Instead of airline miles or cash, free merchandise is the latest fashion in credit-card rebates.

Department stores and shopping-mall retailers are sponsoring the cards to draw shoppers. The attraction for you is that the best of these cards give you a 2 percent to 5 percent rebate on in-store purchases, plus 1 percent on charges elsewhere. Your rebate comes as a merchandise credit, but you have an entire department store or mall to shop in.Unlike airline-miles cards, the cards described below charge no annual fee. But interest rates tend to be high, making them a poor choice if you carry a balance.

You can qualify for Bloomingdale's Premier Visa (1-800-670-9840) if you've spent $1,000 on a Bloomingdale's retail charge account. You earn a 3 percent credit on purchases at Bloomingdale's and 1 percent on all other purchases. Each time you accrue $25 in credits, you receive a $25 Bloomingdale's certificate.

The more you spend at Nordstrom using a Nordstrom Visa card (1-800-935-4210), the bigger your rebate. Your first $1,000 in charges each year earns a 1 percent credit, the next $1,000 earns 2 percent and so on up to 4 percent on charges exceeding $5,000. There's no bonus for purchases elsewhere, however. Rebates are credited to your account once a year.

The Mall VIP Visa (1-888-625-5847) is good at nearly 500 shopping malls in 47 states. Purchases at cooperating stores (usually any store in the mall that accepts Visa) earn a 2 percent rebate; all other charges earn 1 percent. When you accumulate $10 in points, you receive a $10 certificate good for three months at any participating store. There's a $750 annual cap on rebates, but amounts above that carry over to the following year.

The L.L. Bean Visa card (1-800-555-1173) should appeal to outdoors enthusiasts, despite recent cutbacks in rewards. You earn a 3 percent rebate on all L.L. Bean purchases (down from 5 percent) and 0.5 percent (down from 1 percent) on other spending. With 410 in credits, you receive a $10 L.L. Bean certificate good for one year.