Shorting plugs....

Do these really work well? And if they do does one need to worry about unused Balanced inputs?
wow, nobody has an opinion? I want to order some for my dad for his AR Ref3 pre for Christmas, but not if its a silly snake oil product. ANYONE??
(Oops just noticed your question was for XLR, but I'll leave my response up for any RCA owners that want a cheap tweek?)

Prior to actually buying some...

I'm sure you have a box in your closet full of dozens of cheap generic RCA IC's that come with every electronic component which your likely never ever to use!

Take few sets and cut off the cable, hit the ends with a cigarette lighter to smolder them shut. Now plug all the unused in/outputs and see if you hear a deeper quieter "blacker" background?
I've tried RCA shorting plugs as well as non-shorting caps on the open inputs of one preamp I was having noise floor problems with. Note, you don't want to short open output connectors, only inputs. I noticed very little though some improvement. I made my shorting caps using old generic IC's as Audiobugged suggests (though I soldered the cable ends to ensure they indeed were shorted). This is an easy and free way to test for yourself.

I can't address your question related to balanced inputs.
Made my own shorting plugs to save money and I did notice an improvement despite still having open balanced inputs. You won't notice the difference right away, until you remove the plugs. Then, you'll put them back in immediately realizing that they did, indeed, lower the noise floor noticeably. Definitely not snake oil.