The big dirty non-secret amongst popular travel blogs is that many of these bloggers make their money off of credit card affiliate links. So when you click on one of their credit card links, apply for the credit card, and get approved, the blogger makes money. I have no idea how much, but I’m guessing that it’s at least $50 per approved application, although I’ve read claims that a blogger can make up to $300 per approved application (which seems a little ludicrous, so I’m guessing it’s somewhere between those two numbers). This is why so many travel blogs have seemed to devolve into credit card affiliate websites, with seemingly every single post containing multiple credit card application links.
Now consider: if a blogger is getting paid a fair sum of money for every credit card application that gets approved, where do you think his incentives lie? Do you think that the blogger will recommend a card that pays a referral bonus or one that doesn’t? (i.e. why don’t we see more bloggers talking about the Citi AA card?) Or more cynically, do you think that the blogger will recommend the best offer out there for a particular credit card or just the offer that she gets a referral bonus for? (*cough*MileValue*cough*)
To be fair, gigantic credit cards sign-up bonuses are possibly the single-biggest change to frequent flyer programs in the past few years, and signing up for credit cards is one of the quickest ways to get involved in the game and get some “free” travel, so it’s understandable that blogs write about them a lot. (Want a free business class ticket to Europe? Sign up for the Citi AA card for 50k miles and then the Chase United Explorer card for another 50k. Meet the minimum spend with the help of Amazon Payments. Done.) But you’d hope that blogs would at least do what’s best for their reader, and not what’s best for their pockets.
Note that the credit card links I’m providing aren’t affiliate links, but instead, I’m linking to threads on Flyertalk. I generally consider the credit card forum on Flyertalk to be the definitive source for the best travel credit card offers out there. Since Flyertalk is a public forum, the wisdom of the crowd generally finds and promotes the best credit card offers out there. So whenever I’m looking for a new credit card, I always double check Flyertalk to make sure that I know what the best offers are, and then, if I’m feeling so inclined and provided that a blogger’s link matches that best offer, I might apply through a link on a blog as a token of appreciation for good writing or information.
If you’re wondering which blogs you can trust and which you can’t, I’d recommend reading some of TravelBloggerBuzz, as it’s his shtick to call out bad blogging practices. In the future, I might write about some of my favorite (and least favorite) blogs, but in the meantime, I feel like a heuristic you can use to judge the quality/trustworthiness of a blog can just be how many credit card affiliate links you see each day (more = bad).