updated 11/23/2005 8:00:31 AM ET 2005-11-23T13:00:31

McDonald’s Corp. has an idea for a stocking stuffer, and it doesn’t require substituting burgers and fries for the traditional holiday dinner.

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The fast-food chain formally launched its new reloadable convenience card — the Arch Card — with the kickoff of a nationwide marketing campaign Wednesday, joining the growing group of restaurant operators that offer similar cards.

Many of McDonald’s 13,000-plus U.S. restaurants have been offering the Arch Card for months, but the company has been waiting until the holiday shopping season to actively promote them as gift cards. In 2006, the advertising campaign will switch themes to promote convenience.

“McDonald’s recognizes our customers are seeking cashless payment options, and the national launch of Arch Card will make purchasing your favorite menu item and gift giving a whole lot easier this holiday season,” said Gayle Franger, director of U.S. marketing for the Oak Brook, Ill.-based company.

The McDonald’s Arch Card is available in $5, $10, $25 and $50 denominations.

McDonald’s trails Starbucks Corp. and others in offering this type of card. But analysts say the nation’s largest restaurant company is well-positioned to benefit from them because the cards make it easy for consumers to spend more and also can cut valuable seconds off the average transaction time.

“I think it’ll help drive a little bit of sales growth,” said Carl Sibilski of Morningstar Inc. “It may speed up the lines at the counter as well.”

McDonald’s will give away $22 million in promotional Arch Cards starting Nov. 29 to make a splash for the marketing campaign, including 5 million $1 cards handed out to Southwest Airlines Co. customers at 61 U.S. airports through Dec. 13 and on board Southwest flights from Dec. 14-28.

Customers at McDonald’s restaurants can receive a $1 Arch Card from Nov. 29 through Dec. 5, while the $9 million in cards last, with the purchase of Chicken Selects strips or a Premium Chicken Sandwich. Another 8 million $1 cards will be given away through an American Express consumer card mailing.

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