We wouldn't be surprised if someday soon, discount brokers started offering free toasters for opening an account. (And frankly, we could use a new toaster -- you know, one of those ones that bagels don't get stuck in.)
Until that happy day, though, you'll find brokerages offering frequent-flier miles, books, free Internet access, free trades, and just plain old money to entice you to open up an account. We've seen rewards as high as $500 (for six-figure balances), and $50 and $100 payouts are pretty common. With the cutthroat competition these days, these offers can be pretty attractive.
However, we wouldn't suggest making too big a fuss about the freebies. After all, they are one-time things, and a little cash isn't going to be worth the hassle if you decide you've made the wrong choice and have to move your account elsewhere. Still, free money is free money, and if you find yourself deadlocked on which brokerage to go with, cash (or some other perk) is a persuasive tiebreaker.