Blogger, don't ask for credit card affiliate links


In the past few weeks, 3 events have piled up in my mind: a series of e-mail and voicemail messages I received from representatives of; a post by PointsChaser about being censored by Barclaycard; and this ridiculous hack job by Gary Leff this afternoon.

This post is my reflection on those three events, and a plea to readers – but especially bloggers – to just say no to credit card affiliate links.

Bankrate doesn't realize I don't work for them

Back in June, I signed up for an account on, one of the many web fronts of the same company that generates most online credit card affiliate links. Since I wasn't interested in cluttering up my website with banners, advertising text, and the other bullshit that company produces, I just pulled out the underlying links and linked directly to the cards I was writing about. I wrote about the two decent signup bonuses offered by that company, and forgot about it.

A couple months later, after not having made any money, they fired me, which I also wrote about here.

Here's the e-mail I received:

"A review of has revealed that you are still displaying links that have been scraped from Unfortunately, at this time, we must remove you from our Affiliate program. Please remove all links that direct readers to application pages from immediately. Failure to remove this content in a timely manner may prohibit you from marketing cards through our program in the future."

If that seems like a mutually satisfactory resolution, you'd only be half right. After firing me, they then have continued to pester me up until the present day with obnoxious e-mails like this one from Camille Thomas, dated August 7, over a year after being removed from their affiliate program:

"I hope all is well. For your site , Freequentflyerbook, can you please  remove the Chase affiliate links. Please notify when issue has been resolved."

and with voicemails threatening legal action by Chase (if someone can tell me how to download voicemails from an iPhone I'll post that crap as well).

Needless to say, I've told them to fuck completely and totally off, when I've replied to them at all. But the only reason these morons thought they had the right to e-mail me in the first place is that I decided to sign up for an account with them in the first place – a mistake I made because I thought that's how bloggers made money.

PointsChaser made a shocking amount of money from Barclaycard

A few days ago I read this post by Ariana Arghandewal at her personal blog, PointsChaser. It's structured as her rejection of Barclaycard's demands for her to take down content, but I naturally honed in on the most interesting part of her post:

"I wasn’t promoting Barclay cards much, but did manage to earn about $500-$1,000 in affiliate commission each month."

I understand, and have always understood, that travel hacking is a hobby engaged in, by and large, by those who are already well-off. Most folks only realize travel hacking exists once they're already in sales, management, or ownership positions that have them flying enough to naturally earn the miles, points, and elite status that have them asking what they can do with all these rewards currencies.

That's not me, but I understand.

But consider Ariana's statement, not from the perspective of someone who came into travel hacking from the sales, management, or ownership side, but from the perspective of those who don't work for a "living," but work to survive. The sums of money involved for a blogger who "wasn't promoting Barclay cards much" are already more than lots of folks take home from their minimum wage jobs.

Ariana claims to have been able to resist the temptation to cleanse her site of material Barclaycard didn't want to pay her for; every blogger who still has Barclaycard affiliate links, by definition, couldn't resist.

Gary Leff appears to be unable to write about the mechanics of Citi credit cards

I've written before that I have all 4 of the major 5% cash back credit cards, and have written extensively about the mechanics of all four: US Bank Cash+ allows you to redeem small amounts of cash back, Discover it requires a minimum of $50 to redeem for a direct deposit, Citi Dividend Platinum Select only allows you to earn $300 in cash back per year, etc.

But today I was shocked, jaded as I am, that Gary Leff wrote about a new 2% cash back card offered by Citi without providing any details whatsoever on the details on the mechanics of the card's rewards currency.

Just like the example from Ariana above, that's a situation that can only possibly come about because the people at Citi who pay Gary Leff (much more than $1,000 per month) don't want him to write about the mechanics of redeeming the card's rewards. They don't want him to write about anything except the talking points they've passed along to him.

Now, Gary makes enough money that he could tell them to fuck off if he wanted to. He hasn't, and until he does, I consider it the work of everyone in the community is to make sure he, and bloggers like him, aren't rewarded for taking advantage of their high-profile positions.


Blogger, and reader: just say no to credit card affiliate links.

I don't know much about Credit Card Insider, but they seem to like me

Background: Using a Balance Transfer Offer to Pay Off Credit Card Debt
Background: Best Travel Credit Cards for Airlines, Hotels, and Gas

A few months ago, one of my long-time readers reached out to me with a sort of tentative offer to write some guest posts on a website she works for. That hasn't ended up working out, but it did lead to an unrelated gig writing guest posts for a website called Credit Card Insider. I've now written a couple posts for them (above), and while no one has asked, I thought I would preemptively answer a couple potential questions my readers might have if they stumbled across one of those posts.

I have no idea what Credit Card Insider's business model is

A cursory examination of the way they insert application links into my posts suggests it probably has something to do with credit card affiliate links. But that has never entered into any discussion I have had with anyone at the site.

I get no cut of affiliate revenue (if any)

As I explained last month, I have no affiliate links here on the site (although many of the signup links for cash back portals, useful services like Venmo, Plink, and Uber, etc., do give me some nominal referral bonus – and thanks for using those links if you're so inclined!), and 100% of my remaining revenue comes from subscriptions, one-time gratuities (thanks Thomas!), and book sales.

In other words, people who like my work and want to see me continue cover my expenses, and I only answer to my readers.

Credit Card Insider pays me a flat fee per post. I find it fair and I consider it good publicity for this site.

And hey, if anybody else wants to sponsor blog posts, you know how to reach me!

Credit Card Insider exercises no editorial control over my content

There's a small group of folks at the site who come up with general post topics and assign them to writers. But no one at any time has implied that there are certain cards that need to be included in any given post, or that some cards need to be pushed harder than others. Frankly I suspect they had never even heard of the BankAmericard Cash Rewards card, which offers a healthy 3% cash back at gas stations. Good card!

Of course that could change at any time, and I'd certainly stop writing for them if my voice was ever compromised in that way.

Further, my feelings about cards like the Sapphire Preferred are well-known, so I'm not going to write a post on some other website praising its value or flexibility or whatever.

Credit Card Insider comes up with the headlines

The one piece of "editorial control" they do exercise is over the headlines. For example, my column "Best Travel Credit Cards for Airlines, Hotels, and Gas" is about thinking about your spending patterns and travel needs before deciding on the credit card that's right for you. In fact, I probably would have titled it "think about your spending patterns and travel needs before deciding on the credit card that's right for you."

But that's why they get paid the big bucks.

I suspect our audiences are very different

When my reader first suggested I write some guest posts, I worried about diluting my web presence by writing in bits and pieces in various places all over the web.

But if you visit Credit Card Insider you'll see that broadly speaking they're aimed at a very different audience than I am here. My blog has, over time, grown increasingly focused on a fairly niche subset of travelers: those who are seeking to maximize their value and minimize their costs when traveling — and who are willing to put in some serious work to do so.

While I try to write without the jargon and codes so many people in our hobby use, the techniques I describe are frankly inaccessible to the vast majority of the population, whether it's from lack of interest or lack of time. So I don't think I'm cannibalizing any content that I would post here by writing guest spots for Credit Card Insider. That is an issue I'm sensitive to, however.

With all that out of the way:

Those are the answers to the questions I had before I started writing for them. But if you have any specific questions about the situation (or anything else), the comments, as always, are open.

A quick update on affiliate links & how to support the site

Back in June I wrote a post about being approved for affiliate links through one of the many credit card marketing companies out there. They had a terrible selection of credit cards and signup offers, but their links for the Barclaycard Arrival World MasterCard and Discover it cards were as good as the best available offers, so I went ahead and changed my links on this site to those affiliate links.

Long story short, I never made any money, and then they fired me.

I bring this up now because they recently got back in touch with me and told me to remove the links that I had put on various pages and blog posts. Weirdly, it turns out that a large number of the different credit card affiliate marketers on the internet are all owned by the same people,

So I removed all those links too.  If you happen to notice any changes to where my links direct you, it's because they should all now point to the applications hosted by the credit card companies themselves (unless there's a better offer available elsewhere).

The affiliate link thing was an interesting experiment, but it was pretty much doomed to fail since there was no way I was ever going to change my website or style in order to secure more signups or meet their requirements for affiliates.

How can you support the site?

This leaves the question of what you can do to support the site, if you're so inclined, and I'll be floating some ideas and asking for feedback as I approach my 1-year anniversary, when I need to decide whether to renew this project for another year.

If you haven't already then you can first and foremost buy or borrow my Kindle ebook, The Free-quent Flyer's Manifesto. If you really can't come up with $2.99 to buy the book, but have an Amazon Prime account, don't worry, I also get a small royalty when the book is borrowed, and it doesn't cost you anything!

If you've already bought or borrowed the ebook, please consider leaving a review. I absolutely love hearing from readers by e-mail and in the comment threads, and it would be terrific if you can share what you think with even more people by leaving a review on Amazon.

Finally, there are a few signup links scattered around the website:

Some of the most popular cash back portals offer referral credit as well:

Thanks again to everyone who has supported the site. I adore my readers, and hope that together we can keep this project going for a long time to come!