Monthly Archives: November 2012

How to Pick the Affiliate Link to Apply to

In my popular post titled “Credit Card Affiliate Links!” I discussed certain things that I felt were wrong with how bloggers currently “push” credit card links all the time. I discussed how, in a perfect world, the readers/consumers would have more complete information. Alas, we don’t live in a perfect world (and far from it if you’ve read Travel Blogger Buzz!).

So should you even use one at all? If yes, how do you pick which affiliate link to apply to?  And does it even make a difference?

Before I start, I need to make one thing clear: the ideal situation is for everyone to know how much money is paid for the commission. Disclosing the dollar relationship between the affiliate and the bank will help people decide, or at the very least wont hurt. But as I noted in my previous article on the subject, it seems many are contractually barred from providing that information. Still…we’re in the business of finding and exploiting loopholes. I’m sure there’s a way if they tried!

SHOULD YOU EVEN USE AN AFFILIATE LINK?

Many times we read posts about new credit cards or new offers and the writer says something to the effect of “I can guarantee that clicking through this link will get you the best available offer.” What they don’t mention, and it should be obvious to everyone, is that the same offer is also available directly from the bank’s website (i.e. chase.com, etc.). Of course it’s in the writer’s best interest to have you click through his or her link, because they’ll earn the commission. But you, the consumer and the person signing up for the credit card, get nothing different from one link or the other.

Why would anyone choose an affiliate link? You can probably come up with a lot of reasons, but in my opinion it boils down to whether or not you like the idea of affiliate links and commissions. Do you think that the commission was rightfully earned, and that the writer deserves compensation for “selling” you something? Or do you feel the opposite way – that the writer didn’t really provide enough value to you? Maybe you hate salespeople and don’t like the idea that you’re being sold something. Or maybe you feel like you need to pay someone back from the information you’ve learned.

Either way, it doesn’t make a difference to you the consumer. You’ll get your credit card and the points, regardless of whether a commission is paid out or not.

Which brings me to the second question…

IF YOU DECIDE TO USE AN AFFILIATE LINK, HOW DO YOU PICK WHICH ONE?

If you’ve decided that a commission is due to someone, how are you supposed to pick which one? After all, everyone and their mom seems to have an affiliate link for every credit card. If you’re a points addict and read The Points Guy, you probably also read View from the Wing and One Mile at a Time, among many more. Each WILL post the same credit card deal. How do you decide? I personally would pick after considering these items first:

  1. Which blog do I feel truly helped/taught me the most?
  2. Which blog provides the most original content?
  3. Which blog does not “push” links and make it obvious they want commission?

Number one is by far the most important. If you truly feel that one particular blogger helped you, why not reward them with a commission? They earned it! By all means, help them out by clicking on their link. Number two is related to the first point, but slightly different. The credit card post from The Points Guy will look very similar to the one from View from the Wing or One Mile at a Time or the rest of them. I think someone that provides original content, something new and different and useful, provides more value. Again, that person worked for the sale.

The third point might just be a personal preference for me. While I don’t hate affiliate links, I also don’t like that nearly all bloggers’ posts contain at least one affiliate link and sometimes even have a dozen of them. I feel that they really do push these links. We know why they do…we know they get paid. Sometimes it feels that thy’re almost asking for their commission outright. If you’re walking down the street and stop to listen to a guy playing the guitar, but then at the end of the song he nudges the guitar case full of coins towards you and says “donations are welcome,” I’d personally be less inclined to donate. If I feel like donating, I will; I know you want a donation and I’ll give you one if I feel you earned it. Likewise, I don’t need to see the affiliate links all the time (twelve times in an article is ridiculous). One is fine. Or keep it on a different page and just say it’s there.

DOES IT EVEN MAKE A DIFFERENCE?

I mentioned this before, but you the consumer will get the points and credit card regardless of what link you clicked on. Your payout is the same. The only difference is whether a blogger gets paid.

I will say this: it does seem like a shame to deny someone free money. It’s not like you’re the one that pays the commission. The banks are rich and get paid tons of money from credit card usage (and appreciate the sale), so them paying a few hundred dollars as commission probably isn’t a huge deal to them. In a way, we all have the ability to create income…for someone else. I guarantee you that it makes a difference to them.

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS

While disclosing the dollar amount for the commission is very important, it’s also important to note one other expectation we all have: only the best offers should be promoted. I don’t want to hear about the Frontier or Spirit Airlines cards, and a blogger would be kidding themselves if they told us it’s a valuable card to have in our wallet. Put simply, I expect that all bloggers will promote the offer that is the best offer in their estimation, and not put ANY WEIGHT on how much they get paid for it. It’s important, and I hope it’s as obvious to them as it is to us.

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FYI, I’ll be at FTU LAX! OMG LOL WTF!

On Friday 11/30, all manner of travel and points nerds will descend on the Sheraton Gateway hotel near LAX for a conference about, well, travel and points! The schedule was posted earlier this week and it looks like there will be some great seminars for both beginners and the more advanced folks, and all of them will be led by experts in the field.

This will by my very first conference of this kind, and I’m really looking forward to it. Why? Networking and learning! And not networking as in getting to know someone just so they can help you out one day down the road (though that is a benefit). Getting to know someone that you read about (or that reads about you) can prove to be extremely valuable, and in-person interactions are just so much more meaningful. Putting a face to a name just makes the relationship more tangible. We’re always sitting behind our computer reading about amazing trips and points schemes, so why not hear it in-person? It should be a blast for an addict like myself!

I’ll be staying at the host hotel during the weekend. If you want to meet up, tweet me! I’ll try to get to the MileValue In-N-Out dinner on Saturday night as well. There’s two full days, so I’m sure there will be plenty of time for everyone to meet who they want!

I’ll try to do some play-by-play tweeting so make sure to follow me on Facebook and Twitter for updates on what’s going on!

Travel Summary – 11/29/12

  • Ben from One Mile at a Time reports that the 100K point offer for the Chase British Airways credit card is back! (Make sure you know how Avios work before applying for this card)
  • The Frequent Miler discusses a few domestic travel options for credit cards that may not be obvious to everyone!
  • Points Envy explains that not all points are created equally, and why you need to be careful!
  • Million Mile Secrets wrote an article that makes people question his ethics, and the comments are as interesting as the post itself!
  • Scottrick details how to find out what hotel you’re booking off Hotwire!

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If you enjoyed this post and the others on this blog, feel free to follow me via the link on the right side menu, on Facebook, and via Twitter @TravelSummary.

How I Would Improve: The SPG Amex Credit Card

This is part of my new “How I Would Improve…” series in which I will discuss points- and travel-related items/programs that could be improved to the consumer’s benefit. Why? Because maybe if we (consumers) let the companies know what we want, they’ll be inclined to give us something. We can dream!

The SPG Amex is one of the best cards for non-bonus spend, but it could use an update.

Everyone has a go-to credit card for certain purchases. Many people choose the SPG Amex card for many of their purchases since it provides solid value:

  • Large chain of hotels, from relatively cheap to extravagant.
  • A HUGE list of airline transfer partners, plus you get 5K points for every 20K you transfer.
  • Widely recognized as having the highest per-point value of any loyalty points program out there.
  • Cash & Points option can make points EXTREMELY valuable.
  • SPG Gold status after $30K in annual spend.
  • Annual 2 stay/5 night credit toward elite status.
  • Relatively low annual fee of $65.

Despite all these great benefits, the card is far from being the “perfect” credit card. If I could improve this card in a realistic way (i.e. offering 10 points per dollar on every purchase is not realistic), then what would I add/change?

In no particular order:

ELIMINATE FOREIGN TRANSACTION FEES

There’s a large group of people that love their SPG card and love staying at SPG hotels around the world, but still never charge an international dime to the card even when staying at an SPG hotel. The extra bonus points you earn are just not worth the 2.7% foreign transaction fee, so the card stays tucked in the wallet or left home on international trips. The Chase Sapphire Preferred card, which earns 2 points per dollar on all hotel spend, does not charge a foreign transaction fee. Even though a Chase point might be worth slightly less, the dollar savings in addition to the points makes it a better option for many people.

If I prefer to use the Sapphire Preferred card over the hotel’s own branded credit card, something is wrong!

THE ABILITY TO EARN PLATINUM STATUS WITH SPEND

The SPG Amex currently offers Gold status for those that spend $30K on the card in a calendar year. This is actually a very weak (and almost useless) benefit. Many of us in the points game have or have had the Amex Platinum card, which automatically gives free SPG Gold status. Additionally, SPG Gold status doesn’t really entitle you to all that much anyway.

Also take into account that Hilton Gold status can be had by just owning the new Citi Hilton Reserve card. Oh, and Hilton Gold Status offers significantly better benefits than SPG Gold status does. In fact, most of the Hilton credit cards allow you to spend your way to top-tier Diamond status with $40K in spend.

I propose that the SPG Amex grant Gold status at $25K in spend and Platinum status at $40K in spend, allowing it to compete with the Hilton products.

ADD A BONUS CATEGORY (OR TWO)

How about 2x for gas, groceries, drug stores, restaurants, the zoo…anything! Many cards have bonus categories, and when I have the option I usually put spend on the card that earns the most points. Two Chase points at a restaurant or two Amex points at a grocery store are almost always worth more than one SPG point.

ANNUAL FREE NIGHT CERTIFICATE

Most of the other hotel-branded credit cards offer a free night every year in return for paying the annual fee. Some, like the Citi Hilton Reserve card, offer the free night after hitting a certain spend requirement ($10K for the Reserve card). The SPG Amex would become a fantastic card with a benefit like this, even if it were restricted to a certain category of hotel.

AN ONLINE SHOPPING PORTAL/MALL FOR BONUS POINTS

It doesn’t matter whether it only offered an extra 1 point per dollar or more, but having an online points mall would be a fantastic addition to the SPG program. Imagine how often people would use this card with the ability to earn an extra point or more for online purchases! Right now, Chase’s Ultimate Rewards Mall is the champion after Amex’s mall suffered an unexpected and sudden death.

Chase’s Ultimate Rewards Mall is one of the best shopping portals!

IS THAT FAIR?

Adding all these things would make this the clear-cut, undisputed champion of credit cards, but that’s not going to happen. We can, however, hope and/or pray for at least a couple of these changes. I personally would be a HUGE fan of eliminating foreign transaction fees since I stay at Starwood hotels abroad and don’t use the card. The ability to earn extra points or a free night certificate also holds some appeal.

Let’s be realistic though – adding some of these benefits would likely not be “free” additions. It would be extremely costly for Starwood to just hand out a free night certificate to everyone that has a card, so I don’t think it’s unreasonable for them to raise the annual fee of the card. Depending on what they added, I’d say a fee up to $95 would be reasonable.

Other changes, like the ability to earn Platinum status, could be a free addition since it likely wouldn’t cost Starwood much. In fact they might benefit from extra spending by customers trying to attain elite status.

Or maybe it’s just time for a completely new product. Hilton has several options with various banks – maybe it’s time for an SPG Visa/MasterCard from Chase or Citi. I wouldn’t even mind if they marketed it as a premium card for a $200+ annual fee if they could include everything I noted above, plus a nice sign-up bonus of course.

What do you think? Did I miss anything, or are there certain features you’d like more than others?

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If you enjoyed this post and the others on this blog, feel free to follow me via the link on the right side menu, on Facebook, and via Twitter @TravelSummary.

Travel Summary – 11/28/12

  • Gary reports that Singapore Airlines is lowering the points requirements for First Class on the A380!
  • Seth the Wandering Aramean notes that Japan Airlines is serving KFC as a holiday meal in economy, and Ben of One Mile at a Time pretends he was thinking of flying in the back of the plane!
  • Mike at The #Hustle Blog discusses the 2013 Chase Freedom bonus categories…and there are no grocery stores!
  • Elena of Giddy for Points is giving away free stuff!
  • Scott from MileValue is putting together a Saturday night dinner at In-N-Out during FTU!
  • I wrote about the personality of a points addict!

The Personality of a Points Addict

I’m frugal, but I’m not cheap. And I’m betting that if you’re reading this, you’re probably very similar dealing with your money.

Here’s my deal: I HATE paying full price for anything. This is just built in to me, likely because of my parents who were extreme couponers when they first moved to this country (and yes, they do have the “only $15 in our pocket” cliche story). I was taught to save and save and save. I was taught to keep the lights off during the day, and turn them off when I left the room at night. I was taught to not bother with name brand items, because generic stuff was just as good.

That’s not to say my family was poor when I was growing up. My parents worked really hard so that we could all live a comfortable life, and we did/do. Which brings me to a different point: even when my parents became “successful,” they kept buying the generic stuff and kept saving money. It was built in to them.

I, however, am a bit more materialistic. I notice the difference between a dress shirt bought from Nordstrom or Brooks Brothers vs one bought at Sears or Kohl’s. The thing is, I’d much rather pay $20 for that dress shirt than $75. In fact, I’ll go a step further and say I wouldn’t buy that $75 dress shirt unless I could get it at half off. So I’ll wait for a sale, combine it with a coupon, stack it with a discounted gift card, and earn credit card points for the purchase. With everything stacked I get the product I wanted for a much more palatable price.

Before I lose you, let’s compare that to the travel and points game. We know how much a normal flight from LAX to JFK costs…about $350+ if you just randomly look a month in advance. But we, as savvy travelers, don’t like regular price – we want the $220 fare, because we know it will become available eventually and because it’s a great deal. It’s the reason The Flight Deal’s website exists, because there are better deals out there, and they use an objective measure of that value. It’s the reason we have CPM (cents per mile) measures, and even the new Miles per Minute measure that Mr Pickles created.

In terms of points, a round trip business class ticket from the US to Europe is usually $5K. But again, we don’t like regular price – we want a deal. We know that 100K points can be had for A LOT less than $5K. In fact, with the right credit card sign-ups you can end up paying just $5 out of pocket for that ticket (as long as you never carry a balance). I’m no mathematician, but $5 is better than $5K when you’re the one paying!

The Frequent Miler takes our obsession to a different level, because the gift card churning game can literally create points for free (plus time and effort), and that’s why everyone loves him. He showed us another avenue to feed in to our obsession to save more money, something other than credit card sign up bonuses. He helped change the game, and we all love playing the game.

Back to my original point: I’d bet that many of us that are part of the points community are the same way in our normal lives as we are in our points lives. We want a deal, and regular price is for the uninformed. But I’m sure we all know people that we shake our heads at because of their purchasing decisions. You know, the ones that we see paying cash (gasp!), paying MSRP at Banana Republic (omg!), or even combining the two (WTF!).

What we do is definitely not a bad thing. Our points obsession is time consuming – there’s no question about it. Whether it’s keeping up with FlyerTalk, taking the time to read all the blogs every day, or driving to several Office Depots or CVSs, there is a significant time commitment. The way I see it, we all value our time differently, and we all have different amounts of money. I, and I think many of us, would rather spend more of my time to figure out how to save more of my money to fuel my travel hobby. Of course there are many cases in which paying more to save time is worth it as well, but everyone has their own calculation.

By the way, this is where that Miles per Minute calculation comes in handy. We all dream of creating passive income for ourselves, so why not create a passive points income as well? It’s a different, intriguing way to think of the game!

So tell me – am I right or wrong? Are you different from what I described, and do you have different reasons for playing the points game?

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If you enjoyed this post and the others on this blog, feel free to follow me via the link on the right side menu, on Facebook, and via Twitter @TravelSummary.

Travel Summary – 11/27/12

It’s been a quiet week in the points world – my hunch is everyone is preparing for FTU this coming weekend. I’ll be there…will you?

  • Frugal Travel Guy has an insightful post on how airlines value their points…and it’s WAY less than you think!
  • Gary explains how Award Wallet created a workaround to display Delta miles again!
  • Gary also found out that Amex will have a 35% transfer bonus to Virgin Atlantic! That’s an 80% bonus on Hilton points according to The Points Guy!
  • Angelina is turning one, and she’s giving away free stuff!
  • Mr Pickles explains how Costco used to give away free points, and teases that they still sort of do!
  • Stacy is giving away a year of Executive Status with National Car Rental!

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If you enjoyed this post and the others on this blog, feel free to follow me via the link on the right side menu and via Twitter @TravelSummary.