When people ask what I do for a living, my answer is usually some variation of this:
I write a blog about how to get frequent flyer miles for free.
While a few people follow that up by asking about frequent flyer miles (e.g. they may ask “so, what’s the answer? How do you get miles for free?”), there’s one question that almost every single person asks. If it’s not the first question out of their mouth, it’s usually the second…
How do you make money writing a blog?
This blog has two primary sources of income: ads and affiliate links. Let me explain how each works in the context of this blog…
Boarding Area is a hosting platform for many frequent flyer blogs. The business relationship works like this: Boarding Area sells ad space on its hosted blogs and splits the ad revenue with the blog author. Boarding Area provides a number of valuable services to me as a blog author: they sell ads at higher rates than I could get on my own; they pay for all hosting costs (servers, software, backups, spam filtering, etc.); they provide graphic design services; they offer technical services (for example, they were instrumental in automating my daily Portal Alerts); and they provide blog authorship guidance in many ways. In return, my content helps drive viewers to the site so that they earn their cut in ad revenue.
Some people ask me why I haven’t “gone independent” and left Boarding Area. I think its important to point out that Boarding Area has no direct influence on the content of the blogs. In forums and even in comments on my blog I’ve seen people refer to “BA blogs” (Boarding Area blogs) as if they are one entity. They’re not. We each write whatever we want, and we’re mostly unaware of what others are doing. The content of my blog, including affiliate links (more on that below) is the same as it would be if I hosted my blog independently. Or, maybe not. If I had to do all of the technical work on my own, I would have less time to write posts. So, the real question is, why in the world would I want to leave Boarding Area?
Back to the ads…
Ad revenue is driven by page views. When people view pages on my site, they’ll see ads along the side, between posts on the home page, and at the bottom of each post and page (if they scroll down far enough). And, for each view of each ad, Boarding Area and I earn a bit of money. One page view may equal only about a penny of revenue, but with enough page views it can ad up to a livable income. And, I’ve been very lucky to have a steadily increasing readership over the years. Ad revenue has grown with it.
When I started this blog in September 2011, I had no idea it was possible to earn a living doing so. To me, blogging was just a fun hobby. Sure, I knew that I could earn some money through ads, but I also knew that unless I had a very large audience the ad revenue wouldn’t amount to much. Then, a few months into blogging, I learned about affiliate links. Affiliate links work like this:
- A publisher (blogger) signs up with an affiliate marketing company.
- The publisher requests affiliate links for products or services that they’re interested in advertising.
- The companies offering those products or services can approve or reject those requests.
- If approved, the publisher places these links or ad banners on their website.
- When people click through these links and buy the product or service, the publisher (blogger) gets paid a commission.
I didn’t know it at first, but I eventually learned that there can be big money in credit card affiliate links. Credit card companies are extremely picky in who they’ll choose to work with as an affiliate. They look for publishers with already established large readership numbers, and they can be picky about content as well. They want publishers that are a good fit and that will promote their product the way they want it promoted. In 2011, things were a bit looser. When I first applied to be an affiliate publisher, the credit card companies were happy to approve almost any blog on Boarding Area. In the same way that many readers don’t understand that Boarding Area blogs are independent of each other, the credit card companies at the time didn’t understand it either.
When I first started using affiliate links, I embedded them in my blog posts. For example, I would write about how to get enough miles for this or that type of trip, and I would list the credit cards you could sign up for to fulfill that mission. And, of course, each credit card mention would be an affiliate link. If you clicked through and were approved, I would get paid.
I didn’t like doing that. I never liked reading blog posts whose purpose seemed to be to get me to sign up for cards. And, I found that I didn’t like writing them either. Soon after I started using affiliate links, I changed my blog policy. I would no longer include affiliate links within blog posts. And, I have no intention of changing that policy going forward.
Blog authorship vs. the business of the blog
One of the great things, to me, about my decision to keep affiliate links out of my daily blog posts is that it has helped me to separate the creative act of blog authorship from the business of the blog. Blog business, for me, is about maintaining, improving, and advertising the pages that host affiliate links. And, to a lesser extent, blog business is about driving readership to my blog. Blog authorship, meanwhile, is the creative process of researching new ideas, deciding what to write and how to write it, and the actual writing of my daily posts. During the creative process, I rarely think about whether a given topic is good or bad for my business. Instead, my decision about what to write usually boils down to a single question: Am I excited about the topic? If the answer is yes, then I’ll enjoy writing about it and there’s a reasonably good chance that readers will enjoy reading it.
After I’m done writing, I return to blog business mode and spend a few minutes with the following business tasks:
- I sometimes add images, as appropriate. I believe that images help make posts (and my home screen) more pleasing to look at and help keep readers engaged.
- I often write a post title that I think will grab people’s attention or provoke their curiosity. Many people see nothing but the headline before deciding whether or not to click through. Since I took the time to write each post, of course I’d like people to take the time to read them!
- I sometimes add labels and other meta-info to help with search engine optimization (SEO). This helps to bring these posts near to the top of Google search results.
Readers first, business second
Even within the areas that are clearly the business of the blog, I always try to ensure that my desire to earn money doesn’t interfere with readers getting the best deal. For example, if you look at my Best Offers page, you’ll see that very few of the listed offers are affiliate links (only those with a credit card image next to them are affiliate links). There are two reasons for that. One reason is that there are many cards for which I don’t have affiliate links. The second reason is that I always display the best publicly available offer for a given credit card even if I do not have an affiliate link for that offer. For example, there were times in the past where I had affiliate links for terrific offers for the United MileagePlus card or for the Marriott Rewards Premier card. Unfortunately (but fortunately for readers), I knew of even better offers available elsewhere. So, in those cases, I always displayed the better offer even though it meant that I would not earn affiliate income for those cards.
This may seem like an idiotic business approach to some, but I believe it has served me well over the years. I’ve heard from many readers who appreciate the fact that I provide unbiased advice and that I’m not pushy about card sales. In return, they tell me that they always use my links and that they always recommend me to friends and family. The proof has been the fact that this business has thrived and grown almost from the first month in which the blog changed from a hobby to a career (see this May 2012 post: Up in the air).
Changes to revenue sources
While ad revenue has increased steadily over the years along with my readership numbers, affiliate income has dropped. Quite a few of the companies that I used to work with have decided to end their affiliate relationship with me. I’ve never been told exactly why, but there seem to be two primary drivers:
- Not enough sales: With some banks, I rarely had affiliate links that were as good as the best available offers. So, I wouldn’t show those offers on my Best Offers page. As a result, few sales were generated from this blog.
- Content: Banks like to see posts that promote their products, but they don’t like to see posts that describe how to game the system. Enough said.
Fortunately for me, ad revenue has made up for some of this loss. And, I still have affiliate opportunities (at least for now), but some are not as direct and easy as they were before.
As long as this site continues to bring in ad revenue and/or affiliate revenue, I’ll continue to answer “blogger” to the career question. And, I’ll give a much shorter answer than above to the “how do you make money” question that usually follows. More importantly, I’ll continue to consider myself to be one of the luckiest guys in the world. I’ve been doing this full time for over three years now and I still find it hard to believe. I’m a freak’in blogger.
Thank you for sharing your experience. This is truly interesting for me.
Amazingly insightful…Thank you..!!
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Greg, I love your blog. I’ve noticed one little error in several of your posts that I’d like to point out: you use “who’s” when you really mean “whose.” The way to know which one to use is simple: “who’s” means “who is.” This should dispel any intent to write things like “Who’s turn is it anyway?” Use “whose” instead 😉
Thanks for the correction. Fixed.
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Greg, thanks for sharing this information. Your blog posts are a great resource. I like that the topics r new, not run-of-the-mill re-hash, and well researched. I hav often saved your article links in my travel folder on Trello. Thanks for being so transparent, I will be sure to click from your page when possible.. A card churn in upcoming!
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I like your blog a lot. The daily newsletter is my must read. Thanks a lot!!!
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It’s becoming repetitive, but I’ll say it again anyways (I’m sure FM won’t mind): your approach to CC links is the reason I use them, and refer all my friends to them. Keep it up!
Thanks for sharing! I have found your blog the most useful and enjoyable to read. I will be looking forward to using your links. Keep up the good work.
Very informative post and pretty much answered the curiosity i had on how you guys make money, enough to do it full time.
Also, i have always appreciated the transparency and honesty that you have displayed on the blog. Am sure its a win in the the long run as building trust is difficult but very important and once u have that from your readers, u r set. This view was affirmed when i attended FTU Dallas and met you (was the one asking various questions on MS after your session) – you and Drew were the 2 speakers/bloggers at that event i found to be down-to-earth and were very genuine, and it clearly resonates via yours blogs.
Keep up the good work !
I think your approach to running your blog gives you the most credibility among the major miles and points bloggers. I’m not entirely sure that credibility always correlates with profitability, but I suspect credibility does correlate with job satisfaction. Keep up the good work!
@John, @Eric, @misty, @Ben, @Lyn, @Matt, @a$]-[u, @Sandy, @chuck, @Jana, @Treesha, @Sherman, @Milespointstravel, @star, @Alex, @Jerry, @Nick Reyes, @PDXDealsGuy, @Peter S Thanks!
You, onemileatatime, and View from the wing are my most respected bloggers in this forum. I hope you continue to thrive and your afiliate income will come back. Don’t forget your drop in afiliate income should have some corelation with the death of AP, Serve and Redbird.
Agreed. I always use Greg’s links because I know he is going to tell me about the best offer, even if it doesn’t pay him an affiliate fee. I don’t mind if someone gets an affiliate bonus for a card I was going to sign up for anyway.
It kills me when other bloggers push offers that are not the best and then people point this out in the comments and they don’t respond. OMAAT does this and I can picture Lucky agonizing over it. I would love to see more transparency about the existence of other offers on his site. The other guys I think don’t care at all, especially TPG who has the worst ethics.
Great insightful post. Thanks for sharing. You and a few others clearly stand out as the best of the bloggers in this space. Great content + transparent and honest. Good combination. Keep up the good work!
Thanks for the insightful post. I must admit I never see your ads (due to my chrome setup) but I only use your affiliate links (easily more than a dozen times).
I appreciate that you’ve evolved with the game. Others recycle for the newbs but you create unique content.
Keep up the great blog!
Especially TPG–his site is mostly second-hand news now, copying and pasting info from One Mile At A Time and The Flight Deal website.
I`ve always said about FM (Greg), maximum research and information…minimum pimping of products, that is why I use your affiliate links , along with one or two others exclusively, I also met you at the DC , FTU , a couple of years ago, enjoyed your presentation and your respect for miles junkies like us, it is obvious you`re in this for the love and excitement of this game
Thank you for your great content and your transparency towards readers FM!
I subscribe to this blog via RSS but I believe that feeds don’t count as page clicks so I will intentionally click on the page links after I read them. I feel this is the least I can do….or maybe someone can tell me I’m wrong so I can stop doing meaningless clicks….
Thanks for sharing! I was wondering though – do you get any revenue when people read your posts exclusively by email or by RSS? I visit a lot of bloggers’ site to comment, and I comment a lot, so at least you still get my pageviews that way. I typically read by email/RSS daily, while occasionally clicking from Twitter or Google Search (when looking for a particular post I had read in the past). So hopefully those help at least. 🙂
That’s true, I don’t get revenue when people read posts via email or rss newsreaders. That’s OK. The latter is how I read blogs too, so I wouldn’t expect more from readers. Instead of clicking through, consider retweeting or Facebook sharing posts that interest you.
I guess the “free miles” lie is the physical world equivalent of online click bait?
We all know nothing’s free in this hobby – but noobs don’t! But since noobs are only ones silly enough to click on affiliate links, they are the lifeblood of your blog (and many others) and you have to get the hook into them with “free” Vendoming (just sign up for this card, this card, this card, this card…)
Totally agree. Let’s get more people into credit card debts. Spending $3000 in the first 3 months to get the signup bonus for a r/t coach class ticket. That ticket ain’t free.
I have applied for cards through u r site in the past and will keep doing it when making new applications. I do more MS these days than cc applicationso unfortunately .
You are my go to person when it comes to redcard, bb, MS. Keep up the great work.
Thanks for sharing this. I believe in the long run, your policy of putting readers first, will end up being better for your business. Keep going!
[…] My job? I blog. Here’s the answer to your next question… by Frequent Miler. One of the reasons why I love FM so much is that he always puts his readers first, he is truly one of the good guys and this is just another post that shows this. […]
I enjoyed this post for many reasons. I have been visiting your blog for at least a couple of years, and have learned so much from you. My family just got back from a three week trip to Europe that we couldn’t have afforded without learning how to play this points game – flying Business Class across the pond and back, and getting 13 out of 21 hotel nights for free (fortunately got Club Carlson nights before the big devaluation!). It’s an ever-changing landscape in the points world and I know who I go to first for updated information – you! Especially with all the Redbird stuff…
Another reason I liked this post is that it helps me see the back story of how one makes a living with a blog since that is something I’ve wondered about for a long time, and am interested in exploring myself.
Have you never had any sort of censorship? There was a fascinating post on Mr Money Mustache about why he cut ties with credit card affiliation after being asked to change his subtitle.
There have been minor incidents, but nothing like that.
Fascinating look behind the blogging scene.
You have always shown integrity in your approach to blogging and are one of favorites. Thank you.
If you build the right blog, the readers like me will come! Keep up the great blog.
Greg, you are awesome!!!! I’ve learned so much from you on many detailed techniques. THANKS!!
I’m due for my next churn and did notice that not all of your hyperlinks had a referral code in them, this post is very timely because I can also support other bloggers for cards which are not referred in your blog.
I find your blog to be most useful blog since you write useful stuff and not just ‘fillers’ just for the sake of it!
I think many of us were wondering about the amount an affiliate link click earns, but you’ve addressed the confidentiality clause in a response above. But can you at least confirm my (our) suspicion that the Chase Sapphire Preferred earns the highest commission?
Interesting question. I didn’t know the answer. In order to try to remain unbiased, I try not to look at the commissions earned by each card. Anyway, I went ahead and looked up the Sapphire Preferred and found that it is definitely not the highest commission. Not even close. It’s a good commission, but pretty typical for premium cards.
I am not a blogger but the one I know says approx $200 for every approved cc signup.
And this post is the difference between yourself and MMS and the points guy.
Great article. Appreciate the open and honest dialogue, and a peek into your business behind the blog. Great work!
Thanks for such an interesting and honest post. After I found your blog, I quickly realized you were in a league of your own when it comes to content and honesty. Hopefully, I’ve helped support your efforts with my few CC click-throughs.
Please keep up the great work and know that your audience really appreciates all you do.
When you post a article on the Boarding Area platform, do you still retain ownership of it or does BA by some way also become ownership in that article?
Yes, I retain full ownership of all of my posts
Thank you so much for this particular post. I’m always curious about the business side of blogging and annoyed by other bloggers, in particular, The Points Guy. He hates DL yet promoted DL AMEX heavily in June when the signup bonus was high. Enough said there.
Excellent post. I appreciate your honesty. Since I found your blog about a year ago, I’ve used your links as much as possible, but didn’t realize they weren’t all affiliate links. I just read the “How to find the best credit card offers AND support this site” page. Perfect. Now I know how to show my appreciation for your content/tutelage.
And great timing. I came to the blog this morning looking for credit card deals because Hubby and I signed a contract to install central air in our 1901 house. The company will let us put the whole bill on credit cards. Woop. Woop. The deposit went on my new Southwest card. Hubby has a Chase business card coming.
So….We were thinking about the Citi Hilton 75K pts offer that came out yesterday. There is no little cc icon on your “Best offer” page (therefore, not affiliate link). It doesn’t show up on CardMatch for me (sorry. But CardMatch sucks for Hubby and me). If we click through your “CreditCards.com” link to apply for cards, you get revenue? Yes? Is there a better way for you to get the referral income?
Thanks Dee! Yes, if you click through the creditcards.com link on the “How to find the best credit card offers AND support this site” page and sign up for a card, I’ll earn referral income.
Congratulations on achieving a high level of success with your Blog!
It is interesting, amusing at times – and always smart. Thanks!
Here and I thought you were a graphic genius! Appreciate the insight into the “blog business” side, its interesting that you’ve found your affiliate revenue has gone down yet ad revenue has gone up; there seems to be a perennial threat on flyertalk on ad revenue for BA going down or flat (I suppose as a macro discussion). It’s good to get a more transparent data point as you’ve shared. But that’s just peanut gallery stuff. Glad to see the reinforcement that you still ultimately care about the product you put out first.
My understanding is that ad revenue has gone down for quite a few blogs, but for others it has increased. I won’t pretend to understand why.
Thank you! Great to get the insight and appreciate you taking a position. The number of “forced” affiliate links has been regularly increasing with your peers and seems to be making business primary and content secondary. I appreciate your work and regularly use it as a resource for the hobby.
Please consider using Frequent Miler’s links. Most of the other Boardingarea bloggers are dishonest and only care about their pockets
Excellent, honest post. This is why I use your affiliate links when I get the chance. Keep up the good work!
My exact thoughts. I also copy your links in emails I send to friends who want suggestions.
Nice transparent post. Definitely stuff I was curious about. Keep up the good work!
You are the best! Thanks again for educating me over the past couple of years and inspiring me to start blogging as well..
I’d be interested to know how many views per day is enough to earn income – or even be of interest to ad providers. My blog has about 200 per day and I don’t have any ads. At what level should I consider adding ads?
You can include ads at any time with services like Google AdSense. Your revenue will grow as you increase viewership.
Interesting insight – great blog!
I believe many readers would be curious to know what a credit card affiliate link earns per sign-up.
The commission per sign-up varies by credit card, by publisher, by promotion (e.g. often when the cc companies offer bigger bonuses, they reduce the affiliate commission at the same time). Unfortunately our affiliate contracts do not permit disclosing the amounts.
It’s often several hundred dollars per card approval and top bloggers earn hundreds of thousands per year. No wonder they don’t publish the figures.
Thanks for the look “behind the blog”. It was informative and interesting. Keep up the good work!