The Gold subscription gives you 12 months of Xbox Live service, which includes access to online multiplayer gaming, video chat, game and video downloads, and Netflix's online streaming service (Netflix subscription required).
However, as PCWorld's Matt Peckham points out, Microsoft should stop charging for the Xbox Live service altogether. Sony PlayStation 3 owners already enjoy free access to their Xbox Live equivalent, the PlayStation Network, and while the PS3 bonus may not be a barrier to attracting new Xbox 360 customers it would certainly be an added incentive. Also, Microsoft has already stopped charging PC gamers for the Games for Windows Live Service so why not Xbox Live?
Then again, Microsoft doesn't really have a reason to stop charging at the moment. According to company statements, the Xbox has outsold the PS3 by 8 million units overall and beat out its Sony rival for holiday sales. Add to that the fact that Xbox Live recently had its largest sign up of new customers ever, admittedly with some technical problems, and you can see why Microsoft is not in any hurry to change tactics.
So if you're one of the millions of new Xbox owners trying to get online visit Amazon before the end of the month. After that, you can always check out PCWorld's price comparison chart to make sure you're paying the lowest possible price for Xbox Live service.