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10 Best Gift Cards for Holiday Shopping

American Express Gift Card

American Express (AXP - Get Report) still charges a $4 purchase fee for the privilege of buying its gift cards, but that fee upfront spares users more fees down the road and opens up a ton of options for undecided shoppers. If buyers go with an e-card instead, even that $3 isn't an issue.

American Express dropped the expiration dates and monthly fees on its gift cards and allows users to replace lost, stolen or damaged cards for free and get full refunds for unused ones. It's like handing someone $25 to $3,000 at once -- or as much as $5,000 on two cards -- and sending them on a shopping spree anywhere in the U.S., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands that takes American Express (except cruise lines, casinos and ATMs).

There are a couple of problems, though. For one, you can't redeem them outside the United States, which means no mulled wine in Europe or high-end fleece purchases in the Himalayas. Holiday shoppers in Hawaii and Vermont are out of luck as well, as American Express doesn't deliver gift cards to either state and won't allow potential e-card buyers in those places to make those purchases. Also, even folks in states that allow the cards can't reload them or consolidate leftover amounts.

Costco

Sending someone into a giant warehouse for drums of Kirkland peanuts and oversized jugs of detergent doesn't sound like the most riveting holiday gift ever, but it might be the most well-received.

The Costco's Cash Card, however, gives the folks on your list $25 to $1,000 at a clip to spend on marked-down bulk paper products in the warehouse, electronics in the online store or unleaded at its gas stations. Perhaps the Cash Card's best feature is that it lets folks shop at any Costco location without being a member. In Costco's eyes it's a trial membership that gets new folks into the stores, but for nonmembers its a great way to get bargains without forking over a $50 to $100 membership fee first.
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