Blogging and accepting gifts (On Greg’s Mind)

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IHG reached out to me the other day to offer me points and Milestone Rewards so that I can try out features of their new elite program.  They had previously gifted me Diamond status, but this new offer had me wondering anew when it is and isn’t appropriate for me to accept gifts like these.  The purpose of these gifts is obviously to influence me to publish nice things about the brand.  If that was the whole story, then I should turn them down.  I’m in a position where I can influence people and so it’s not fair to let companies influence me with gifts, right?  But there’s more to the story that makes the answer less obvious…

Prior gifts

Several years ago, Nick and I were invited to Marriott’s launch party where they announced details of their award program merger with SPG.  I never thought of it as a gift at the time, but it was a seriously expensive party with big-name entertainment and great food and drinks.  I don’t know about Nick, but I had a lot of fun.  During the party we met and talked at length with the VP in charge of the new loyalty program at that time.  We learned extremely valuable details about the new program that we were able to pass along to our readers for their benefit.  And we gained valuable contacts who were able to answer our future questions.  As a result, there’s no doubt in my mind that our accepting the gift of the party invite did much more good for our readers than harm.

Bilt’s launch party at Summit One Vanderbilt in NYC

More recently, Nick and I accepted gifts like this from Bilt (the company that offers rewards for paying rent).  First we were invited to the Bilt owner’s estate on Moskito Island in the British Virgin Islands.  That was described as an opportunity for Bilt’s leadership to learn from rewards experts like me and Nick (along with a number of other bloggers and social media personalities).  Later we also accepted an invite to Bilt’s big launch party in New York.  In these cases, we certainly tried to learn info that could be helpful to our audience (as was the case with Marriott’s party), but it hasn’t really worked out that way.  Instead, I believe that we have helped influence Bilt to make their product more rewarding.  For example, Bilt employees have asked us which transfer partners would be most valuable to add to their program.  I think that’s great and I wish other reward programs would engage with us in a similar way (but they don’t).

Greg and Nick enjoying the free snack & drink you get on Spirit Airlines when you have Gold status
The only known Spirit Airlines Amenity Kit in existence :-). No, you won’t get this as an elite member.

Nick and I also accepted gifts from Spirit Airlines when they launched their Free Spirit rewards program.  They gave us each Gold status and sent us a bunch of Spirit swag.  Coincidentally, the first (and maybe only?) time we made use of Spirit Gold status was on the flights we took to get to Moskito Island to meet with Bilt (we had to pay for the round-trip travel ourselves).  I had never before flown Spirit and probably wouldn’t have done so if it weren’t for the gifted Gold status.  This then made it possible for me to create useful content such as my post comparing Delta and Spirit.

Gifts I’ve turned down

I turned down a free Silvercar rental

It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes a company offers me a gift in exchange for writing a post.  In every case, I’ve turned them down.  For example, many years ago Silvercar offered me a free rental in exchange for reviewing the service.  I said no thanks and eventually paid for a rental myself so that I could review them.  In other cases I’ve asked whether the gift could be a prize for readers rather than a gift to me.  In some cases that happened and in other cases not.

When a gift includes a demand (e.g. “write a post”), I’ve always turned it down. But I’m not really sure why.  Accepting a gift like this is arguably less likely to bias me than accepting affiliate commissions on credit cards (which I do).  In the former case, there’s no downside to me writing a negative review (other than perhaps losing out on future gifts), but with credit cards a negative review can mean significant loss of revenue.  Yet, my team and I never hesitate to write negative things regardless of our business relationships.  If we think something stinks, we say so.  If that then means losing affiliate commissions, then that’s fine.  We work hard to separate the business of the blog from our editorial content.  There has never been a case where we’ve let our business relationships influence our content.

Disclosures: when and how?

Disclosing credit card affiliate relationships is easy.  We post our business relationship clearly at the top of every page that includes affiliate credit card links.  Disclosing gifts intended to influence us to like a brand is trickier.  Yes, we should let our audience know when we’ve received gifts of elite status, parties, or whatever, but when, how, and how often should we do so?  For example, should we say something about Moskito Island every single time we mention Bilt?  That seems like way too much.  But each time we receive a gift of meaningful value we probably should report it in some way.

I don’t have the answers here… just the questions.

Back to IHG

I previously accepted the Diamond status gift because I figured that it would give me a chance to try out IHG’s new elite perks as soon as they were live.  Since then I realized that my treatment experience might not match other people’s.  There’s always a chance that they flagged my account in some way to let hotels know to treat me differently.  Or IHG could watch my account to see what hotels I book and could contact those hotels directly to ensure that I have a great stay.  I’m not saying that I think any of this is likely, but it is possible.  And it’s possible regardless of whether I accept additional gifts.

I want either myself or a Frequent Miler team member to accept IHG Milestone gifts such as a suite upgrade and lounge membership.  I think it would be great to be able to report experiences with these things sooner rather than later.  That way readers will have a better idea of whether it’s worth spending their way to Diamond status (for free breakfast) or mattress running to 20 nights (for a suite upgrade), or to 40 nights (for lounge membership).  If the benefits don’t work out all that well, then we’ll report that (and we’ll know that we didn’t get special treatment from IHG).  If they do go very well, we’ll discuss the possibility that the results were biased when we report the details.  And, either way, we will fully disclose the gifts in any posts about stays that took advantage of them.

Will we be subconsciously influenced to write and say nice things?  I’m aware that that’s possible but… 1) I believe that everyone on the FM team is pretty good at remaining critical despite influences like these; and 2) By posting this post (the one you’re reading now), it will be pretty hard to get away with being unduly nice to IHG going forward.  I know that our audience will keep us honest.

Wrap up

Thanks for putting up with my meandering musings.  I don’t have a definitive answer to when we should or shouldn’t accept gifts.  I very much respect organizations like Consumers Union that refuse to take anything for free, but that’s a level of rigidity that I don’t aspire to.  I want to do what’s ultimately best for our audience, and I believe that accepting gifts sometimes helps get us there.

What do you think?  Is there a better way to think about when we should and shouldn’t accept gifts?  Please comment below.

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[…] Blogging and accepting gifts (On Greg’s Mind) by FM. […]

Jak

Greg, you’ve spent about a decade building up your brand and reputation, and judging by the comments here, it’s paid off. Your readers trust you and this post shows that you take that trust seriously.

Your disclosure style has evolved over time to be the prominent, conspicuous disclaimer it is today compared with other sites that try to hide it in tiny print or avoid the subject altogether. Along the way, you’ve always listened to your readers and erred on the side of full disclosure.

For example, your IHG Diamond status was definitely a head scratcher to many of us. But as soon you learned that it was unclear where the status came from, you immediately fixed it. That is one of the reasons many of us come here.

If you have a dilemma, listen to your gut and your readers. It’s gotten you this far.

JayP

#1) Take whatever you can get. We’re all here because we’re trying to maximize every angle we can in this game, why wouldn’t you?
#2) I kinda think we all assume any experience you have may not match ours when it comes to elite recognition or any special treatment. If I really want to know how elites get treated somewhere I read regular reviews on Flyertalk or whatever.
#3) We’re not idiots. There’s a reason The Points Guy did away with comments. If we think you’re being biased I tend to think the points and miles community is more likely to call you (or Nick/Tim) out unfairly than we are to give you the benefit of the doubt. Personally I’ve done this, sometimes fairly (mentioning the benefit to you of Fluz which has a pyrimid-esque earning structure) and sometimes unfairly (calling out Nick for ripping off a post from Drew when he actually included a back link that I missed). If you’re tempted to get rid of comments you’ll know maybe you’ve gone too far lol. Until then, enjoy the treats!

TRJ

Agree with #1 especially! This blog and one other have been financial goldmines for me. I am happy to see the bloggers get some goodies in return for all the information they have shared.

Brendan

Greg, I really appreciate your focus on putting the reader first. By posting best credit card offers that are not affiliate links, you must be forgoing considerable revenue. If the frequent miler team is going to keep posting the best credit card offers, I am totally onboard with you and the team accept free suite upgrade gifts.

FreeFreeFree

As long as your blog doesn’t hawk sub- optimal credit cards and sign up bonuses with affiliate links like the points guy, I’ll keep reading.

james

No wonder why you were giving Bilt cards so much coverage

Grant

Even without accepting gifts, the loyalty programs could flag your account for special treatment. No way to know if that is true or not, so at least accepting the gift you can acknowledge the gift and disclose the gift up front. You guys do a great job of describing any gift you receive.

Origami

“But each time we receive a gift of meaningful value we probably should report it in some way.

I don’t have the answers here… just the questions.”

You *DO* have the answer: you gave it right there.

Let me be clear that I support you guys and consider you trustworthy overall. Your affiliate link disclosure should be SOP for all travel blogs. So why is it difficult to think of these gifts and perks the same way.

You know the answer is “disclose”, not “only disclose if we’re not getting good information.”

Just be consistent.

Jake

To quote a pharmaceutical rep –

During training, I was told, when you’re out to dinner with a doctor, “The physician is eating with a friend. You are eating with a client.”

Something to keep in mind for the next Muskito Island trip with Richard Kerr. Just for the record, I feel you’re closer to Consumer Reports than any points blog I’ve read. Keep up the great work and keep asking those difficult questions.

mauro

Greg, articles like this are the reason i had been a loyal reader for over 6 years, keep up the good work! take all the goodies you can get but stat true to your opinions and critical point of view.

smitty06

Take whatever you want, whenever you want. Just disclose the big stuff.

Cavedweller

Greg
Look at one mile at a Time !!! Claim USA testing is over June 12 Hmmmm

Cavedweller

Up Yours Butt heads !!!!!!

JayP

I can never figure you out cavedweller but it’s always fun

Cavedweller

Happy camper got my 20 Siemans test kits really to go for Athens 9/15.Hope I can break the blogs record one day..V Bernie

ChunnyBigrigga

You could test for variation in how you and your team are treated by the gifters vs some randos in the community. Recruit some volunteers and design a study, not necessarily a double-blinded, placebo controlled randomized medical grade one, but one that would give significant insight into whether it’s a thing, and if so, it would help to answer your questions. I think the FM community is big enough to be able to try this out, and would be a great project to explore just what is happening with these gifts.

Dugroz Reports

I volunteer! I volunteer as tribute. 🙂

Jan W

You and FM have always proven yourselves trustworthy. And thanks for sharing your thought process. Bottom line: I trust you even more because your share your thought process.

Brian

Seriously. This post is a big part of the reason why it’s always the first blog I’ll go to for any points/award/travel news or info. Keep it up guys, you are the best.

Seth

Greg,

You and the FM team are the best in the business. You have always taken great care to put your readers first and have built up A LOT of credibility with us over the years.

My response to your question at the end? Do what you think is best. We trust you.

FMF

Longtime reader here. My 2 cents: Personally I’d prefer no gifts at all. That’s the only guarantee to never get on a slippery slope. And new readers will also appreciate it. (I work for a company with a very strict zero gift business conduct policy and I think it’s the right thing to do).

But if you feel like you have to accept something then always disclose and make an extra effort to not get biased towards products or companies. And when in doubt then decline.

Lynn

I got into the game back when you were only a part-time blogger. At first I read pretty much every blog I could until I learned the basics. Over time, I stopped reading the ones that didn’t cover topics of interest or that I doubted the veracity of the blogger. Today, am down to ONE and it is yours. I think “sponsored posts” are weird and very suspect, but everything you mentioned seems totally above board. Travel agents get free trips, why shouldn’t you get perks like status that helps you do your job. Keep doing what you are doing, and the vast majority of readers will have no problem with it. I agree with one poster that if you have status and it was gifted to you, it wouldn’t hurt to simply note it in the post, like “I was upgraded due to Diamond status (gifted), and . . .”

DavidS

I believe you should take advantage of as many of these opportunities without explicit exchange as you should. I have a harder time with physical swag, even of inconsequential value. (Does that Spirit folio serve as anything other than advertising for them?)

I’m guessing you don’t like the “take this and do that” because it is very clearly a quid pro quo. “Come learn about us at this swanky event” does require you to “do” anything but show up. While there is an implied do – “write about us after learning about us” – it’s not explicit allowing FM some plausible deniability. The difference between the rental car and the credit cards is: 1)It’s a “do that and we will pay you” as a commercial transaction that’s very clear about what it is – not something that purports to be a gift. & 2)It doesn’t ask you to explicitly write about the card in exchange for the payment, thereby keeping a more significant wall between editorial content and business.

At the end of the day, I trust you to be able to walk that line, but disclose, disclose, disclose. I do wonder if you need a page for each brand listing the swag/experiences/benefits you’ve received from them. You could then link to the page whenever writing about the brand. Funny thing is I wonder if you’ve ever catalogued it all and if cataloging would actually change your take on any of the companies.

Keep doing great work!

THEsocalledfan

Greg,

Your thinking is very sound. In my industry, I have similar issues that come up. You can gain real, valuable contacts on these types of deals, not to mention learn things that are almost impossible to research. I’ve taken an approach similar to yours. This is the problem with a strict “not conflicts of interests” policies in general.

Keep up the great work!

Another Jeff

How far does this go? Gonna disclose every tax deduction you get in the course of travels? Tax code influences on RRV?
The fact you even wrote this post says you’re alright in my book. Keep doing what you’re doing.

Paul

I trust you guys to do the right thing.

I wonder, though, about bloggers touting Avianca Lifemiles. I bought 100K about 5 years ago and have yet to be able to use them. Even this week, I tried to book a UA transcontinental flight and no nonstops were available, despite plenty of saver availability on UA’s website. I wonder about bloggers who have touted Lifemiles – what did they get in return?

Nick Reyes

I know that OMAAT doesn’t get anything from LifeMiles (or at least didn’t the last time we talked about it). LifeMiles had just reached out to them and offered an exclusive deal for their readers and they were happy to offer their readers a better deal. We’d of course offer the same if we could (and we have asked LifeMiles for the same deal, but they offer it exclusively to OMAAT).

Personally, I’ve used LifeMiles plenty of times. Bummer that you’ve had trouble with it. They definitely don’t show all of the flights that should be available, but I’ve often been able to get what I wanted.

George

I burned about 150k on economy flights to/from Europe (so, 5 one-ways) in the last couple years. I also haven’t run into the issue of UA saver tickets not showing on LifeMiles in the last few months (when I checked probably 2 dozen routes since I was itching to go somewhere). Are you checking the UA website logged in? That’ll show XN space not available to LifeMiles.

There’s definitely a lot of Saver seats on *other* airlines that don’t show up, though. And they show a lot of phantom availability. And they have issues booking a lot of connecting awards – especially with multiple airlines, but sometimes even on a single airline. But UA Saver has been showing up fine, at least recently.

pat

I will say you all have been some built fanboys though bringing them up WAY more than what there offer warrants, I figured you got something good from them for the amount you have brought them up. Don’t get me wrong I love your guys content but that has been a bit over the top recently

Mbh

Outstanding insights and disclosures. Thank you.

Nathan

Couldn’t agree more. That’s why FM is my first and only miles n points blog.

Tom

Continue to disclose gift or other potential sources of bias as you’ve been doing. Continue to stay away from blatantly political and anti-union stuff though—“travel” blogs that do that are beyond annoying.

Kat

Considering your entire audience base is looking for free/cheap ways to enjoy experiences they otherwise could not afford as ‘frequent’. Take whatever you are offered. We do!

Jed

Its a tricky line. Pharma companies will pay a Dr to give a lecture on a new drug not just to influence other Drs but because they know through experience that it makes the Dr giving the lecture much more likely to prescribe the drug themselves. Subliminal influence is a well known marketing tool any large corp knows to aim at those with influence.
That said I am sure that all the big hotels know exactly who the bloggers are, some of the real nice hotels basically run a background check on ever guest that walks through the doors. So I wouldn’t be surprised if statistically speaking you got more upgrades and slightly better service than your average travelers.
But I think you guys do a good job of keeping it honest in your reviews and are not afraid to point out when something isn’t up to par.
Personally i think you should absolutely take the chance to meet with CC & travel related execs to try to glean any information that would be helpful to us readers. I do kind of wish every offer for an upgrade wasn’t accepted because I feel like not getting the offers at all is probably a little more accurate for the ever day traveler, though part of me feels like its greedy to ask you guys not to take the most luxurious rooms available.

Anonymous

I recall you mentioning in a post that you had IHG Diamond status and I wondered how and when you achieved that since I didn’t recall mentions of IHG stays. Now I read that it was gifted. Disappointed because I didn’t know it was gifted when you mentioned the status in your post.

I think you should mention the gift each and every time you mention the Diamond status. Why? Because having that status suggests that you like that brand and choose to stay there.

Bottom line for me is junkets that you feel would be educational are okay. Swag to gift to your readers would be okay. I say no to status and such. You should be like your readers having to choose where to put your stays. I’m sure all programs are great if you are a VIP.

AlexL

I was wondering about Greg’s IHG Diamond status just like you. I thought it might be from credit card spend. I like your idea of adding a little note saying it was gifted.

I don’t mind Greg or any of the team members to get status because of their jobs. In the IHG Diamond status scenario, it gives Greg the opportunity to test out the new program. I think Greg has top tier status in Hyatt, Marriott, and IHG. If he wants Hilton Diamond, it should be easy. So I do not think status is a determined factor for him to choose a place to stay.

Carl Pietrantonio

Do. Not. Accept. Gifts. PERIOD!

This is the only for sure way to avoid being influenced by them either consciously or Unconsciously.

Honor and Honesty demands being aloof from gifts, no matter how nicely you say/think you will not be influenced.

If the average reader cannot get those same gifts, then DECLINE them.

Naomi

I disagree. I think it’s awesome that Greg and Nick get some cool perks from writing this blog. Totally happy for them! Greg is obviously being incredibly thoughtful and transparent in his reflections in trying to distill everything. These guys are average joes like you and me- aren’t we all in this game together? When someone gets to do something super epic and I hear about it, I think it’s awesome for them. My husband and I have certainly done some pretty cool travel shit over the years through all of this and love to swap stories. Plus, ultimately all of us benefit from their content; so, I feel like I’d love for them to get perks so that they continue keepin’ on here.

Nick Reyes

Let me give you a concrete example that illustrates what Greg meant in part of the post. I think it was 2018 when Marriott had that media event / launch party for the merger with SPG. It was somewhere in NYC with food from some famous chefs and a country star performing and whatnot, so you could look at it as being given a gift of an invite to an exclusive party. However, Greg vaguely mentions (post roast here: he should have been specific!) that we gained valuable contacts at that event. We were the blog to break the story that you’d be able to book standard rooms at properties that previously were not on an award chart, giving readers the chance to snap up rooms at properties like the St. Regis Bora Bora, where a standard room was the equivalent of 270,000 Marriott points per night before the merger, for just 48,000 points per night with the 5th night free. We wouldn’t have been the blog to discover that and break that story (and therefore give our readers the first shot at booking those) if not for the contacts me made at that event.

Just this past week, one of the Marriott credit card offers increased its welcome offer to five 50K free night certs. There was wide confusion over whether or not points could be added to those certificates because the offer terms on the credit card application said that the certificates could not be combined with points. Thanks to that high-level Marriott contact me made at that event, we have direct access to someone who can definitely answer that type of question, so once again we were the first blog to be able to report that you can indeed combine the certificates with points.

I think that attending that event has clearly had more long-term value for readers than if we hadn’t gone (there have been many other similar examples in between where that Marriott contact has been able to answer questions or where we’ve received information that we wouldn’t have otherwise).

I won’t argue that my Spirit Airlines coffee mug has had any benefit for readers — it hasn’t. It also isn’t buying Spirit any extra positive coverage from me, so I don’t really feel an ethical dilemma in drinking a cup of coffee from it now and then, but I could see your argument against keeping it. My wife wouldn’t really be disappointed if you convinced me to get rid of it.

Satforlegroom

Nick, so are you saying now you are a journalist? Were you really at the Marriott/SPG even solely to make contacts and gather sources or was it an added bonus from what was an extravagant PR event? If you’re now taking the view that your job is to gather information and make contacts to generate stories, then all the more reason to follow journalist ethics standards and not accept extravagant gifts such as chef prepared meals and private concerts. Marketers know exactly what they are doing. Another “thoughtful” blogger justifies his actions by donating an equivalent amount to charity but it doesn’t matter. You are still accepting something of value in exchange for promotion so it’s in your best interest to follow well-established guidelines.

Nick Reyes

Keith Urban was the entertainer that night. I can’t name a single Keith Urban song (I know he’s married to Nicole Kidman and he’s Australian and that’s about it). Do I like gourmet food? Of course. But I typically like to enjoy it out with my wife. I attended that event to learn stuff I could pass on to readers and it has paid off for readers in the form of additional information over the years. I couldn’t tell you what was served that night, but I know who we talked to and what we learned. Even if it had been a performer I was excited to hear and my favorite celebrity chef, I don’t think that not going for fear of it turning me into an unabashed Marriott fanboy and missing the chance to make contacts that help us provide the best information for readers would have been the right call. I understand that you may disagree.

I know that Gary has always said that he makes an equivalent donation to charity. That’s great. I’m not entirely sure that it has as much of a mitigating effect as intended in the sense that my impression of Gary is that he’s a generous guy (how he finds the time to do a full time job, blog as much as he does, and still answer emails so reliably and quickly — which I experienced before I was a blogger working here — still amazes me). I’m not sure he wouldn’t make those donations regardless, but at the same time I appreciate and respect that he’s putting thought into the best way to handle those situations the same as Greg.

Satforlegroom

Nick, I think you, Greg, and the FM team are genuine in what you do, if not a bit naive as to how well trained marketers with top tier MBA’s leverage bloggers to pad their profits. What I believe doesn’t matter – it’s what the FTC and other regulators might decide to do and take words and intentions out of context. My original point is that it’s your responsibility to know the guidelines and apply them as you see fit. Whether you like a singer or have other interests in cuisine doesn’t matter to an aggressive regulator looking for something by interpreting vague rules. I have no idea where the line is. And clearly this post has had an impact as it even got Gary just now to clarify his views on the issue yet again.

Mary Jane

Greg, your blog is the number one site I recommend to my friends. I have read all the others and your input is always candid and unbiased, as well as highly informative. In every job, there are always instances of “grey areas” and the article sheds light on the somewhat ethical struggles involved in your profession.

paul5795

When it comes to questions about doing the right thing, I go with the adage “If you have to ask the question, you already know the answer.”

Kadels

In this vein:
“For example, should we say something about Moskito Island every single time we mention Bilt?”
Yes

Darin

In practice I find that this adage applies mainly to people for whom the question would never enter their mind in the first place, ie bad actors who rarely think about how their actions affect others. In everyday business, doing the right thing requires critical thinking and a constant balance of judgment – you should ask this type of question regularly. There are always close calls and the fact that Greg airs it here and discloses potential conflicts demonstrates that he and his team generally do the right thing.

Naomi

Totally Darin. Critical thinking and a constant balance of judgment. Beautifully articulated.

SamBam

Channel Steve Miller: Go on…take the money and run!

Mary Beth Shearer

When I rejoined the points/miles fun, I looked up the top blogging post and it was yours. The writer said regardless of whether you receive monetary compensation for a cc promo, you post the top offer. That was my answer! Though we’ve never met, it’s apparent all of your team members and you are honest, forthright people. I read the posts that I can pursue and apply to my type of travel, conduct my own research to retrieve more details, and then make my own decision. Like any job or career, there’s perks and benefits for succeeding and you have a very strong grip on when to accept the gifts and when to say no : )

Johnny

You guys have demonstrated again and again that you do business ethically and with real transparency. Because of this I trust you guys and know that will continue to make the best choices in the interest of your readers and supporters. That’s all that matters. I could care less about the gifts, heck take them as long as it doesn’t affect how you continue to do things. You da best.

Reno Joe

And, you could have had AA Executive Platinum. (wink)

TravelBloggerBuzz

For the record, I do not do this period. Nothing is free…and it is very easy to drown once you start accepting any of these…and you can go on justify it in your own mind that you are doing the right thing.

Also for the record, I am not offered these things period. Is it because I have made my intention clear or is it because my blog does not post often and is not well known in the “industry” which I continue to veer away from.

Y’all have a great weekend, stay healthy!

Brian

I think you are being unfairly downvoted. Everything you said is true. I’d also point out that you didn’t say FM is wrong or dishonest, just that it’s not your approach because any compensation can impact you, consciously or subconsciously.

I used to enjoy your blog but did eventually stop reading as it came across too bitter for me.

TravelBloggerBuzz

For the record, I think FM is the best miles and points blog and has been featured in my Blogs I Like list the longest. It is also the blog that I have linked to the most and has outstanding disclosure practices that I wish all blogs would follow.

IMHO: Second best approach to do this is to fully disclose. BEST approach by far is to REFUSE ALL compensation.

I am not sure what is bitter in my latest post:
https://travelbloggerbuzz.com/rise-and-fall-of-cathie-woods-first-us-mass-shooting-cia-hacker-crypto-lehman-moment/

As far as up/down voting, I have been around long enough, to chuckle with things of this sort, so thanks for the laugh!

Franz

Please accept the gifts. Just be honest with your assessment afterwards

LarryInNYC

First off, Frequent Miler gets top marks for disclosure, and for the kind of introspection seen in this very post about the mechanics of influence. Other blogs seem to feel that a statement along the lines of “I may have received compensation for this post but the opinions expressed are my own” is a free pass.

That said even the use of the terms “gifts” and “gifted” beg the question — and not only because “gifted” gives me the willies where “gave” is a perfectly appropriate word. They’re not really gifts if they’re clearly, and openly, intended to result in more publicity for the grantor. Neither are they bribes, since there’s no specific expectation of performance. For actual trips, like the visit to Moskito island, the travel industry has long used the term “junket” to express this idea and for items of small value (mugs, T-shirts) the word “swag” is appropriate, but I’m not sure how to properly express the notion of “gifted-not-gifted” elite status.

Finally, sometimes the actual exchange of value isn’t necessary for influence to occur. I happened to attend (another blog’s) meetup and met the head of loyalty for Bilt. We had a pleasant conversation for maybe 20 minutes or so which left me feeling (1) that we were part of the same “club” of points-and-miles “insiders” (I realize I may be flattering myself a bit) and (2) gratified that he was interested in my opinion of his card and that he “spent” a significant amount of time with me. The result is that I’m somewhat defensive of the Bilt card in the comments sections public forums. There’s nothing wrong with this or, if there is, it’s unavoidable. Friendship, even if only perceived, enters into human emotion.

YoniPDX

I do respect that you and DoC are one of the few blogging sites that I’ve seen who hosted reader referral links to post for their readers (i.e. 150K Plat/90k Biz gold ) – it also creates some extra om your end to monitor.

Even tho DoC doesn’t use any CC affiliate links – I don’t always agree with DoCs best CC list – but I sure apperciate it.

DoC was a Goldmine of DP and overlooked tips in the comments before COVID.

Other bloggers its quite apparent to tell who the best (most profitable) affiliate links appear to be. They twnd to be less neutral.

A lot of bloggers have gone to the way side (RIP) others bought out by TPG parent – not really sure if they are still in the game.

Love FMs resource section – I direct a lot of newbies its probably one of the best around

Glad your guys are still in the game and Share your transparency.

Melissa

I absolutely would encourage taking the free gift – like a rental car-in offer of a review. The more you can obtain the more you can blog. And to your point, if it is negative, big deal they just don’t ask you again. I follow a handful of bloggers but you guys are my favorite. You proved it during the Resy deal when no other blogger I followed promoted it. But you guys did b/c it is what was best for us. That impressed me therefore I trust you. Therefore I know your reviews will be unbiased.It is a fine line to walk, I understand that. I fully trust you and your team to walk it unbiased and honestly.

Art Leyenberger

Even writing about this topic shows that you (and your team) or thinking about these things clearly and properly. I don’t recall seeing other blogs even mention this topic. And your proving best links to SUBs even if you don’t get an affiliate commission is just one example of your team putting your audience above your personal gain. Thanks for all you do.

Mike C

I think you are doing it right.

Ralph

Always. Disclose. Period.
Regardless of dollar amount or value to you or readers.
That’s what professionals do.
Respect yourself and your readership will, too.
Have the courage — as shown in this post — to set a standard of responsibility in a fairly slimy business.
And, of course, pay your taxes. Something not all influences do.

Satforlegroom

The FTC guidelines on influencer and social media marketing are posted and they are very clear that it is your responsibility to understand the regulations and make the appropriate disclosures. It’s up to you to determine how much risk you want to take but there no harm to you if you mention receiving free products and services like Moskito Island every time Bilt Is brought up.

Brant

I say, “Snag the Swag!”. Free is free and isn’t that what travel hacking is all about? If a company gives you a boatload of booty, that doesn’t mean you have to do anything other than enjoy it. You write what you want to write. Since when did classic morality enter into the game? Aren’t we all trying to game the system in one way or another? I can’t be this is even a real question here. If you want to cut in front of the line and be Mr. Nice Guy too, things get a little murky.

DaveS

Even from a pragmatic business standpoint morality matters a lot. Lose the trust of your readers and you lose those affiliate link clicks they make. There are several bloggers I stopped following because I felt I could not trust their content was not simply self-serving

Dar

I work for a business that makes a product that is very much in demand, and more often than not, out of stock. A day doesn’t go by without receiving emails from “influencers” that offer to generously review our product if we’d only send the product their way.
No, and no. If you want to review a product, fine. Buy it, or,if it’s status, earn it. Then write about it.
Justifying a free product grab is a sure sign that you’re in sketchy territory.
My 2 cents.

The real beej

Dar’s example is clearly not the situation you describe in this post. I have been reading travel blogs for over a decade and you and the team always give honest and authentic content, at least from my perspective. This is especially true when you compare to the majority of other blogs. The historical freebies you reference have ultimately been beneficial to your readers. Nick parlaying his gifted Spirit status into Delta status definitely gave me some ideas and inspired me to do something similar with purchased Frontier status. I don’t think you need to change a thing. You seem to have good judgement and know the difference between right and wrong. Keep being honest with the editorial content and you’ll be fine. As always, thanks for your contributions to this space.

Biggie F

This is well put. It also leads to the main reason why the FM staff might want to consider a different cost of taking these emoluments:

Because you guys do have good judgment, it is highly likely that you will have to — and will — write and say some non-positive things about the products being put out there by those handing out the statuses, the free food, or whatever. And, when that happens, you will get a different kind of bad feeling, the flip side of being a friend (see LarryInNYC‘s comment above).

It’s one thing if it is like in a movie where the mobster says, “I thought we had this guy bought!” and the hero replies, “You don’t own me!”

It is another thing altogether when someone you have come to like, and still like, in spite of the fact that their back-end service team is terrible, or some-such, says, “Jeez, and I thought this guy was my friend.”