This is a piggyback post to B.Positive’s article a few days ago in which he discusses the allure of becoming a travel blogger. It definitely sounds amazing to live a jetsetter lifestyle and to travel all over the world in luxury, and get paid to do it. But as he and others point out, there are A LOT of other considerations that go into blogging full-time, and the difficulties are not always clear when reading the everyday blog posts we read.
For all the negatives pointed out, and as noted there are many, there are also quite a few positives IF YOU’RE WILLING TO PUT IN THE WORK.
See the thing is that it takes a lot of hard work and perseverance to become successful in most things in life. Becoming someone like the “famous” travel bloggers is like having success in any other field – to be the top or even generally successful you need to put in a lot of hours, and it doesn’t happen overnight. Even if you do put in all your hard work and time, it still may not work out.
At the same time, most of these travel bloggers did have full-time jobs at one point. As The Points Guy explains, he didn’t quit until he was already relatively successful. The Frequent Miler points out that he had very humble goals when he first started, but his unique approach has made him one of the leaders in the field very quickly. And Just Another Points Traveler adds that having a “YOLO” or “carpe diem” attitude can be a very helpful thing in life.
I don’t know all the different ways that the bloggers can make money because I don’t have anywhere need the readership they have. The basics of any travel website are Google AdSense, advertisements, travel award booking services, and perhaps some other special partnerships.
But it seems like the big money generator is now credit card affiliate links.
I say “seems like” because we don’t really know. As much as some bloggers try to provide disclosures about their links, it seems as if their contracts explicitly prohibit them from saying how much they actually make. It’s been pointed out that perhaps each blogger has a different earn rate, which would explain why the affiliates prevent bloggers from disclosing the payments to us. And besides…most people don’t exactly enjoy telling others how much they make anyway.
Thankfully we have a thing called Google, and I did a little bit of research and found a somewhat general range of how much they actually pay for a referral: $25-$200 per approved application, with the middle 80% of payments being $50-$150. These numbers are not necessarily correct and are more or less based on hearsay, so feel free to do your own research or let me know if you have better information.
Back to my point…some bloggers really do try to give complete information. Hack My Trip and Million Mile Secrets among others do a great job in trying to be as transparent as they’re allowed to, and I think many of their readers really appreciate that fact. Just read the (mostly) appreciative reader comments they get every day.
But while they try to be transparent, the fact that they cannot tell us how much they actually make presents a bit of a problem. For example, say there are two credit cards that each have a 50K point bonus with the same minimum spend requirement, but one of the cards is from Amex and the other from Chase. We would hope that a blogger would give us their recommendation based on their own opinions regarding the pluses and minuses of each program, but without knowing how much they make, there is a possibility that their recommendation is based on which card gives a higher referral bonus.
Gasp! Would they really do that to us? We hope and trust that they give their honest opinions regardless of how much each card pays them, but it also wouldn’t be hard to believe it if they were trying to maximize their earnings. And can you really blame them if that’s what they decide to do? I think to a large extent we are all motivated by how much money we make.
Let me be clear: I’m not hating on ANY travel bloggers in any way.
I actually really appreciate them. These people provide free information to people like me and this information helps improve readers’ travel lives substantially. As I pointed out in an earlier post, Lucky at One Mile at a Time even helped my brother out when he was in a bit of a situation abroad. These bloggers are absolutely providing free, useful information to thousands or more people.
I’m not hating on affiliate links either. Heck, if I had some I’d probably put them up also (though not in the same way). It’s just that there have been quite a few blog posts written that seem to solely advertise credit cards. There are posts when there’s a new card/deal, any time there’s a remotely related deal, and on the last days of the deal. It’s not a bad thing by any means, but I feel these blogs provide the most benefit to readers by providing travel tips and tricks or reviews.
One other point that is somewhat unrelated is in regards to certain consequences of owning new credit cards. I’m sure we’ve all known someone that was not very good with their credit, someone that ran up the balances on their cards and are now struggling to pay it off as they drown in excessively high interest rates. While most bloggers do have several articles regarding how to earn and maintain an excellent credit score and mention to always pay off their cards in full, there are bound to be people that are signing up for cards that they probably shouldn’t sign up for. Is it the responsibility of a blogger to care about these people and to put warnings on each credit card post? Or does that responsibility fall with the banks? That’s debatable. A similar argument can be made for gun sales (although this is on a MUCH greater scale): a gun shop can sell the guns, but do they bear responsibility of ensuring the buyers are trained to handle them? Or does the government? Maybe that was a bad analogy, but you get my point.
And while I’m throwing out my opinion on the matter, let me say that I think this is what’s made The Frequent Miler as successful as he’s been in such a short amount of time. He has affiliate links just like the others, but he never writes a post about just a credit card. He created a niche about how to create points for free or extremely cheap, and it’s original and useful and clearly thousands have found it extremely valuable.
I feel like I’ve been arguing against myself in this article, and I think that proves it’s a pretty complicated matter. I don’t mind that credit cards are part of almost every blog post because I can ignore it. At the same time I can understand why some people would prefer they not be blogged about so heavily. There is no right answer.
I think it would benefit the reader to know ALL the motivations behind why credit cards are promoted by bloggers. If readers could better understand why a blogger is promoting a particular card/program, they’d be in a position to make more informed and more effective decisions.
What do you think? Do you have more accurate information than I do? Am I completely off base here?
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