31
  • Offer available: In-restaurant availability not specified, online
  • U.S. locations: Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, New Mexico, Washington

Bonefish Grill

  • Offer details: Free $20 bonus card (valid Jan. 1 through Feb. 10) with a $100 gift card purchase
  • Offer ends: Dec. 31
  • Offer available: In restaurants, online
  • U.S. locations: Most states

Champps Americana Restaurant

  • Offer details: Free $10 extra points card (expiration unknown) with a $50 gift card purchase
  • Offer ends: Not specified
  • Offer available: In restaurants only
  • U.S. locations: Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin

Fox Restaurant Concepts

  • Offer details: Free $20 gift card (no expiration date) with a $100 gift card purchase
  • Offer ends: Dec. 31
  • Offer available: In restaurants, online
  • U.S. locations: Arizona, California, Colorado, Kansas, Nevada, Texas

Hoss’s Steak and Sea House

  • Offer details: Free $10 voucher (valid through Feb. 28) with a $50 gift card purchase
  • Offer ends: Dec. 30
  • Offer available: In restaurants only
  • U.S. locations: Pennsylvania, West Virginia

Olive Garden Italian Restaurant

  • Offer details: Free $5 bonus card (valid Jan. 1 through Feb. 15 when you purchase two entrees) with a $25 gift card purchase
  • Offer ends: Dec. 31
  • Offer available: In-restaurant availability not specified, online
  • U.S. locations: Every state

On The Border Mexican Grill & Cantina

  • Offer details: Free $5 bonus card (valid Jan. 1 through Feb. 15) with a $25 gift card purchase
  • Offer ends: Dec. 31
  • Offer available: In restaurants only
  • U.S. locations: Most states, Washington, D.C.

RA Sushi Bar Restaurant

  • Offer details: Free $10 promo card (valid Jan. 2 through March 31) with a $50 gift card purchase
  • Offer ends: Dec. 31
  • Offer available: In restaurants; online
  • U.S. locations: Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Nevada

Ruby Tuesday

  • Offer details: Free $15 bonus coupon (valid Jan. 2 through Feb. 28) with a $50 gift card purchase
  • Offer ends: Dec. 31
  • Offer available: In-store restaurant availability not specified, online
  • U.S. locations: Most states, Washington, D.C.

Stir Crazy Fresh Asian Grill

  • Offer details: Free $25 bonus card (valid Jan. 7 through March 14) with a $100 gift card purchase
  • Offer ends: Jan. 6
  • Offer available: In-restaurant availability not specified, online
  • U.S. locations: Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Wisconsin

Texas Roadhouse

  • Offer details: Free $5 e-gift card (expiration unknown) with a $30 gift card purchase
  • Offer ends: Dec. 31
  • Offer available: Online only
  • U.S. locations: Every state, Washington, D.C.

Tony Roma’s

  • Offer details: Free $15 in RomaBucks (valid Jan. 2 through March 25) with a $50 gift card purchase
  • Offer ends: Not specified
  • Offer available: In-restaurant availability not specified, online
  • U.S. locations: California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin

Uno Chicago Grill

  • Offer details: Free $5 voucher (valid Jan. 2 through March 31) with a $25 gift card purchase
  • Offer ends: Not specified
  • Offer available: Not specified
  • U.S. locations: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin

Retail and entertainment

Barnes & Noble

  • Offer details: Free $10 e-gift card (valid starting Dec. 26) with a $75 e-gift card or regular gift card purchase
  • Offer ends: Dec. 2
  • Offer available: Online only
  • U.S. locations: Every state, Washington, D.C.

Brunswick Bowling

  • Offer details: Free $5 bonus certificate with a $25 gift card purchase
  • Offer ends: Dec. 31
  • Offer available: In stores, online
  • U.S. locations: Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington

DSW Shoes

  • Offer details: Free $5 bonus card (valid Jan. 12 through Jan. 27) with a $50 gift card or e-gift card purchase
  • Offer ends: Dec. 24
  • Offer available: In stores, online
  • U.S. locations: Every state, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico

Godiva Chocolatier

  • Offer details: Free $10 reward card (valid Dec. 26 through Jan. 31) with any $50 purchase
  • Offer ends: Dec. 24
  • Offer available: In stores, online
  • U.S. locations: Every state, Washington, D.C.

L.L. Bean

  • Offer details: Free $10 promotional gift card (valid through Feb. 13) with any $50 purchase
  • Offer ends: Dec. 24
  • Offer available: In stores, online
  • U.S. locations: Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia

Victoria’s Secret

  • Offer details: Free Secret Reward card worth $10, $50, $100, or $500 (valid Nov. 29 through Dec. 20) with any $10-plus purchase
  • Offer ends: Nov. 28
  • Offer available: In stores, online
  • U.S. locations: Every state, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico

Karla Bowsher covers consumer, retail, and health issues for Money Talks News, a consumer/personal finance TV news feature that airs in about 80 cities as well as around the Web. This column first appeared in Money Talks News.

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