The Credit Card Affiliate Links Controversy

T here has been a fierce debate pertaining to credit card affiliate links amongst those who “blog” about travel, miles and points — and that debate has been heated up recently by Ric Garrido of Loyalty Travel.

Although I would not label anyone an “airhead”, I thought it was a well-written article which was frank, honest and personal.

Unbeknownst to me, I received a live preview of that article as I walked with Ric down a crowded sidewalk on the east side of Las Vegas Boulevard one evening not long before he posted that article; and we were pretty much in agreement on this issue pertaining to affiliate credit card links.

In a rare display of passing judgment, Mikel Bowman of ThreadTripping suggests in this article that any irresponsibility on the part of people who abuse the use of their credit cards have nowhere else to look but in the mirror at themselves.

While I agree with the basic tenet of that assessment by Mikel, there are those people who do not agree. Can “bloggers” who actively promote credit card affiliate links really be responsible and blamed for influencing their supposed selling tactics on unsuspecting readers who take their word and play dangerously with their credit in order to attempt to maximize frequent travel loyalty program points and miles as well as elite status? Is it similar to the bar which can be held liable for whatever happens if one of its bartenders gives a patron too much to drink and allowing him or her to drive home?

I poked fun at affiliate credit card links in this satirical piece of fiction titled Sapphire, Ink and Other Cards: My First Posting, which was originally written on May 23, 2013…

…but even though that article was meant to be purely a piece of levity, this is what I wrote in conclusion:

My point is that the constant proliferation of referral links at certain weblogs can be ridiculous — despite how lucrative they may be to the “bloggers.” This is probably the farthest extent you will read with regard to anything written by me about those credit cards. I have never had a referral link to any credit card — ever — and I probably never will.

For now, I intend to stick with my credit cards which give me a percentage of cash back every time I use them, as I would much rather have cash than frequent travel loyalty program points or miles, which seem to lose value and have more restrictions placed on them every day.

However, I can use cash any way I want. I like that.

The idea of getting tens of thousands of frequent travel loyalty program miles and points simply for using a credit card — as well as earning elite level status — is certainly enticing; but then you are at the mercy of the frequent travel loyalty program and its policies and rules. You got your 50,000 miles — only to find that the travel award you want has increased to a required redemption of 60,000 miles. You achieve elite level status — only to have benefits removed from it unexpectedly.

It can be enough to convince someone to support frequent flier loyalty programs to be regulated by the United States government.

Although I did write a basic article about credit card “churning” and how you can benefit from it on April 15, 2012 — and yes, I did warn about the potential risks of engaging in that activity — this article posted on November 23, 2012 also expresses my thoughts pertaining to credit cards.

I have probably left a lot of money on the table — a lot of money — by not taking part in what I consider the “feeding frenzy” over credit card affiliate links. However, there are several things I never liked about the idea of posting articles with affiliate credit card links:

  • I do not want to be a salesperson for big credit cards companies
  • I do not like the idea of pushing something incessantly upon you — especially if I do not completely believe in it myself
  • I do not want some outside entity dictating what I should and should not write in my articles; nor telling me how I should edit them
  • Although I do commit my fair share of errors, I do not want to mislead readers of The Gate or What’s Your Point? in any way, shape or form, as I want you to trust what I write

 

Just to be clear, I am not saying in any way that those “bloggers” who do promote credit card affiliate links are doing anything wrong. In fact, the reason why they keep doing it is because there is a market for it; and as long as that market exists, it will continue. If no one patronized them or their links, you had better believe that it would come to a grinding halt — quickly. Supply and demand, you know.

I have no interest in reading articles which promote credit card links — let alone have any interest at this time to promote them myself; and I most likely never will do so for the aforementioned listed reasons. Credit card affiliate links and extreme “manufactured spending” are simply not for me.

George of TravelBloggerBuzz has long been adamantly opposed to the proliferation of credit card affiliate links, which is at least part of the reason why that weblog was founded by George in the first place; but he constantly highlights those articles to the point of ad nauseum — here is the latest list of articles for your consideration. One can argue that many of the weblogs on his list of Blogs I Ignore are some of the most successful weblogs of miles, points and travel in terms of revenue and income.

Personally, I believe that we as “bloggers” need to be held accountable to keep what we write in check to ensure that we deliver content to you which you find useful, valuable, informative, interesting, insightful and entertaining — and you can help towards that goal with constructive criticism on your part. I personally welcome it.

In the meantime, I will keep using credit cards which offer me as much as five percent cash back — more during promotional periods. I will keep paying off those credit cards in full every month, as that is the fiscally responsible thing to do. You see, to me credit cards are like a free loan for up to a month, using the money of credit card companies interest-free. I get a statement from each credit card company of my expenses listed nice and neatly; I pay with one payment electronically; and my cash back balance adds up slowly.

I am a customer credit card companies love to hate and plan to keep it that way…

…and if you do not like articles with credit card affiliate links, there is one simple solution:

Do not read them.

15 thoughts on “The Credit Card Affiliate Links Controversy”

  1. Seth says:

    “Personally, I believe that we as “bloggers” need to be held accountable to keep what we write in check to ensure that we deliver content to you which you find useful, valuable, informative, interesting, insightful and entertaining — and you can help towards that goal with constructive criticism on your part. I personally welcome it.”

    Herein lies the issue. With the proliferation of credit card affiliate links, bloggers are becoming lazier and lazier. I’d be interested to know what percentage of blogs postings 3-5 years ago or more related to tips, tricks, and trip reports and what percentage related to credit card affiliate links. I’m guessing a much smaller proportion was affiliate links. Unfortunately, a few blogs here became very successful and a ton of people jumped on the blogging bandwagon. But rather than produce interesting and useful content, the authors had dollar signs in their eyes and chased the referral dollars.

    The quality of blogs on BoardingArea becomes worse and worse everyday. Recently a ton of new blogs have been added to the network and few of them actually offer anything useful. In fact, many of these blogs are shameless in their shilling for affiliate links. Its not just credit cards either. There are links for box of the month clubs, date idea companies, and other non-travel related products. Sometimes I wonder if BoardingArea is a travel blog network anymore. I’ve sent Randy Petersen an email about this, but I never received a response. I’m thinking he is too busy enjoying the advertising revenue generated by the useless blogs he has added to the network rather than caring about his core target audience.

  2. Joey says:

    So just to make sure I understand this fully— you don’t have any credit card affiliate links? May I ask whether you’re a full-time blogger just doing this on the side?
    I have nothing against bloggers who have credit card affiliate links, though I normally don’t read the top 10 credit cards etc. posts that they publish mainly because I feel those cards in the top 10 are heavily influenced by their affiliate links. Just look at what happened to those lists after Amex stopped its affiliate link program.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      No, Joey — I do not have any credit card affiliate links; and I have never earned one penny from credit card affiliate links.

      I started off doing this on the side but would like to “blog” full time to travel and report on those travels. In fact, I embark on my unintended trip around the world tomorrow…

      1. Joey says:

        That’s awesome and thank you! I always knew that some of the bloggers in BA do get affiliate compensation but didn’t realize the the money was over $100 per approved application! For some reason I always thought they got compensated by UR or MR points or the like. Regardless, your post and Loyalty Traveler’s post definitely was needed.
        Most people are very private about their use of credit, etc., including me. I rarely ever ask any of my friends about their credit history or how they use their credit but I know at least 5 friends who had to file personal bankruptcy since the recession started in 2008.

  3. Shaun says:

    I think controversy is kind of a strong term for this issue. I think bloggers have a right to profit of their time and effort put in for writing their blogs. If people don’t like it, don’t read it….it’s that simple. Even though it seem s like the Chase Sapphire card has naked pics of Gary & Lucky, I read their blogs because i find more times than not they provide informative and enjoyable reading. If they can provide the content and make some money, everybody wins i think, If a bloggers content isn’t valuable to people, then people will stop reading.

  4. Nick says:

    I support a bloggers ability to make income from his or her work as long as it is not overly obvious and consuming thus draining anything of interest or use from the blog itself.

    Also, slightly on topic: As a points enthusiast I often you credit cards like Chase Sapphire Preferred or ThankYou Premier. These cards are at the very least cash back at a decent percentage but have the versatility to transfer points to multiple Airline and Hotel loyalty programs making them not only potentially more valuable, but diverse and at your discretion, not limited to the policies and restrictions of any one loyalty program.

    Good Read. Thanks for sharing.

  5. >>>>>>he constantly highlights those articles to the point of ad nauseum

    I sure do. I have developed a problem and need to work on it. Or I could be nice to everyone, cross guest post, attend their seminars to learn tricks on how to market better and stuff like that. Not my cup of tea. I review blogs. Entertainment is primary and PSA is secondary 🙂 Someone has to call the BS when it is overflowing!

    >>>>>>>>>…many of the weblogs on his list of Blogs I Ignore are some of the most successful weblogs of miles, points and travel in terms of revenue and income.

    Absolutely true! And well done to them. Top 40 hits sell the most. It does not mean they are the BEST in quality. This is why I always liked alternative obscure bands but maybe it is just me 🙂 All this tell me is that these blogs are the best MARKETED blogs. Still no one has taken up on my idea for “Top 5 cards when you have diarrhea”. Won’t be long, running out of stupid reasons to push more cards.

    Thanks for the links by the way.

    Fird!

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      Thank you for your comments as always, TravelBloggerBuzz.

  6. hua says:

    I think you’re right about not reading articles that are primarily promoting card bonuses, and it has gotten to the point where that’s most of BA, and most articles of that nature can be identified by the headline. Unfortunately, that likely isn’t the case for new readers. Ideally each advertorial-style article should have a word in the headline such as “AD” or “sponsored message” so it is even more obvious that the affiliates marketer’s intentions are clear to everyone.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      That is an interesting thought, hua — especially when printed materials such as “advertorials” are required to disclaim intents to readers…

  7. ODTravel says:

    Brian, I’m glad you are getting in on this convo. Not that anything would change. Its pretty disgusting the way bloggers are pimping links these days. I read TBB for catharsis. I need it. Its gotten to the point where bloggers come up with fake posts with no content at all solely to push links! Sometimes 2 paragraphs with something bordering on idiocy like “Can you transfer capital one miles to singapore”-reader question and then the barrage of links follows.

    I mean TPG didn’t mention the 80K IHG until readers called him out but pushed his links, the UA explorer 50K thing was incredibly bad! These bloggers didn’t bother to publicize the better non-affiliate offer. Gary linked to a commenter as his way of acknowledging the offer but had direct application links everywhere-same with mommy points, OMAAT etc. Delta points didn’t push any AMEX products for ever until he got his referral links back. The list goes on an on….its terrible.

    I’m ok with bloggers making money. What I hate is the fake travel blogging….while the real intent is to convert applications! You can see through it from space! “Three reasons why I’m adding authorized users” REALLY??? BAM-CLICK MY LINKS!!! Now that’s what drives people like me…and TBB crazy.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      You know, ODTravel, we all have to earn a living somehow — except for those people who are fortunate enough to be incredibly wealthy — and I have no problem with anyone offering credit card affiliate links. In fact, if they are relevant to the article in which they appear and a “blogger” creatively integrates them, more power to him or her!

      It is the “click bait” headlines that entice readers to articles which are little more than advertisements that call ethics into question; and trust — in my opinion, anyway — is the most important asset any writer should have with readers.

      I also do not like the idea of the credit card companies dictating content and its structure.

      Thank you for your thoughts, ODTravel.

    2. >>>>> I read TBB for catharsis.

      I write TBB for catharsis and laughs 🙂

      Thanks ODTravel, I think your comment nailed it. It is so right on that in fact I may make an exception and add it to the Gem Comments weekly post but I may alter my title to something “The GateishTBB Gem Comments” or something like that. I have so many posts that ODTravel mentions just today that it is so ridiculous I may need to hire an intern (unpaid of course lol).

      Many of the blogs in my Like and Love lists have affiliate links. So the perception that I am against making money is spectacularly false!

      Gotta drive princess to dance class!

      1. Brian Cohen says:

        Go for it, TravelBloggerBuzz

        …and no, I have never suggested that you were against making money. I have not purchased anything from Amazon in a while; but if I do, you know where I am going…

  8. Matt says:

    I’ve learned about great sign up bonuses by conducting diligent searches using our good friend Google. I don’t ever use affiliate links; I’ve gotten the best bonuses by calling up the issuers directly and citing the bonus amount I noticed online. I have yet to strike out!

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