I knew this day would come eventually, just not so soon. When I published my first post on January 7, I thought in a few months’ time I might have some Google AdSense ads, perhaps earning just a couple hundred a year–enough to pay for my hosting services. I think it’s a testament to the popularity of my blog that I was instead picked up by BoardingArea and have gone far beyond a few text ads. That development was a necessary evil. BoardingArea provides a lot of exposure that would be much harder to develop on my own, and in exchange they get to serve ads on my site and take a cut. Randy and his team also do a lot of work to help develop their bloggers’ talents; I’m grateful to be including as one of them.
Most readers don’t seem to mind the ads, but the surest way to start an argument is to mention credit card affiliate programs. The difference is that while display ads are passive and I get paid just for having them, affiliates get paid for every card application approved, and it can be a considerable amount depending on the card. Just how much will that financial incentive sway a blogger’s review of the card’s benefits? My supposed goal as an affiliate is to do everything in my power to make you click on that link and APPLY NOW!
I like to think I’ve demonstrated some independence, and let’s hope some objectivity, in the last five months. I continue to be a big fan of Chase credit cards–as many travel bloggers are–but I have also pointed out repeatedly where I think some of them fall short, like how the United MileagePlus Explorer card is a poor deal for anyone with Premier Silver status or better. Other cards I may not like very much for long-term commitments, like the Citi ThankYou Premier card’s complicated Flight Points system, but I grudgingly admit these unique features could benefit certain customers.
I was particularly pleased when I came across a thread on FlyerTalk discussing who were the best bloggers, and one post said something to the effect that he read my blog and was amazed I could mention a particular credit card so many times without ever including an affiliate link. Well, duh, I didn’t have any then, but I was writing about it because I actually liked the card, and that was enough for me.
It All Comes Down to Money, Right?
The bad news is I’m going to be including those affiliate links now, but I don’t think it will change my content much at all. Three main factors lead to this decision:
- I occasionally get emails from readers asking if I have an affiliate link. Clearly there is a minority that actually wants them.
- I think, as I have described above, that I can remain impartial without pushing the links too hard. Please feel free to call me out if I become overzealous.
- It seems silly to leave money on the table when I already mention certain cards from time to time but have to point you to someone else’s link. Becoming an affiliate doesn’t mean I have to push the cards harder, just that I can get rewarded for what I already write about.
The corrupting influence of money is clearly an issue, so I want to lay it out for you. Grad students are overworked and underpaid. Still, I managed to survive comfortably for the four years before I was a blogger. The advertising revenue I earn already would not be a huge sum for most people, although I can’t help that it is a significant boost to my lower-than-average salary. I have tried not to become dependent on the new money. I expect the referral income to be much the same. At most, it will pay for some extra trips that I then get to write about, sharing those experiences with my readers. I am not planning to develop this into a money-making machine that can support me as a full-time blogger.
What Comes Next
Apparently banks take issue with the word “Hack” in my blog’s title, so I have only managed to get approved for links from Chase. At least Chase is one of the better banks out there for travel rewards cards. In the near future, I will be replacing generic links to Chase’s website with my own referral links and updating the disclaimers. I think I’ve been pretty good already when it comes to telling you exactly where these application links go; now I’ll just tell you they benefit me. In time, maybe Citibank and American Express will come around, but Chase is good enough for now.
There are very strict rules about sharing affiliate revenue. I can’t induce you to click on my links or split the money or do anything else along those lines. But I do have ad revenue to share, and to show you I’m serious about providing the best offers, I’m going to offer a “best card guarantee.” Many bloggers encourage their readers to email them when their own affiliate link isn’t necessarily the best. I will go further and reward you with a $10 Starbucks e-giftcard if you are the first to send me a link to a superior credit card offer. (I love these things; I can send one out in less than a minute using the iPhone app.) I’m actually paying you to give me an excuse to take down my affiliate links!
Other than that, I don’t expect the content to change much. I have my three credit card pages that provide quick summaries of airline cards, hotel cards, and flexible bank rewards cards. I also have a page warning you about the importance of protecting your credit score. I hope these will be enough for most people planning to apply for a new rewards card. From time to time I may mention a card I enjoy using (I have four personal cards and one business card with Chase, all of which I plan to keep for the long term). If I include a link, I’ll try to make it subtle and get it over with rather than a running advertisement. If a new card or a new offer comes out, I may write a post about it if it looks like a good one, but I’ll probably wait until other bloggers have had their say so I can read their opinions. I think I do all of this already, so like I said, not much will change.
I want to update you on a few other ads you may find around the site. In addition to the four BoardingArea ads, I also have an ad for Hipmunk. I think Hipmunk is great, and I’ve reviewed it several times. I’ve even visited their office. But I don’t get paid for this one–it’s just a show of my support. For a short time I replaced it with a Google AdSense widget, but that was only to get my account to the minimum required for a payout. My personal Google AdSense account is now done with. (I know there’s one little ad left out there but can’t find it to remove it; please let me know if you find it.) Finally, I have an ad for AwardWallet, a service many of you know and love and which I’ve also reviewed. I get a very small benefit in the form of free points and account upgrades if you sign up through my link.
In the future I might want to add affiliate links for Hotwire, Priceline, and CreditSesame. I use CreditSesame myself and have mentioned it before. I also use Hotwire and Priceline, but I will wait until I write a review of how to decipher the “hidden” hotels before I include their links.
Fair enough? Am I leaving something out? As always, I encourage you to leave your feedback in the comments or email me privately. I’m very grateful to my readers, and I hope that you will find your fears unfounded.