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'Tis the season for free gift cards

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Mark Lennihan/AP/File

(Read caption) 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.

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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.

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

Benihana

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Black Angus Steakhouse

Bonefish Grill

Champps Americana Restaurant

Fox Restaurant Concepts

Hoss’s Steak and Sea House

Olive Garden Italian Restaurant

On The Border Mexican Grill & Cantina

RA Sushi Bar Restaurant

Ruby Tuesday

Stir Crazy Fresh Asian Grill

Texas Roadhouse

Tony Roma’s

Uno Chicago Grill

Retail and entertainment

Barnes & Noble

Brunswick Bowling

DSW Shoes

Godiva Chocolatier

L.L. Bean

Victoria’s Secret

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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