can someone explain how this is different from a standard live sub, besides it being an extra month?
Not sure what you mean, but if you're talking about a yearly subscription through Microsoft, they charge you $60 a year and you have to give them your credit card info. This one is $40 and doesn't automatically renew.
I was waiting for a while to jump back into a gold account and finally bit when it got down to $38 from Buy.com through eBay last month. If you want gold a prepaid card is definitely the way to go, unless you like auto renewal and don't care about the twenty bucks.