Image: Ornament and credit cards © Tom Grill, Corbis

Sure, hiding your credit card is one way to protect yourself from holiday debt, but a consumer with a solid credit history shouldn't necessarily put away the plastic until January. In fact, there are reasons that a credit card should be your payment method of choice this holiday shopping season. MainStreet looks at the ways your credit cards can help you save on gifts this year.

You can earn big rewards

Credit cards generally offer consumers anywhere from 1% to 5% cash back on purchases, and rewards programs have gotten much more lucrative. Popular rewards cards with no annual fees, like the Chase Freedom and the Discover More Card, are offering 5% back on all department store purchases made through December. (Are your credit cards crummy? Find a better card.)

Savvy shoppers can also net even higher cash-back rewards when shopping at their issuer's online shopping mall. Upromise, for instance, is currently offering its Upromise World Class Master Card cardholders up to 21% cash back on purchases made at the online mall through Dec. 31.

"Bonus-point malls actually earn credit card companies a percentage of their sales," Tim Chen, the CEO of the credit-card ranking site NerdWallet, told MainStreet back in February. "This is why during peak periods, such as Christmas or Valentine's days, issuers get competitive and offer some of their best deals."

Rewards can be used toward online purchases

Earning rewards isn't the only thing that's easier around the holidays. Cardholders can apply points toward purchases made in these online malls as well.

Additionally, this year Discover has partnered with Amazon.com to let its customers pay for purchases using their reward points seamlessly at checkout. As part of the promotion, the company is also letting cardholders earn double cash rewards on Amazon purchases of up to $250 each month through the end of the year.

American Express cardholders can also pay for purchases on Amazon with their rewards points, a partnership that started in 2010.

You can qualify for special sales, extra discounts and other perks

Those who have store charge cards should be on the lookout for special sales hosted by the retailer that let them put that plastic to good use.

Macy's, for instance, hosts an annual "friends and family" sale one weekend each December that entitles cardholders to 20% off on almost all store merchandise when they use either a Macy's charge card or branded credit card. The cards also let consumers return purchases without a receipt and score additional deals and discounts throughout the year. The Toys R Us store card also gives cardholders access to special offers and discounts.

But don't go shopping for store credit if your score can't afford it, as each inquiry can shave three to 15 points off your credit score.