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Starbucks ups ante on exclusive gift cards

The 2013 rose-gold gift card
Source: Starbucks
The 2013 rose-gold gift card

You might call it the Starbucks card for the 1%. Or this year, perhaps, for the 0.5%.

For the second year in a row, Starbucks is rolling out an ultra-limited edition, $450 metal, gift card for the holidays — pre-loaded with $400. But this year, it's literally five times more exclusive. Last year, the coffee giant made 5,000. This year, it's making a mere 1,000.

If you want one, you gotta act fast. Really fast.

(Read more: What NOT to buy your boss for the holidays)

Not one Starbucks store will sell them. The offer will be available only on the luxury goods website Gilt.com on Friday at noon EST. Last year, the 5,000 designer cards sold out in about six minutes. With just 1,000 offered this year, they may not last as long.

"Will it be one minute or two?" poses Cliff Burrows, group president of the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

For Starbucks, just about anything goes at holiday time. Consider: 1 in 10 adults last December received a Starbucks gift card of some sort. Starbucks cards are the most "gifted" item in America, says Burrows. That makes the hard-to-get Starbucks Metal Card — even in a tough economy — an apparent must-have for the well-to-do. Some of last year's cards have been posted on eBay for as much as $1,000.

(Read more: No time for online? Shoppers rush to actual stores)

"If something is hard to get, it takes on irrational value," says Steven Addis, a brand consultant. "By making it even harder to get, the irrationality goes up."

At the same time, he notes, Starbucks protects itself from taking heat for its pricey card by also selling so many $5 gift cards. "It's a fail-safe gift," he says of conventional Starbucks cards.

Besides the $400 pre-loaded on the designer card, it also has Gold-level status — meaning free refills on iced or brewed coffee or tea, along with other perks.

(Read more: Tips for snagging luxury gifts at deep discounts)

Each of the cards — which are all hand-made — features an artisan rose metal base with rose-colored coating. Starbucks lettering is laser-etched on the front. Each comes in a blue gift box with a special letter inside that explains the card's value.

The company made a "deliberate decision" to make even fewer metal cards this year, says Burrows. "It's now more special," he says. "We've elevated it to a new level."

For folks who want to keep their designer card pristine — and don't want it to get scratched from use — well, you can simply load the card onto your mobile device and keep the card, itself, safe, says Burrows.

That might also increase its collectible value.

(Related video: Holiday is a great time for us: Starbucks CFO)

First, of course, you have to get your hands on one.

"Maybe the most potent of sales tools is scarcity," says Addis.

Even Burrows, himself, hasn't been able to get his hands on one yet.

But if he can land one for his wife before Christmas, he says, only half-jokingly, that may help determine if the holidays at the Burrows home "are very good — or very bad."

By Bruce Horovitz, USA Today

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