Thoughts on Authenticity within the “Points Game”

What is it?

What is it?

(Get ready for a jumble of unorganized thoughts.)

Pushing credit cards on blogs isn’t a new trend. But what is new is that more readers are starting to react to the constant pushing of credit cards.

Affiliate links

I tried to get affiliate links. I kinda sorta have them (see the front page or this link about getting a rewards credit card). I’m also kinda sorta glad I have them in a roundabout way – so no fear and/or responsibility of having 55 affiliate links in one post (yes, that has really happened). I’m grateful when people use them but there’s no expectation there, and it doesn’t drive my content. It’s a “nice to have”, not a necessity.

It’s what George at Travel Blogger Buzz pointed out time and time again – and maybe what caused him to pull out of blogging? (Although he never really stopped. I love his posts.)

I will tell you the 2 blogs that really pulled me into this hobby: The Points Guy and Million Mile Secrets. 2 “titan blogs.” I still have TPG on my feedly, but only check MMS from time to time.

I appreciate how TPG has been throwing in posts centered around destinations, truly helpful tips and tricks, and other good little nuggets – in addition to the posts laced with affiliate links. I don’t mind those posts because the other stuff is worth it.

For MMS, it’s simply targeted to beginners. I respect it as a great, valid starting point for those entering into the hobby. They definitely have their voice and circles/arrows, but dang it, those circle and arrows helped me to understand what to look for as a beginner. So props to them for knowing their audience.


I’ve also seen other bloggers ask readers what they want to read about. I’m bull-headed in that way: I just write about things I find interesting. Sometimes it’s credit cards, sometimes it’s terms and conditions, getting the most value out of points, or how I spend my days while traveling. That last point is what I’d like to work up to more. Talk more about what I do when I travel, and exactly how I redeemed my points (trying to do that with the Booking Dublin posts).

Is content within this space driven my money AKA credit card affiliate links? Absolutely. Is there a way to mix those in while staying authentic? Hmmm…

Just like bloggers want affiliate links, credit card companies want “good” accounts from the people who click those links: no churners, multiple cards, no one trying to get the bonus and run. Between the credit card companies and the readers are the bloggers, and that creates an interesting dynamic.

I like TPG’s model: yes, keep the credit card posts, but reward readers with content that backs off it a little. Actual content about travel. Real writing, not sales pitches.

Real posts.

It’s hard to do that without sounding a bit hypocritical, but there will never be one blog (or blog post) that pleases everyone and isn’t sales-y in some way. Part of sales is educating and people want to be educated about the hobby. So at some point, it all merges.

Moving forward

I have a hard time saying that travel is “free.” It’s not free.

Well, it IS free sometimes – it can be free (with the right credit cards), but it’s often just “really cheap.” Not totally free. 

Even if you’re paying $0, you’re still “paying” with your time, your energy, your efforts, and your opportunity costs while you’re away from home base. Is travel worth it? Absolutely, nearly every time. (Notice how I am avoiding extreme positions here.)

I’ve had underwhelming trips. I’ve had trips where I knew I’d miss out on an opportunity, and took them anyway because I wanted so badly to go. I’ve had fun getaways, long stays, business trips, and times when I left because I just really missed my Mom.

MS-ing is becoming harder. It’s there if you know where to look – and it takes time. Another opportunity cost. 

Airlines are profitable now, and are cutting benefits and left and right. 

Even Club Carlson, the little hotel loyalty program that could, is clawing back benefits.

As consumers, we aren’t being showered with points any more. We are paying more for the same service. Supply and demand in action. And the blogs are a product of their environments, very much so.

I’m going to try to straddle these lines as best as I know how. More focus on travel writin

Staying authentic

Reading another CSP post...

Reading another CSP post…

Is that even possible nowadays? With all these blogs?

What is authenticity anyway? What is real writing – and what is not?

Not really sure what the answers are here, or if I can answer them for anyone else.

I’m glad we have all of the posts that tell us how we could earn points and use them – and usually it’s by opening a new credit card and using points/miles.

I’m not so glad I have to wade through a million “ZOMG it’s First Friday get the Chase Sapphire Preferred right now!!!” posts every first Friday of the month. But I still want the information before and after that.

And some people might not already know about First Friday, or it’s a good reminder for people who already have the CSP. So… where is the line?

Bottom line

I managed to write 1,000 words of rhetoric with no tight conclusion, which may be the point the industry is at right now. I’m not sure what feelings are in this post, but whatever they are, I’m glad to’ve acknowledged that they exist.

And at the end of the day (I hate when people say that yet it seemed to fit so well here), I’d like to grow my readership instead of alienate…

If you’re still reading, thanks for making it this far. Would anyone like to add any thoughts about the topic of authenticity within the travel blogosphere?

Thank you to my readers. I love having such a cool group of scrappy, positive peeps that check this space. Grateful for the opportunity to experiment here.

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About Harlan

Just a dude living in Memphis, traveling, and working toward financial independence.

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  1. If you weren’t attached to Boarding Area or Prior2Boarding (don’t know the difference), you’d be able to have your own blog and make money off the ads, not just affiliate links. That might help. You post has made one thing very clear to me: the reason bloggers spam their links is because they really need the revenue from those links in order to keep paying the bills – which has finally clarified for me why Dan has so many deals. The deals likely support his site more than the blogging. But, hey if it keeps him in business, and he still gets to blog when he wants, I guess he wins.

    • I have to defend BoardingArea here. They have given me a platform to reach readers that I otherwise wouldn’t have, which is the most important thing to me. They haven’t made me alter or tailor any content in any way. And the readers I did have before I joined BA have stuck with me throughout the changeover, which is awesome.

      Dan definitely wins. He is the king of “sustainable affiliate links”.

      And yes, when you start to depend on your blog for money and livelihood, the whole thing changes and what was once impartial becomes political. Just an observation. Maybe I’m wrong.

      • Ah, sorry for the delayed reply! (Blame work :-p)
        I didn’t mean to accuse BoardingArea, I also didn’t really grasp the idea that many of the BA blogs’ followings are due to the fact that they’re on BA. I guess that makes sense lol. I was suggesting that if you were on your own site, you would make more money. But then you might not have the following you get from BA. Catch 22.
        My complaint with Dan is that it’s all one big mess; I wish he would separate the deals from the blog just for organizational/searchability sake.
        I agree with your general point, though. I used to never read the blogs (just hang out in the forums) and then I decided to follow as many as I could on Twitter. After 2 weeks of this, I’ve realized that SO many just tweet the same things. Promoting the newest offer or telling the same news story. Very few, like you said, pull off a good balance of affiliates and worthwhile posts. I guess once you’re blogging for fun and then see a little bit of cash on the side, you all of a sudden want to start seeing some more of that cash, so you blast your links. Unless, of course, those bloggers are hoping to make it to the big leagues one day.

  2. Thanks for this. I decided to create my blog with zero affiliate links. Partially that is because I am new (and don’t have that many readers) but also because I’m not sure how honest you can be knowing money is on the line.

    Full disclosure. If I ever had the readership of some of the larger blogs, would I stay affiliate free? Who knows.

    Side note: I also wonder how common the practice of buying Twitter followers in this world is.

    • I started out affiliate-free, then chose to include a few links here and there. There is a balance in this travel blogging world somewhere, I just know it.

      Buying Twitter followers is lame. I want to connect with my followers, not with robots!

      Also, if you can sustainably grow your blog while hosting affiliate links, why wouldn’t you? But therein lies the issue of how it affects content.

      I am still finding the line.

  3. I want the real affiliate links on my site! I don’t mind that blogs have them. How else would we know that there is a better offer than the lousy one offered by the banks.

    I think we all started blogging because we enjoyed it and most of us still do. But, who wouldn’t want to get paid at the same time?

    • I think the issue is that sometimes the affiliate links are NOT the best ones out there.

      It’s nice to get a little kickback from something you love, but when does something you love become just about the money?

  4. Yeah if you’re going to be a jerk and trick your own readers then the whole thing will and should come crashing down. Anyone that is greedy in points whether it be as a blogger, spender, or ad pusher, will, in the words of Frank, not last in this business.’ Everyone involved from top to bottom should count their lucky stars that this arbitrage of life exists.

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