Yesterday, Chris Elliott wrote one of the more interesting pieces I have read in a while – “Is it time to shut down the the “shills” who are paid to endorse credit card companies?” You should read it if you haven’t already. Let’s look at my favorite parts of the article. (I truncated the name of the reader who contacted Chris since they weren’t reaching out to me.)

Reader TF  is concerned about the evil part. He contacted me after I penned a column criticizing the ethics of travel hacking. Reader TF is particularly troubled by “manufactured” spending that can generate hundreds of thousands of loyalty points every month, often by buying a handful of gift cards.

“It happened to a neighbor,” he says. “She dabbled in some credit card schemes similar to what you wrote about. Now she’s in financial trouble and can’t get out.”

He believes a small group of travel bloggers who are paid to endorse the credit cards are to blame for getting his neighbor into debt, and he wants to see them brought to justice.

“Did some blogger make money on her credit card application?” he wonders.

I tried to find out. I made an effort to reach the neighbor to determine who pushed those cards on her. But Facnauu said she didn’t want the publicity. That’s not unusual: Over the last few years, I’ve been in touch with one or two other “victims” of bloggers who peddled these cards, and they were shy about having their names or stories used.

I’m rarely left speechless, but I hardly know where to begin with this. Really, I don’t. That said, I’m going to start with some full disclosure, move into some real life story, and close with some bloviating and opinion.

Full Disclosure

In the past I have maintained an affiliate relationship with credit card companies. They have chosen to no longer do business with me because I don’t sell enough credit cards, and I like it that way. First, I have a job and am blessed with a good income. Second, said job is somewhat demanding of my time and I don’t have any “help” here at MJ on Travel to deal with the understandable regulatory compliance challenges that affiliates face. Finally, life is more important than cards. I simply stopped giving a damn about credit cards and I got rewarded for it. I’m still good with it.

Real Life Story

I was flipping credit cards before I knew flipping credit cards had a name. Heck, I was doing so when I worked for a certain big AAirline and earning miles while there. Same can be said for manufacturing spend. A few years ago I was doing what I’ve always done. Spending that good income I referenced above and having a good time. I got lazy…really lazy. I’m at my best in things like maximizing card rewards and innovative spending strategies when I’m at my best for being anal (for lack of a better word) when it comes to my finances. Tracking every penny. Spend $2 at Starbucks, it gets recorded. Did I mention I got lazy? I forgot to track those $2 coffees and a lot of other things. Actually, I didn’t forget, I just didn’t care. There’s 2 miles to be earned there! I was rolling in miles, and then life happened. A surprise vet bill. A surprise car repair bill. A cruise bar bill. A really surprising tax bill….all in the space of a few months. All of us have been through it in some way or another. You see, the thing is…that one day, the bill came due and for the first time since I was in my early 20s and making $16K a year flying for a regional airline, I didn’t have the money to pay it without emptying every single cash savings vehicle I had.

Bloviating and Opinion

It’s been a few years, but the situation I found myself in was nobody’s fault but my own!!! I didn’t reach out to my wife, my mother, a neighbor, or a consumer advocate. I sucked it the F up and fixed the problem. I rediscovered my lost discipline, I found the money to pay the bills, and most of all, I stopped doing stupid sh*t. I spend with a plan. I apply for cards with a plan. I meet my obligations with a plan.

The truth is that I have experienced a lot of travel opportunities that I never would have experienced without credit card rewards. I love card rewards and I still believe in them. I also believe in affiliate marketing and I absolutely have no problem with bloggers who promote rewards cards. It’s a personal decision on the part of readers to decide whether they want to apply for a card or not. If a blogger has something to say or a tip to share that helps a reader and that reader wants to use their affiliate links to compensate the blogger for the time they spend on their blogging effort, who the heck am I or anyone else to say there’s something wrong with that? I’m sorry, but bloggers aren’t responsible for anyone’s financial problems.

In trouble because of rewards cards? Looking for someone to blame? Look in the mirror. Then look in that mirror again to find the solution.

-MJ, February 5, 2015

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13 Responses

  1. They bought their tickets, they knew what they were getting into, I say let em crash”

    The problem is that incomplete and misleading information is being provided to consumers. Individuals are being lured in with promises of free luxury travel and given the impression that they are being provided objective advice, and that the blogger is in it for the consumers best interest.
    While I agree that an individual has culpability if their spending gets out of control, the marketer has some as well if he misled the consumer about obtaining a product and the ease by which free luxury travel would result.

    Most blog readers have no idea just how much bloggers are paid for selling credit cards, or that one of the major blogs is owned by a banking services company.

    The bloggers often sell credit cards and then leave it to Flyertalk and other unpaid folks to actually help people figure out what to do once they’ve gotten 5 credit cards.

    Consumer credit is a regulated industry. thus far, travel bloggers have somehow persuaded the world they are travel experts, not salesmen. That is unlikely to continue for long. As a nation, we’ve made the collective judgment that consumers of financial products are entitled to honest, forthright sales practices.

    If consumers are to be protected when they buy mistake fares, they should be protected from people making a living off selling them credit

  2. I wrote a similar comment on Elliot’s post. Interestingly…it has been published. He’s doing extensive censoring along with his self-aggrandizing

  3. @Adam – credit card advertising is regulated which is why there is such an emphasis on compliance. Everything you said about bloggers with credit card affiliates could be said about any other industry – period. I think bloggers get a lot of crap from other people about the cards because it is a hobby that so many have a wealth of knowledge with and it is always hard watching other people make a living from what some do for a hobby.
    Could bloggers give more info about non-affiliate offers that are better than the affiliate ones? Absolutely. But, everyone should do some research on their own. Do you go to buy any merchandise from a salesman cold-turkey and not compare or do research? I certainly hope so! At the same time, I would hope that you would consider buying something local if you got all of your help and education from the local shop instead of buying from Amazon. Same thing with bloggers. If they have helped you, return the favor by applying for the card that presents the best value for your situation.
    Great write-up, MJ.

  4. Actually most of the bloggers are operating in a gray area, as they are purporting to offer “advice”, not advertising. If every post with a link to a credit card application complied with the regulations that apply to advertisements (as well as general fair practices law), I’d agree with you. But when a reader submits a question about visiting Paris and the answer includes 25 credit card links without being clear that the “advice ” being provided iS not neutral,

    There’s also the issue that bloggers sometimes Know there’s a better deal out there, but promote the one that pays them more. Is that legal? Probably. But is it misleading and unethical if your holding yourself out to be giving out travel advice? No.

    it’s all a question of degree and kind. If a blog does provide original, helpful content, throwing it a few shekels is a nice thing to do. If the blog just summarizes what other blogs have said or Google able info to sell credit cards, that’s not “help”

  5. Whatever Elliott says, do the exact opposite. You’ll be right more often than not. :D

  6. Because of bloggers and their credit cards, we have been able to travel over the past 2 years to places we only dreamed of. I think most of the bloggers do an excellent job of warning people about things like being able to pay in full each month and keeping records before you start this hobby.

  7. Could not agree with MJ more. In the case of credit cards, just as it is no secret that putting large amounts of spend on a credit card for luxury travel you cannot afford is a really bad idea, it is equally foolish to put large amounts of spend on a credit card for miles/points (toward luxury travel) that you cannot afford.

    Instead of doing any sort of basic due diligence about a financial product like credit cards (of which there is a wealth of information readily available), some would rather others be held accountable for their personal financial decisions, no matter how reckless and uninformed they may be.

  8. @MJ – Preach, preacher!

  9. Learn some personal responsibility people! That’s the problem with people today. They always want to blame someone else for their own mistakes/problems.

  10. Can’t believe you still read Elliott’s blog.
    He has cute headlines with shallow stories. After the 2nd one I’ve ignored the rest; they’re a waste of time.

  11. The problem with blogs is that there is ZERO transparency.

    How many people who visit TPG knows that he no longer owns the blog and sold to Bankrate?

    How many people know that these shills make millions of dollars a year?

    We are past the point of “putting food on the table.” We are talking about pure greed.

    These bloggers are the banks’ slaves, they are only thinking about their pockets.

  12. I still don’t see how CE is “required reading for frequent flyers”. He seems to just be enabling people not taking responsibility for their own actions. It’s travel related half the time at best, and the cases he is handling hardly seem to be frequent fliers.

    Comment by nowhereman on February 5th, 2015 at 3:35 pm
  13. Are these the same people who blame McDonalds for getting fat because they can’t stop eating at McD’s 3 times a day? Holy crap people.. start taking personal responsibility for once!

    Every blogger I follow all disclose that they have a relationship with banks and they get compensated for it. And they ALL state that you cannot carry a balance when playing the points game. They provide information that is hard for me to search on my own… for that I click on their links to get my credit cards so they can keep earning $$ to continue what they do. That’s how it is suppose to be.

    I have 10+ credit cards and I am not in financial hardship nor paying interest every month. Because I have self control to not go crazy with my credit limits. My family knows our income and know where to spend. And thanks to the bloggers we have taken many vacations for pennies on the dollar.

    I’m sure these complainers will be suing or whining about how the PC makers gave them carpel tunnel sydrome for making them type on a keyboard.. or blame obesity on TV because they had to watch it. tsk..tsk.tsk..

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