the-12-days-of-credit-cards

Despite an inexplicable drop in the price of four calling birds, PNC Wealth Management estimates the cost of all the gifts in "The Twelve Days of Christmas" at a cool $101,119.84. Following the song to the letter means delivering 364 gifts to your true love this month. If you're going to charge all of those gifts, some of this year's best credit card deals could save you enough money to keep a few golden rings for yourself:

12 months with no interest

Low introductory rate deals flooded Americans' mailboxes over the past year, as banks competed for the attention of affluent consumers. Though most teaser-rate credit cards offer a year with no interest, a couple card issuers offer up to 18 months at zero percent introductory APR for balance transfers and purchases. The Discover it card has one version that offers a 0 percent introductory APR on balance transfers for 18 months, while Chase Slate extended its teaser period on some new accounts to 15 months for zero percent introductory APR for balance transfers and purchases. Take over a year to pay off the $2,629 you'll spend on 12 drummers drumming and avoid the $394 in interest charges from a typical credit card.

11 retail gift cards

Chase's Ultimate Rewards program touts an easy exchange rate for retail gift cards: 100 points equals one dollar in retail credit. However, Chase Sapphire Preferred cardholders enjoy a 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants and 1 point per dollar spend on other purchases. Use that card to hire those 11 pipers piping so you can get an iTunes gift card which you'll use to replace them next year.

10 earn bonus points

American Express recently reinvented The Platinum Card from American Express, adding cardmember benefits which will get those lords a-leaping with up to a $200 statement credit on airline incidental fees. To receive the statement credit, you need to select a qualifying airline. Terms and restrictions apply.

9 expense reports

Business credit cards often earn miles, points and rebates for company owners. But they also bring order to the process of compiling expense reports. When your company requests additional Ink from Chase employee cards, your team can access Jot. Chase's smartphone application lets employees initiate expense reports at the time of purchase, so you'll know exactly why your assistant paid $6,294 for nine ladies dancing.

8 bag check fees waived

Somehow, it only costs $58 to hire eight maids a-milking. Yet, it can cost you about the same just to get two checked bags onto a single flight on some airlines. Cardholders of The United MileagePlus Explorer from Chase can check the first bag for free.

7 percent variable APRs

Some consumers like to have a low interest credit card on hand for unexpected purchases, like the $6,300 cost of seven swans a-swimming. Simmons Bank and IberiaBank both offer no-frills accounts with variable rates that start around 7.25 percent for applicants with excellent credit.

6 get hotel nights

Maybe you need to spend the night near the farm where you're spending $162 for six geese a-laying. Or maybe you're preparing a getaway to escape all that honking. You can get hotel nights at participating Marriott property when you use the bonus points from a new Marriott Rewards Premier Card from Chase. Other hotel rewards cards include the Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature Card, which offers a signup bonus good toward nights in one of the chain's "Category 2" hotels.

5 percent cash back

Five gold rings may cost you $645, but earning 5 percent back on these and other holiday purchases can lighten your year-end debt load. The Chase Freedom® and Discover it cards all offer seasonal 5 percent bonus cash back rewards. Enrollment is required each quarter and bonus cash back is subject to quarterly maximum spend limits for Chase Freedom® and Discover.

4 front-row seats

With so many lenders offering similar credit card rewards, payment platforms use cultural events, sporting matches and live entertainment to differentiate themselves. For instance, Discover Card holders can score exclusive seats to professional hockey and college football matches, along with VIP fan experiences. American Express treats its cardmembers to special events at New York's Fashion Week and the Tribeca Film Festival. Visa cardholders can expect unprecedented pampering at the 2012 Olympics. Anybody can buy four calling birds for $519, but only the right credit card deal can get you last-minute tickets to a sold-out concert.

3 percent balance transfers

Even if you had to spend $150 on three French hens with a retail store credit card, you can still save money with some of this year's best balance transfer offers. Because many banks now charge a 5 percent balance transfer fee, finding a lower rate can save you some instant cash. Bank of America discounts balance transfer fees to 4 percent on many of its revamped BankAmericard offers. Some Citi credit cards offer a 3 percent fee. With excellent credit, you could even qualify for no fee balance transfers from PenFed, Simmons Bank, and Chase Slate.

2 offers with bonus points for air travel

Two turtle doves will only cost you $125, though you're probably going to have to fly to Turkey to get some. It's a good thing airline credit cards went a little crazy with sign-up offers this year. Chase made headlines with a revamped Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier Credit Card that offered new cardholders points towards two domestic round-trip flights after meeting spend requirements (after you spend $2,000 on purchases) in the first three months of opening the account. The same lender offered a quick deal with its British Airways Visa Signature Card, offering bonus Avios for new cardholders who meet spend requirements in the first three months of account opening which can be used toward international travel for lucky applicants. Be sure to check the issuers website for current offers.

And purchase protection for free

After buying 364 gifts over 12 days, the last thing you want to worry about is replacing a $185 partridge in a pear tree. All four major credit card payment platforms offer some form of purchase protection. For instance, MasterCard will refer you to the original retailer for a refund or a replacement during the first 60 days after a transaction. Discover offers a fee-based, extended-warranty program through a partnership with SquareTrade. Meanwhile, Visa Signature cardholders enjoy free access to a Warranty Manager program that tracks and extends manufacturer repair programs.

However, American Express made the biggest splash this year by including purchase protection program as a benefit for users of its new prepaid debit cards (terms and restrictions apply). Even if you're staying within the typical $700 price range that most Americans set for their holiday spending, the best credit cards and debit cards can help you squeeze even more value from your budget.