Today Amex released an update to one of their more popular travel rewards credit card. Seven of the thirteen newest articles on BoardingArea (a site that hosts a number of travel bloggers) were posts about the card. Other bloggers are highlighting the new card. Twitter is aflutter with tweets about Amex. These posts are complete with credit card affiliate links that earn the author a sum of money for each person that clicks through and applies for the card.
What is an affiliate link? Basically it is a personalized link to a credit card application (for example) that tracks where the applicant came from. The credit card company then gives a commission, usually in the form of cash, to the originating website.
How much is that sum of money? The authors are forbidden by the banks to tell the readers how much they make, which is a big problem. I have heard it is $100+ per approval. It seems that these details are important to disclose for transparency sake.
Moreover I believe it is difficult, if not impossible, to accurately present various financial products (credit card, bank accounts) when an author’s financial livelihood depends on readers signing up for one credit card over another. Transparency is a good start in reducing bias, but I do not think it goes far enough.
I decided when first setting up my website NOT to include affiliate links. I completely understand the desire to use them in order to monetize one’s blog. I do not have much of a readership, however if I even got one or two people to sign up through my nonexistent affiliate link, it could pay for my website hosting for the year.
Right now running SingleFlyer is a hobby. The only way I have monetized my site so far is by running ads (as of today I have made a whopping $38 running ads in three months). The ads are run by an outside company (Google) and they have no editorial control over my website.
Am I interested in making money off of my website? Sure. But not if it comes at the price of influencing me in what I write. As of now, credit card affiliate links, by their nature, change the way authors post on their travel blogs. I’ll be sticking to keeping this as a fun hobby where you know what I write is unbiased by any financial gain and let the big dogs sell their credit cards.