On Bloggers Killing Deals, Affiliate Links and Polluting the River

Few things in this hobby get people quite as riled up as bloggers monetizing their blogs, talking to the media, killing deals, or just existing. Despite being on the receiving end of a healthy amount of vitriol, I don’t understand it. I also don’t understand people who bash other people’s heads in for wearing the wrong jersey. But I’m neither a psychopath nor a psychologist, so excuse my lack of insight on the subject. I consider myself a neutral party on the above topics (except for bashing people’s heads in, which I’m firmly against. I blog, sparingly, and write about deals but don’t have any affiliate links to promote as an incentive. Bottom line, I don’t have a dog in this fight. So I’m going to attempt to objectively deconstruct some of the arguments made against blogger monetization, talking to the media and killing deals.

Bloggers and Affiliate Links

There are very few bloggers left with major credit card affiliate relationships – it’s pretty much down to the top 5 blogs and I imagine between the pressure to hit sales targets and the number of posts they produce on a weekly basis, they are really raking it in. Is that a bad thing? I don’t think so. Most of the blogs that I find most useful and entertaining are ones with credit card affiliate links. Bloggers who have affiliate links can focus on blogging full time and as a result often produce more interesting content. When sales are down, you might see the occasional post that is clearly just a credit card ad. I look at these posts the same way I look at display ads – they exist to keep the blog running and cover expenses. They shouldn’t bother anyone and are easily ignored.

The only time credit card affiliate links can be a problem is when substandard offers are being shared because the blogger gets paid for them. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a blogger do this intentionally. Back when I managed the Frugal Travel Guy blog, I got accused of doing this a couple of times, which was never intentional. The policy at FTG (even internally) was very clear – we only promoted the best credit card offers. Even to the dismay of affiliates. So when a blogger shares an affiliate link that isn’t the best available offer, I try to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they’re not aware of the best offer…depending on who it is.

There’s also the argument that credit card pumping is bad for readers. There are those who claim that newbies, encouraged by greedy bloggers, are getting themselves into financial trouble to meet credit card spending requirements. This is constantly thrown out there, with very little evidence to back it up. The gist of it is that bloggers are driving them into financial ruin by encouraging them to apply for more credit than they can handle. What’s more, these financially ruined readers aren’t reporting their problems out of a sense of shame. 

This argument undermines a basic principle of adulthood: Everyone is responsible for their own actions. It is up to you, and only you, to manage your credit and determine how much of it you can handle. You cannot put 100% of your faith into a single person to guide you through anything. That doesn’t work out well for cult members and it doesn’t work out well when matters of personal finance are involved. So if readers are in fact getting themselves into financial trouble by mishandling credit, the blame can’t be solely placed on the bloggers for writing about credit card churning.

I also find it extremely hard to believe that in the bastion of anonymity that is the internet, this would be happening on a large scale without any of us hearing about it. I highly doubt people would shy away from sharing financial troubles caused by following bloggers’ advice with this cloak of anonymity so readily available. 

Since the Travel Blogger Buzz blog came out, there seems to be more awareness and accountability around these issues. That’s a good thing, but I’ll gladly call out George over his hypocrisy and tendency to get overzealous at times. I’ve gone back and forth with him in the past over affiliate links and “credit card pimping”. He seems to have come around because nowadays he’s doing the same thing on his blog. Why? Because revenue is necessary when you’re blogging full time. Not even the Pope works for free. How else do you justify spending 10+ hours a week writing blog posts with nothing more to show for it than a highly engaging comment section?

Blogs have become businesses and businesses need revenue to operate. We can’t expect bloggers to take a vow of poverty while churning out content for our enjoyment. Affiliate links (whether for credit cards or other products) keep these bloggers solvent and allow them to hire other writers. If bloggers can churn out good content that their readers enjoy, earn a living while doing what they love and employing others, that’s good all around. Though it does beg the question…

Do Bloggers Kill Deals?

The first major deal I saw killed in this hobby was when office supply stores pulled Vanilla Reloads off the shelves almost four years ago. At the time, there was nothing easier or more lucrative than buying $500 Vanilla Reloads for $3.95 and earning 5 Ultimate Rewards points per $1 spent. 

Many of the big blogs had published this deal right before it went bust. It was definitely a great opportunity to promote the Chase Ink Bold card, which at the time offered an affiliate commission of $500. Imagine a blogger trying to figure out a way to promote a business credit card to non-business owners and all of a sudden they’re given this gift from the gods. Needless to say, a lot of eBay businesses went up that month.

Things fell apart and people jumped to another hobby: The blame game. A lot of people blamed bloggers for overexposure. Seasoned vets blamed the newbies, newbies blamed the large-scale manufactured spenders. The most common line from store managers was that they were concerned about fraud. Maybe they assumed we were doing something illegal. Or maybe there were actual criminals who outnumbered us and ruined this deal all on their own. The bottom line? It stopped being profitable, so office supply stores put a stop to it.

Were the blogs to blame at all? To a degree, yes. Whether those SEO-friendly blog posts reached a huge number of newbies who ruined everything or a small group of overzealous pros, at some point there were too many Vanilla Reloads being purchased and it just wasn’t profitable for either office supply stores or Chase. 

Even small time bloggers shared some of the responsibility. The big blogs have more readers and a greater impact outside of the hobby. I look at this like dumping toxic waste into a river vs. minor littering: They both contribute to pollution. 

Bloggers Talking to the Media

Throughout the years, I’ve done a few interviews and media appearances. In my experience, it doesn’t do much for traffic (I’ve gotten more hits from Gary Leff linking to my blog than a mention in the Huffington Post). What these media appearances do is incite a lot of anger in the community over “exposing” the hobby. After all, this could lead to the end of on-board showers and spa treatments at fancy club lounges.

Should bloggers be talking to the media? Unless they’re sharing sensitive information, I don’t see the problem. When a blogger shares their award redemption story with Forbes, it’s harmless stuff. I do think it’s wise to be discreet about some of the more fragile aspects of the game. Especially, if mass exposure could decimate these deals. I’ve had reporters ask me about gift card churning and I simply declined to talk about it. It’s one thing to write about it on my blog, but broadcasting it on NPR is reckless.

That’s my long-winded way of saying we all play a part in destroying this hobby and killing deals. This is our little ecosystem and we’re all polluting the river. There’s no sense in having a meltdown when it happens. Enjoy it while it lasts and then move on to the next thing when it doesn’t.

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  1. hollyatclubthrifty

    I think a certain percentage of the population just hates the fact that people have blogs. They hate the idea that people have a platform to speak from, and they really hate the idea of people making money. I think it comes down to jealousy and envy, and I would never say that if I didn’t truly believe it. People are mad that you took the time to create or build something. People are mad when you put up banner ads. People even get mad if you have any kind of affiliate links at all, yet they are more than happy to come and read your free content every day.

    • WrestlingCoach

      Wow. You write about other people being mad, but you come across as a very angry person yourself.

      Did you ever pause to think about WHY people are acting the way you describe? That would add some balance to your rant.

      Personally, I don’t care if you make money off your blog or fill it with links. But you must be upfront about it–don’t pretend you are sharing some awesome info with me without telling me you’ll make $500. Many bloggers neglected to do that for far too long.

      • hollyatclubthrifty

        Wrestling Coach,

        You can’t possibly be serious. I’m not mad at all. I’m only speaking about a small percentage of people who hate bloggers and take out their frustrations on them. If you don’t fall into that camp, then I’m not talking about you at all. There’s no reason to be so defensive about it. Lighten up! =)

        Most people would be crushed if they received the type of personal hate mail I receive on occasion. When you write in a public forum, you really do have to let it roll off your back.

        • WrestlingCoach

          Ok, when you wrote “certain percentage”, I assumed you meant something substantial, something worth worrying about, something worth commenting on….but now you say it is a “small percentage”. These are all “fuzzy numbers”, no?

          Bottom line is that you will always have some crazies involved in whatever you do Esp. with respect to the Internet), so why even talk about them? IOW, why post something that concentrates on the 1% (or whatever)?

          Let’s be more positive, or, as you write “Lighten up!” 🙂

          • That’s actually a good point to remember – there are far more positive people in this hobby than negative. It’s best to focus on them.

          • hollyatclubthrifty

            What? There are billions of people on the internet on any given day. Anyone who can do math would know it’s a small percentage. Why even talk about them? Because this whole blog post is about them, and this is the comments section. Of course I’ll comment however I want. Feel free to keep scrolling! =)

          • hollyatclubthrifty

            Very true, Ariana. The good far outnumber the bad. The negative ones are usually just the most vocal. Either way, you can’t let them ruin your day.

      • “Don’t get ,ad! So emotional! ” Pop a Midol grandpa or learn to deal with women expressing their thoughts.

    • I’m sure that’s part of it. Which explains why, when given the chance, they do jump on the affiliate band wagon eventually.

  2. Ariana:

    Thanks for the back link.

    I am not going to waste my time proving to you how wrong you are. You simply don’t get it. Just like with the structuring post.

    C’est la vie.

    Best of luck to you in whatever you decide to do next.

  3. Great post. Thanks for the clear head.

  4. WrestlingCoach

    “That’s my long-winded way of saying we all play a part in destroying this hobby and killing deals. This is our little ecosystem and we’re all polluting the river.”

    By “we”, are you referring to “bloggers” or your readership? Your writing is not clear here but I think you made the case for it to be about bloggers.

    And if it’s about bloggers, why don’t you propose some changes? At least some people have yelled about bad practices long enough to get the bloggers to clearly post their affiliate link policies.

    If this blogging thing is important to you, I’d think you’d want to improve it.

    • By “we” I’m talking about everyone who engages in this hobby, whether they’re blogging about it or clearing out gift card racks and buying large numbers of money orders. I’ve always proposed staying under the radar to keep things going. As for bloggers – keep fragile deals under wraps.

      • You call George a hyporcrite? What about this:
        “I’ve always proposed staying under the radar to keep things going”…Are you talking about your postings about your $40,000 a week MOs?

      • >>>>>>>>I’ve always proposed staying under the radar to keep things going.

        This from a blogger who keeps posting “My MS week activities” full of dollar amounts and even identifying specific stores.


        • Staying under the radar = not drawing attention to yourself while ms’ing. A small audience reading about my ms activities isn’t going to bring this hobby crashing down. As I said we’re all polluting the river, which is why I’ve cut back on detailed posts.

        • WTF? Don’t take writing advice from a bitter troll who writes dumb clickbait nobody clicks on.

          • Whoa, “Jade”. In just two comments, you’ve managed to be the bitter troll you talk about. “Pop a Midol, Grandpa”? Really?

            How about you add something to the conversation instead of your silly insults?

        • That’s what blogging is, no? Or is it reposting everyone else’s posts with no original input?

      • WrestlingCoach

        Ahhh…so your “poisoning the river” comment is about ALL of us?!

        But your comment is misplaced. Your immediate examples above are referring to GREED, and NOT about broadcasting the information to the masses. Two different things.

        I may be a little greedy (but that’s subject to interpretation) but I am certainly not a blogger who tells a bunch a people how to be greedy. Big difference so don’t lump me in with those that poison the river. That’s (almost) all on you bloggers!

        • If there’s an actual example of me telling people to “be greedy” rather than an “interpretation” I’d love to see it. Since you’re not understanding the metaphor, I’ll put it simply: If you’re ms’ing in large numbers or getting other people in on it, you’re contributing to exposure. Everyone plays a part – not just bloggers. Frankly, all these angry feelings are better channeled towards doing something about actual river pollution, but everyone has different priorities.

  5. I guess I should blame the bloggers for telling me about how to use Vanilla Reloads and Bluebird/Serve and all those other creative ways of MSing. They should have all stopped reporting on those subjects once I got involved. And I have only the bloggers to blame for my wife and I taking about 20 free flights a year for the past three years. There are just too many people out there who think the world revolves around them.

  6. Where do you get off!!!! Saying adults are responsible for their own actions!!!??? It’s 2016! 😉
    As far as CC debt, I managed to rake in about 18K of it. But I’ve been about 20K in debt since 2011, when I bought my first car, and before I had ever heard about Travel Rewards. (Typically just as I pay it all off, I’m about ready for the next big thing) The only interest I’ve ever paid is on that car loan, never given a dime to Chase, Citi, or Amex, except for AF’s. I don’t know how much Chase has paid out to me— 11K Airline ticket here, 2400 Hotel Stay there (I know the airlines/hotels front most of that bill). Maybe I’m too comfortable in debt. Not to say I’m not looking to the future, either. I have a healthy amount in retirement accounts, much more than the debt I have. But I’m in no way prepared for any kind of emergency ;p

    Speaking of hobby killing… I was recently in Safeway and went to purchase some Gas GC’s, cashier stopped me and said the new limit on GC’s was $200 daily. CRAZY! I have no doubt this was fraud related and not MS related, but that’s insane to me. Even regular people spend more than that around Xmas time, right?

    • I know, I’m awful! That’s completely insane to me that they’d limit purchases to $200 daily. I saw a photo on Twitter of a sign they put up – it was stating the daily limit was $50 and “we may verify the identity of the purchaser at checkout.” That tells me they’ve had some fraud issues. Maybe in this case talking to a manager about why “we” buy cards might be helpful.

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