This is a bit of an “inside baseball” discussion, so bear with me. Several of my readers have recently reached out with questions on this topic, so I wanted to go ahead and publish a post. If you are new to our hobby, hopefully, this will give you a peek into the mysterious world of miles and points blog monetization options.
First things first. Is it wrong to think about making money when starting a website (any website)? Absolutely not! If the idea of getting compensated is in the back of your mind, it’s much better to be upfront and transparent about the whole thing. I believe in honesty and treating readers with respect, which is why I told them right away that this blog is a “for profit” business.
I’m sure it turned quite a few people off, but that’s the nature of the beast. I think many times bloggers tell readers what they want to hear and I simply don’t do that. Was it the right approach? Probably not. But like I said, I’ve never been good at faking. And it’s certainly not a skill I’m interested in learning at this point in my life.
But the thing you need to remember when you start a blog is that many people will not view it as a real job, hence they won’t go out of their way to support you. Heck, even several of my own relatives have said this to me: “It must be really nice to get free money from affiliate links on your website!” They meant absolutely nothing bad by it and I took no offense, it’s just how things are. I get it.
The reality is that little money that I make from my blog is anything but free. I put many hours into research, writing, editing, answering emails etc. I also have to pay website expenses and federal/self-employment taxes. So what I’m saying is that you should think about these things before you invest in a blog. Sure, start-up costs are minuscule compared to traditional businesses, but that’s why everyone and their brother is doing it.
In the miles and points blogging industry, everyone and their brother, sister, mother, uncle and cat is doing it. Competition is so intense, it’s extremely hard to break through and get noticed. It was that way three years ago when I started, and it’s even more so today. Without decent traffic, your blog simply won’t make it as far as successful monetization goes.
Remember, miles and points hobby is a tiny sub-niche of a larger niche: travel blogging. The latter is oversaturated, so imagine how much harder it will be for you to gain traction.
Of course, not all is doom and gloom. Miles and points bloggers do have few options. The most lucrative one is having affiliate credit card links. In fact, that’s how I make 99% of my money. Let me tell you, readers love it when bloggers have credit card affiliate links! Not.
I’ve devoted many posts to this subject and don’t feel like rehashing it yet again. But needless to say, it’s a can of worms. The “worms” (links) allow you to catch fish (make affiliate commission), but they are gross and many are put off by them.
I don’t like to talk about my earnings but will give a few numbers for the sake of transparency. After three years, I am yet to make $1,000 per month. I have come close a few times so yes, you can earn money from miles and points blogging. BTW it may seem like a huge amount, but if you divided it by the number of hours I’ve put into the site, you’d see that the picture is not as rosy as it appears at first glance.
Plus, don’t forget that I have to pay taxes and just added a paid contributor to the site. And most of the time, this blog brings in a few hundred dollars per month. Also, I could get an email tomorrow saying that my affiliate company decided to drop me and there goes my source of income. I literally have all of my eggs in one basket. All of this is to say: even though I call it a business, in reality, my site is more of a hobby.
Are there other, more lucrative ways to monetize a miles and points blog? Nope. If you join a large blogging network (Boarding Area or Saverocity), you might be approached to review a product or take a sponsored trip. Basically, you would be leveraging network’s reputation and big traffic in order to benefit yourself.
Those are legitimate forms of compensation, but like credit card affiliate links they also come with a conflict of interest. How can you be 100% objective when someone else is footing the bill? I know I couldn’t. Besides, I doubt those trips are vacations in a true sense of the word. You have to review the property, take notes, photos, write a series of posts, promote them on Twitter etc. It’s actual work, albeit one with travel benefits. But do it too often, and you may lose credibility with readers.
Just to be clear, I have absolutely no problem with sponsored trips or accepting free stuff in exchange for a blog post. People have the right to monetize their sites in whatever way they wish. Like I said, blogging involves a ton of work.
I’ve never been approached with an offer of a sponsored trip because my site is quite small. I won’t say that I would never accept it, but in all honesty, I prefer to pay for my own travel. I have a lot of miles and points, plus I don’t have to worry about ticking off my sponsor if I see a problem with a property.
Ironically, in this particular area, relying solely on credit card affiliate links actually gives me a degree of independence. Readers can trust my advice on loyalty programs and specific properties because there is no incentive or sponsorship involved.
What about having ads on your blog? Once again, those pay almost nothing unless you have a sizable audience. I took my ads out because they were bringing in very little and were actually irritating readers. So, I’ve decided that to keep them on my blog would be penny wise and pound foolish.
The only way you can make ads work is to post 4-10 articles per day, every day. It’s realistic when you cover deals and promotions, not when you write detailed, “how-to” posts. Let me give you an example. A $10 coupon comes out and it takes me 15 minutes to put a post together. For the most part, it’s mindless work because you are just writing about the specifics of a deal.
Alternatively, I could write a post on latest SPG/Virgin America partnership that will take tons of research, adding screenshots, editing etc. It will require four hours and lots of mental energy to get it all done. So, I have a choice: to write easy sixteen posts on various deals or one hard post.
You know what’s crazy? Chances are, those sixteen posts will bring in five times the traffic compared to one hard post. They also would give me a better ranking on Google and potentially help new readers discover my site. And yet, I go ahead and write the 4-hour post anyway. Why? I want to create evergreen content that will hopefully give readers tools to get the most out of their miles and points. Obviously, not all of my posts require several hours of work, but I do my best not to waste anyone’s time.
Overall, this site takes a ton of energy and effort. Is it worth it? It is to me, for now, at least. I want to make a difference and help regular families afford a trip to Hawaii/Europe/South America, you name it. I’m also blessed with amazing readers who go out of their way to support me, and for that I’m truly grateful.
Of course, I have my own family to think about. Should I get a part-time job where I can make decent money and improve our financial situation? Is it fair to devote so much time to this endeavor rather than be with my children when they need me the most? There are no easy answers to these questions.
So, to wrap it up, I recommend you only start a miles and points blog because you love to write and like the idea of creating a community of like-minded individuals. Whatever you do, don’t start it with the idea of turning it into a viable business. You have been warned.