Pro tips for holiday shopping savings

November 20, 2016 GMT

Well, the holiday shopping season is upon us once again.

With a little attention to detail and deals, shopping can be less costly, whether shopping in stores, online, or a combination of both.

Many people will be making their purchases with credit cards (and hopefully paying off the subsequent bills in full to avoid interest charges). And this is one area where some planning at the start can mean smaller bills at the end.

First, know your credit card terms and benefits. For example, many major credit cards offer some form of purchase protection, which can refund the price of an item if it is accidentally broken or stolen within, say, 90 days of purchase. Terms vary by card issuer, and store-brand charge cards typically do not offer this.

I’ve used purchase protection several times in the past, with American Express, typically for small electronics purchased for a child. The purchase price of a watch that was dropped in a lake, for example, was refunded with no hassle.

Another great benefit offered by some credit cards is a price-matching offer. Some issuers require you to find a lower price within a certain time and send the ad to them. Citibank offers one of the best deals in this category with ” price rewind ” on Citi credit cards.

With Citi’s price rewind, when you buy something with a Citi credit card, you can register the purchase with them. For the next 60 days Citi will look for a lower price, and if they find one, you can get up to $500 back. Through September this year, Citi paid out $5.4 million.

Most price-match and price-check offers exclude some types of merchandise. For example, Citi’s price rewind exclusions include jewelry and “motorized land, air or water vehicles,” but they will cover tires.

If you’re among the people who do lots of online shopping on Amazon, you probably already know about Amazon Prime. If not, you should. Amazon Prime is a subscription service with lots of benefits, one of which is free 2-day shipping on all purchases. You can get a free 30-day trial subscription if you’re new to the service (then it’s $10.99 a month or $99 yearly, but you can cancel when the trial runs out).

Some credit cards with cash-back or points for purchases have rotating categories of spending where customers can get bonuses. This isn’t a reason to rush out and get one of these cards, but if you have one, make sure you know where the deals are through the end of this year. For example, Citi’s Dividend Card (which I have) is offering 5 percent back this quarter on purchases at Best Buy and department stores, for cardholders who registered (free) for that promotion.

If you can find the best price on something you plan to buy, then get an additional 5 percent off, that’s pretty good. If you have an American Express card, you can get double rewards when shopping at a wide selection of local stores through Dec. 31, if you register your card (at no cost) for the “Shop Small” promotion.

Shopping on the Charleston peninsula? You wont need a credit card to park because you can get a voucher for two free hours at most city-owned parking garages at charlestonarts.org. The deal is valid Nov. 25 to Jan. 1, except when “special events” rates are in play.

Shopping at Mount Pleasant Towne Centre on Black Friday? Register to win one of 12 gift cards worth $250. Registration is free, but in-person, one-per-person, and must be present to win; starting at 9 a.m. at Belk with drawings at 10 and 11, starting at 11:15 a.m. at Barnes & Noble with drawings at noon and 1 p.m., and starting at 1:15 p.m. at Banana Republic with drawings at 2 and 3.

Even when shopping local, it can pay off to check business websites. Sometimes there are promotions and coupons that aren’t well-publicized at the brick-and-mortar locations. Those promotions can include gift card deals, where a business or restaurant where you regularly shop may offer bonus gift cards for gift card purchases made during the holidays. That’s like buying money at a discount, for future shopping at a particular business.

You can also buy store gift cards at a discount for your holiday shopping needs on websites such as Cardpool, where people re-sell gift cards they don’t want. The more obscure the store, the larger the discount.

For those shopping online, remember that credit card companies, airline frequent flier programs, and other companies offer shopping portals that provide extra discounts, frequent flier miles and bonuses. If you start at one of these shopping portals, typically after logging in to your account, you can receive extra discounts or earn airline miles on purchases you already planned to make.