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Is It Fair to Criticize Bloggers for Their Affiliate Links?

Few things in this hobby are more controversial than bloggers and affiliate links. Except, bloggers who have credit cards affiliate links. The words “credit card pimps” get thrown around quite a bit, along with some less-repeatable epithets. Another common criticism is that “credit card shilling” leads to the production of lower quality content. There’s also the notion that bloggers and their lucrative relationships with credit card companies perpetuate the commercialization of and damage to the hobby. But how much of that criticism is really fair?

I’d be totally delusional to claim that mass exposure of this hobby isn’t causing damage. The more people get into credit cards and travel hacking, the more we all stand to lose. Rewards programs get devalued, credit card companies restrict approvals, and getting “free” travel becomes more and more difficult. But I would also argue that the blame can’t be entirely on the newbies.

Plenty of old timers abuse manufactured spending tactics to the point where they get shut down. Remember when Office Depot pulled Vanilla Reloads off the shelf? It wasn’t newbies cleaning out the racks and freaking out the cashiers – it was the old-timers who were less  timid about walking into a store multiple times a day and accruing miles at a crazy rate.

That being said, it’s totally fair to say that when too many people churn credit cards, the banks lose money and then decide to restrict approvals. But are bloggers responsible for that? Yes, to a degree they are. When bloggers appear on national media (guilty) and share details about how some of this stuff works, it can get shut down. Sometimes bloggers get unfairly blamed.

For example, a few years ago a blogger wrote a post about flying Emirates First Class after picking up five Alaska Airlines credit cards. Shortly after, Bank of America began restricting approvals for the card. Inevitably, the blogger got blamed. But it wasn’t actually his fault – turns out the bank was aware of this for some time and it just took a while to implement the change from a technical standpoint.

One of the good things that have come from mass exposure is a better understanding of what we do and why we do it. I’ve had conversations with Walmart Asset Protection Officers who initially thought I was buying money orders through illegal means. When I explained this hobby to him, he told me he knew about it and was satisfied with my explanation. It was because he’d been exposed to this hobby before that he was able to cross my name off his “suspicious person” list. Now the employees at that store understand the difference between hobbyists and criminals. It helps them do their jobs better and lets us continue to earn miles.

As for the argument that affiliate bloggers product inferior content? I don’t see any truth to that at all. In fact, bloggers who can actually earn a living from their blogs through credit card affiliate links have more time to devote to producing content. They can blog more consistently, hire other writers, and elevate their content game. It’s because they’re able to justify dedicating more time and resources to it. If they were doing it for free, it would be a huge time suck for nothing. That’s definitely been my experience as a blogger as well as a reader.

In conclusion, I don’t think bloggers and their affiliate links are doing all the damage here. There are plenty of people polluting the river, so to speak. Does mass exposure hurt this hobby? Absolutely. But so does reckless abuse of certain point accrual methods.

Do bloggers with affiliate links write worse content? Not at all. Sure, there’s the random credit card promotion post, but you’ll also notice these bloggers are way more dedicated to building useful resources for their audiences. That’s my two cents. Thoughts, comments, questions?

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4 Comments
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KRSW February 20, 2018

The criticism is well-deserved. I've seen countless times where a blogger will be promoting a particular credit card, which really is lackluster in benefits. Due to receiving substantial compensation per referral, they'll completely white-wash that this is a bad deal and intentionally not mention other cards which are better deals for their readers. Also, we're not talking $0.60/referrals like Amazon referrals here. Bloggers are getting a couple hundred per referral; thousands of dollars a month from these referrals. One of them even posted that they were getting $8k+ per month in referral fees.

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rc408 December 29, 2017

The more people informed of the hobby the more it will be abused (I cam into it years ago through Flyertalk and added to the masses (miss the US Mint :( )). One issue I have with some bloggers is that their affiliation leads them to discuss offers that are less enriching than others because of their affiliation. If I learn of a CC offer I will search independently for a richer offer before clicking through the bloggers link to sign up. If I find a better offer then the blogger loses my clickthrough.

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IBobi December 28, 2017

Banks walk a fine line between appealing to the masses (who they make their money from) while not opening themselves up to too much financial liability from the churners. It's a fascinating dance to watch.

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raytseng December 28, 2017

if a credit card company is offering a promotion, a promotion by nature should be a something the company wants consumers to have. It should be a win-win, the nature of the idea shouldn't be "hidden" promotion or hushed up as it should be good for all sides. So in general, exposure should have no losers. The idea that the credit card company is "losing money" because of their promo, and shoud is a bit ludicrous. If someone is abusing the terms of the promotion, the onus is on the promoter to have the right technology and terms/conditions to prevent the abuse. In general it is more "fair" that everything is out in the open rather than some people getting the good deal and others arbitrarily not getting it.. Getting burnt will cause the company to rethink and put out a Fair promo next time. The analogy would be like someone giving free food samples at your costco or your local trader joes. The are not hushing up the promotion or hiding it away. They WANT you to have it. If the issue is a person will take all the samples, the appropriate response is they should do 1 per person per visit, that is the restriction. If the issue is there are hordes of people, the sample givers don't need to move at lightning pace but slowly doles out the 2chips and dollop of guacamole while talking about the product.