Meta Updates About the Blog

One of the great things about a blog is its timeliness, you see right up front what’s new, what’s going on now. What’s not as good is that older posts can often continue to be useful, and for sure there’s a search function which I’ve found to be pretty good but you need to know what to look for.

Over time I’m written quite a few posts, how to’s, advice on travel that I suspect readers would continue to benefit from — either because they want to be reminded, or they weren’t reading the first time through.

So I’ve added two new pages to the blog, linked on the left hand side, Best Current Deals and Offers which I will try to keep updated and also Best Frequent Flyer Advice Compiled.

I’ve only just begun building these out, if you have suggestions I’d appreciate them, also questions that I ought o answer of a rather timeless variety I could do a current blog post on and link to on the best advice page.

You’ll also notice a new box on the left hand side, it was added a few weeks ago, which will let you subscribe to a daily digest of posts from by blog by email. I used to have an email list, from about 2003 through 2006 or thereabouts, and it was quite popular. With a change in blogging software that feature went away and it’s probably the single most common request that I get, some people prefer to get their content pushed via email so they don’t need to remember to check in for updates and they don’t want to miss content. Of course there are plenty of ways to accomplish this — follow @garyleff on Twitter, subscribe to this blog’s RSS feed using your favorite blogreader (I use Google Reader), friend me on Facebook. But I like to make sure that folks can read this in whatever way is most useful/convenient to them. Thanks to Randy’s staff at the House of Miles for bringing back the email digest feature.

Another slight change is that I’m testing some referral link offers, really for my own understanding. Hopefully you’re listen to my explanation, because I’m not really looking to monetize the blog in new ways. In fact, some will remember that I expressed concerns and sought advice on blogger junkets. I think it’s really important that readers be able to trust and find useful the content that I write. I’ve never taken a free hotel stay. My hotel experiences aren’t ‘the same as everyone else’s’ — they’re primarily the experience of an elite member who pays close attention to which hotels offer the best treatment and which award redemptions or rates offer the best value. So they’re replicable. Based on the number of bad hotel stays I’ve had, I’ve never gotten the sense that hotels are treating me differently because I blog though you should always consider that it’s possible even if I don’t realize it (and I don’t ever do a “DYKWIA” and try to throw blogger weight around, some would argue that I am too heavy but it’s unlikely that I would otherwise carry much weight in any case).

I had a really useful exchange with Daraius from Million Mile Secrets on the topic.

Personally, I find excessive pushing of affiliate offers to be aesthetically distasteful. And I wouldn’t want to offer different advice, ever, because there’s an affiliate marketing offer. It’s hard to imagine anyone being offered money to promote something wouldn’t be influenced, Daraius thought it would be an interesting business school study to look at things like frequency of posts about credit cards, comparison of similar offers and whether promoted offers are mentioned more, etc.

At the same time, banks are offering referral commissions and sending applicants to the banks while declining those commissions seems silly. Perhaps the bank money could be put to good use. Like donating the funds to charity, or reducing the amount of paid consultation work that I do and offering that time up to help frequent flyers without charge. In other words, not actually bumping up my own income, but using the referral cash to do some good. Corny? Maybe.

But my motivation here is mostly curiosity and it doesn’t represent any kind of real change in the blog. Rather what actually prompted me to be willing to put up a handful of referral links is the recent meltdown in shopping portal offers from EasyCGI (US Airways, Hawaiian Airlines) and Verizon Wireless (American, Delta), I realized just how ignorant of affiliate marketing I really was. I didn’t even understand why I needed to create a separate AAdvantage Shopping account, since I already had an AAdvantage account, I certainly didn’t realize I was interacting with Cartera Commerce not American Airlines.

I’ve criticized blogger junkets and referrals to a certain extent out of ignorance. I’m not going down the junket route, but I think I’ve done my readers a bit of a disservice in recommending shopping portals, bonuses they offer, etc. without fully understanding how affiliate marketing works. So if I can boost my own understanding, learn about better offers earlier, and use resulting cash for good purposes, it’s worth signing up for a few and seeing what I can learn. I don’t know much yet but if you have any questions about all of this, please feel free to ask, mostly I wanted to be transparent in my thinking.

I also thought I’d share some early choices in links. I have only linked to offers of credit cards that I actually carry in my wallet plus also the Southwest Rapid Rewards 50,000 point signup offer, largely because Mommy Points posted on it this morning and I realized that for some folks interested in cheap travel (I’m not personally interested in flying Southwest) it can be a really useful offer.

I do think it’s really important to never have an offer up that is less than the currently most-lucrative available. Not even just saying “don’t use my referral link, use this one instead” but actually taking down the link (which I’ll try to remember to do) whenever there’s a better one out there.

Some folks in the modern age wouldn’t ever do a bonus of less than 50,000 miles. I think of it a little bit differently, it depends on spending patterns, my wife’s business has very high spending in a bonused category for instance and I got her a credit card for that purpose, rather than waiting for a better signup bonus, because I thought that the bonus miles from spend foregone would be greater than the loss of future signup bonus miles. I wouldn’t tell anyone to sign up for a 15,000 mile bonus offer for the 15,000 miles as a signup bonus but I might describe why an offer of less than 50,000 miles might be valuable in certain circumstances.

Anyway, it’s all an experiment. Perhaps I’m too close to it to judge and I”ll count on my readers for feedback along the way. I trust and appreciate y’all!

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I signed up for my first ‘FAM’ trip yesterday when I was invited to stay at the new Radisson Blue Aqua in November.

    Two years ago I was advised to start affiliate marketing if I ever wanted a sustainable business model, but I haven’t gone that route yet.

    Seemed like there would be other opportunities arising, though they don’t seem to pan out for revenue.

    I am interested I’m reading feedback you get here.

  2. One quick comment, and maybe I’m missing something. I only really check my blogs through RSS reader and when I signed up for yours, I found I had to get all of the Boarding area bloggers as well. Do you all have separate RSS feeds? Is that something you could set up? I enjoy a few BA bloggers but all is too many.
    Mike

  3. Strictly my point of view but, as a reader, I would question any review where the blogger received something free that he/she was not entitled to as a member of the program (i.e., something that John Doe couldn’t get as a member of that program). Please note, I’m not questioning your integrity; I’ve read your blog long enough to know that you don’t pull punches. But I think it would be psychologically impossible to separate the “I got something free” from the review of the property, plane, etc.

    Having said that, I have no problem with your getting a commission on a card you are recommending (or not recommending, for that matter). Why do I think that the latter is okay? Simply because the benefits to a credit card are “hard” benefits, where I know exactly what I’m getting, as opposed to a free blogger boondoggle (blogdoggle?), where you will receive numerous “soft” benefits. In addition, there is far more information transparency on the benefits of the credit card than the blogdoggle.

  4. Regarding the affiliate income (I have non travel affiliate sites), they are fine to post (and keep the money) long as you do it right – like you say don’t keep re-posting some “offers” because they generate affiliate income. It’s a fine line but I think when you think about it objectively it’s not that difficult.

    Also keep in mind you as a celebrity travel blogger you need a disclaimer which covers your relationship when you endorsements for products that you receive for free or are paid affiliate commission on (http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2009/10/endortest.shtm).

    Among the travel bloggers I do see posts which are appear to me to be money grabs, and at times that bugs me.

    One of the worst examples was when someone posted an post regarding “I’m going to try Lexington Law” along with affiliate links that most likely brought that blogger $40 per sign up. I felt that was un-ethical since it really provided no real information as to the results provided by the paid service, but the story was worded to get people interested in the affiliate offer. (I did not criticize the author at the time since obviously the author felt the post was appropriate… but I should have.)

    Other times I see repeat posts on the same card – i.e. Amex Platinum – that are affiliate links and its clear the authors are trying to justify the value in a card with a $450/annual fee – and most likely a HUGE affiliate commission.

  5. I’ve only been reading your blog about 6 months but feel comfortable you will do the right thing. Trust your instincts and you will be fine. If something doesn’t sit right with you then you are probably going too far. As long as you really believe the offer is truly a worthwhile one then by all means put up a link. Just don’t shill for poor deals or less than the best offer.
    For me the issue all comes down to disclosure. If there is a great credit card offer out there, and you are going to recommend it anyway, then by all means put up a link and get a (disclosed) commission if someone wants to apply for it through your link. When I hear about a great card offer and go to apply, I look for a link on a site like yours as a great way to pay the blogger back all the for excellent advice they provide.

  6. My opinion: As long as you disclose your affiliation and it’s an offer that you have or will do, then I think it’s okay.

    An example of my disclosure today: “The Mr. Rebates link does offer me compensation if you sign-up and make a purchase. To sign-up without the referral link, click here. The compensation received will never influence my content, topics or posts Any compensation I do receive flows back into my blog. If you make a purchase, Thank You for supporting my blog.”

  7. @Gary, you probably already recognize me by now. That’s because I’ve been following your blog with interest probably from Day 1. You’re my “go to guy” in all things frequent flyer-related and that’s not a small statement, since I’m not a novice, myself. There are a handful of others that I trust, respect, and follow — Lucky (One Mile at a Time), Brian (The Points Guy), Matthew (Live and Let’s Fly @ UPGRD), and I recently discovered Mommy Points and like her, too, mainly for her cheerful energy and enthusiasm (and she’s quite creative when it comes to using her hard-earned miles and cash).

    So I’m VERY alarmed that you have chosen to compare notes with Daraius, who is, quite frankly, an ass. Not only is the man just abusing the system and milking it for every dime/mile possible, but his style is arrogant (“I’ve earned millions of miles without flying — look at me — weeee!!”) and his advice mostly just a rehash of other blogs and interviews of other bloggers (no original content). He’s exactly what you shouldn’t be.

    Of course there are others out there who are also in the “churn” game (like Ric, the Frugal Travel Guy and probably the original churner), but Ric is neither arrogant nor into ripping off other blogs’ content. While I don’t subscribe to his particular brand of gaming the system (I don’t churn) nor his taste of travel (I’m more into aspirational awards, as you call them), I do check his blog daily, because he does offer unique and original insight, his own analysis, and even breaking offers that he gets through his contacts at the credit card link company or companies.

    So for God’s sake, @Gary, don’t stray too far, because it’s a slippery slope! 🙂 I don’t know what else I’d read with my morning coffee!

    PS: I’m not saying that you shouldn’t profit somehow from your blog (whether in cash or perks), as long as it (the blog) doesn’t lose its essence!

  8. Gary,

    I’m not a SouthWest flyer either, but 50,000 points was something my credit score could handle. I’ll be cashing in for $500 worth of hotel gift cards… or maybe I’ll reduce that a bit and get a steakhouse gift cert. I have to doublecheck, but I think Mortons participates in the gift cards.
    Even after the annual fee, I still come out ahead.

  9. @A.S.- Please note that Rick Ingersoll is the Frugal Travel Guy and uses a k in his name.

    Just want to clarify this Ric, Loyalty Traveler, is the anti-bank guy who rarely writes about credit cards and hasn’t opened up a new credit card account in the past ten years.

  10. @Ric: Duly noted! I was, indeed, referring to Rick (with a “k”). 🙂 In fact, your blog is also part of my daily morning routine and I only didn’t mention it, because I was speaking specifically of frequent flyer programs (as opposed to frequent guest). Congrats on a very informative and veeery detailed blog! 😉 I have taken advantage of numerous promos and special rates which I read about first on Loyalty Traveler!

  11. Should I be surprised that the 4 “best” credit cards on recommendation all earn a commission for your referral to them? Probably not, sadly. Not even a disclaimer that you’re profiting on the recommendations. I’m not impressed.

  12. @Seth there’s no secret since I detail very clearly in the post you’re replying to. The page in question is very much a work in progress, but lists not the 4 best credit cards but the 4 best current signup bonuses. Are you aware of better bonuses? I have a couple to add, eg a Continental one, but would appreciate your suggestions as most of the really lucrative ones I was aware of seem to be on hiatus.

  13. I think you’ll be fine from a business and ethical standpoint. Does anyone trust Oprah less simply because she ran commercials on her show? No. I don’t think you even need to justify it with donating the proceeds to a greater good, or to become educated about affiliates.

    The key is to do it on a limited basis and be selective. It’s pretty obvious when a blogger has let the commercial incentives drive the bus. The website becomes cluttered with ads and signup links. And, they start to post affiliate links for card deals that are worse than the best offer available. I really applaud you for this policy in particular:

    “Not even just saying “don’t use my referral link, use this one instead” but actually taking down the link (which I’ll try to remember to do) whenever there’s a better one out there.

    My personal opinion is that when bloggers run signup ads for deals that are not the best for their customers, they’ve gone over the edge from independent to commercial.

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