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Forget the Apple Store's Cyber Monday gift card offer. Here's where to get better prices

Apple doesn't go big for Black Friday or Cyber Monday discounts, but you can find serious price cuts on AirPods, Apple Watch models and more by shopping around.

The Apple Store's Black Friday deals are here, and they aren't much. 
Óscar Gutiérrez/CNET

This story is part of Gift Guide, our year-round collection of the best gift ideas.

Black Friday sales are morphing into Cyber Monday sales, and prices are fluctuating wildly. But if you're quick, at the time of this writing, you can score the AirPods Pro for $230, or an Apple Watch Series 6 for $330 at Amazon. At the Apple Store, those same products will run you $50 to $79 more -- but you'll get a gift card for a future purchase. That, in a nutshell, is the problem with Apple's Black Friday and Cyber Monday "deal" offering: The company effectively never cuts prices and just dangles gift cards instead. The current promotion runs now through Cyber Monday, Nov. 30, with gift cards up to $150, depending on the item purchased.

In fact, that $150 gift card is a rarity, and only available if you purchase either an Intel-equipped MacBook Pro 16-inch or 21.5-inch iMac. Other Macs, including the new 13-inch MacBook Pro that features Apple's M1 chip, are not eligible. Neither are the new MacBook Air, Mac Mini, larger 27-inch iMac or iMac Pro. If you can still find a 13-inch Intel-equipped MacBook Air or Intel-equipped 13-inch MacBook Pro with two Thunderbolt ports, you could get a $50 Apple Store gift card. As Apple has discontinued both models, you'd have to find one of these in a physical Apple Store. 

Beyond the Macs, most new Apple gear is not eligible for the gift card promotion. You could get a $50 gift card with the iPhone 11, XR or SE (so, not the new iPhone 12 line). Gift cards for iPads are limited to $50 for the iPad Mini or $100 for either size of the iPad Pro with no offers available for the new iPad or iPad Air. 

Apple is also not offering double Apple Card cash back, which it did last year. This year the cash-back rate appears to be staying at its regular 3%. 

The promotions are yet another reminder that the best Apple deals are almost always found outside Apple's own physical or virtual stores. At the Apple Store, for instance, a new set of AirPods ($159) or AirPods Pro ($249) can get you a $25 Apple Store gift card but no discount off the regular price. By contrast, the regular AirPods and the Pro models have dipped to $110 and $170, respectively, at Amazon and other retailers (though they have been in and out of stock). That's a savings of $49 to $79 -- both much more than a $25 gift card that can only be redeemed later.

All the major US carriers have promotions running for the latest iPhones while Amazon has been running deals on Apple Watches (including the latest Series 6), iPads (regular, new Air and Pros) and the Intel MacBook Air (currently $199 off at Amazon). 

Apple also doesn't make the full list of which products get which discount easily accessible on its promo page, but if you're interested in the full list you can find it here

The best deals appear to be on the full-size HomePod, which gets you a $100 gift card, and the Apple TV 4K, which gets you a $50 gift card. Neither product has seen the same level of discounting at other stores this season, though the HomePod has previously dipped to $200 at Best Buy.

All told, unless you want one of those two devices or to buy something directly from Apple, you're likely better off shopping elsewhere for deals on Apple products. 

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