What is an Affiliate Link & How Can You Get One?

Disclosure: We get a commission for links on the blog. You don’t have to use our links, but we’re very grateful when you do. American Express, Barclaycard, Capital One, Chase, and US Bank are Million Mile Secrets advertising partners. Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or endorsed by our partners. Here’s our Advertiser Disclosure.

[Disclosure:  None of the links in this post are affiliate links!]

I’ve always placed disclosures at the TOP of each blog post whenever a blog post contains a link which pays us a commission (often called affiliate links).  And I’m extremely proud that my Hot Deals pages almost always have the best links to credit card offers regardless of whether they pay me a commission or not.

Readers sometimes ask how they can get these affiliate links for themselves, and there seems to be a big interest in affiliate link practices and disclosure on FlyerTalk and other blogs, so I thought I’d write a few posts on it.

What is an affiliate link?

An affiliate link is a way to identify which website generated a sale for advertisers.

For example, Emily and I get a commission if you apply for certain credit cards using links found on the Million Mile Secrets blog.  And we’re always very grateful to readers who apply for cards using our links. 🙂

I’m not allowed to disclose how much each affiliate links pays in cash, but you can get a good estimate by googling.  I suspect that the affiliate marketing company doesn’t want folks comparing their commission with others and negotiating for a higher commission!

How Can I Get My Own Affiliate Links?

Enterprising readers often email to ask how they can get their own affiliate links to use themselves or to send to their friends!  I get my links from FlexOffers since I’m too small to get them directly from the banks.  Credit Karma and Credit Card Broker are other affiliate marketing company which provides affiliate links.

I’ve heard from readers that while it is easy to get approved to join the affiliate marketing companies, it isn’t easy to get approved for many of the credit card affiliate programs.  You usually require a website with a decent amount of traffic before you can get approved for credit cards.

And readers say that sometimes their affiliate manager is not very responsive to their needs.

Another option could be to investigate Commission Junction and Bankrate’s creditcards.com.  American Express used to offer extra points to cardholders who referred other cardholders, but they no longer seem to be doing that.  I wrote about that before when I told folks that they were better off not using my links for the American Express Starwood card if they could refer or get referred themselves.

Why Are Affiliate Links Bad?

But not ALL affiliate links are for the best available offer.  For example, the affiliate links (which pay a commission) to the Citi American Airlines credit card is for only 30,000 miles when there are better links for 40,000 miles and 50,000 miles.

Many websites try to direct you to the best offer, but there is an obvious conflict of interest if one link (with a lower sign-up bonus) pays the website owner more than another link.

But sometimes the links with the higher sign-up bonus have technically expired, but still work (like the Citi American Airlines card with 50,000 miles).  Or require you to attempt to make a hotel reservation (like I wrote with the Marriott or Hyatt cards).

The most common question I’ve received is from folks asking if they will really get 50,000 miles for applying for the Citi American Airlines card using the links on the blog.  I can’t guarantee 50,000 miles, but I let them know that both Emily and I have got the bonus miles, as have readers and folks on this FlyerTalk thread, and they almost certainly will get 50,000 miles if approved (based on everyone’s experience).

I don’t get a commission for the 50,000 mile cards, but I owe it to readers to encourage them to apply for a card with 20,000 more miles versus a card with 30,000 miles, but which pays me a commission.

You can also make the case that since websites earn money from credit card commissions, some go out of their way to promote offers which aren’t in their readers interest or to intentionally mislead readers to apply for a card which isn’t necessarily the best offer for that card.

Or sometimes, a website will mention a better offer in passing, but continue to promote an inferior offer in ads and in other posts on the website.

On the other hand, some websites are scrupulous about disclosure and pass on links to better offers to readers.

Do the banks police your affiliate links?

Yes, the banks read your blog (as well as the forums).  The banks don’t have an issue with editorial content on your blog, so I never got any feedback for writing, for example, why I thought the American Express Starwood card was overrated or why I wouldn’t get the American Express Business Gold card with 75,000 points.

But they do poke around your site.  Sometimes their concerns are trivial, such as an incorrect spelling or misplaced trademark sign.  And sometimes their concerns are more legitimate such as an incorrect sign-up bonus or minimum spending requirements.

I have been told that I shouldn’t promote other non-affiliate links (with better offers) on certain other cards. But I’ve always stood my ground and worked out creative ways to get around the banks’ concern.  Though I understand why some may not want to negotiate with the banks just to be able to promote an offer which doesn’t earn them a commission.

But Million Mile Secrets readers can usually expect an update every few days on better credit card offers which don’t pay me a commission!

And there have been times when I’ve had my commission earning links removed (and lost hundreds if not thousands of dollars) because I publicized an offer when I first heard about it (despite being told not to) rather than waiting for my affiliate links.

Bottom Line

In tomorrow’s post I’ll list my disclosure and policies around affiliate links and a few tips on how readers can find the best credit card  offers for themselves!

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* If you liked this post, why don’t you join the 25,000+ readers who have signed-up to receive free blog posts via email (only 1 email per day!) or in an RSS reader …because then you’ll never miss another update!

Editorial Disclaimer: Neither the responses below nor the editorial content on this page are provided or commissioned by the bank advertisers, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertisers. Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of the bank advertisers. It is not the bank advertisers’ responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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62 responses to “What is an Affiliate Link & How Can You Get One?

  1. Wow. I really respect this level of transparency about your blog income.

  2. thanks for the transparency!

    on a side note, i just applied for a personal and biz chase cards but the recon line is closed at this time.

  3. When there is a better deal that the CC compnies don’t want you to publish maybe you can link to it somewhere other than your blog. That way they can’t remove them.

  4. For what it’s worth I have never had a bank express concern about my promoting a non-affiliate offer on my blog.

    I’ve specifically been told as well that the content of my post is none of their business as long as it is accurate and not misleading (since they worry about regulatory implications/risks for them). Which is fair/fine because I work hard to be ultra-clear about offers, not to mislead anyway.

    As a result the only times I hear from them with concerns — which are very very rare — is when an offer has expired but I’m still showing live links by mistake. So they’re helpful.

    I’m not saying others haven’t had different experiences, but those are mine.

  5. Thanks for the info, just for my own curiosity, do you get W2 for the income you earn through affiliate links ?

  6. Great Post!

    I used one of your affiliated links for the Chase United Mileage Plus and got the card after calling the line because it was not instantly approved. After calling and checking some info, got approved for $8000 line. After I followed your tip, I emailed them via my Chase login and asked about the 55K promotion and If I could be bumped to that promotion. Just got a letter in the mail yesterday confirming they gave me the additional 20k miles, thanks to you.

    Now I’ll be able to fly business class on my way to London (will have a 12 hour layover in Chicago-Intentional =D)

    Thanks again!

  7. Hello Adriano Gomes,
    Did you say 55k promo? The highest I have heard is 50k (that I am targetted for and I see in my mileage plus account screen).
    Would you please confirm, as I am planning to apply for that?

  8. You are such a kind hearted soul! May more readers click your business affiliate links and send you on vacations. Your honesty brought a tear to my eye and restored my faith in humanity. Now that readers are aware of your honest techniques, hopefully they are convinced to click your links since you work so hard to assimilate information from so many different sources to make it easy for them to earn and redeem millions of miles in a very secret way.

    My Bloggah.

  9. There are reasons why I bookmarked MMS and this is one of them.

  10. Hi Pas,

    I believe you promotion is correct. My initial offer was for 30k after spending $1000 in the first 3 months plus 5k miles after adding an authorized user and using he card once. When I mentioned the promotion for the 55k to the rep, I got an additional 20k miles (after waiting 7 days) bringing to a total of 55k miles. It might be the same on your promotion unless they don’t have the additional 5k miles offer, which in this case, your offer would be correct.

    I will need and additional 8k miles and my wife 15k in order for us to fly Business one way and economy the other way. here’s what we are doping to get the additional miles:

    – Won 3600 miles for using FTD promotion (30miles per 1$) -Brought flowers for Valentine and for our anniversary in April

    – 1000 miles for the restaurant signup promotion on United Dining
    – 1500 each + $ 25 back for signing up for Gilt (United Website)
    – 4000 miles for signing up for magazines (which I was planning anyway) Magazines.com 40 miles per $1

    Since I’ll have to purchase these miles anyway later, it feels like getting paid to shop since 1 mile is worth $0.0367

    Good luck!


  11. Oops, sorry for my spelling mistakes!! =D

  12. Bravo!

    You know TBB does not say that a lot;-)

    Your method of handling this “touchy” subject and your disclosure policies are something to be admired and imitated.

    It would be nice if you can give us some “metrics” on what qualifies to be accepted by Flex Offers and by the banks themselves directly. If you are allowed to do so of course.

    Are these the only players in this area? Any others? I do have a problem with authority so having a bank or affiliate (oh how I despise this word) tell me “you can’t do this or that” instantly elevates me to a point of screaming “get off my back u &^)*&)s” 🙂
    Is there a specific affiliate company for “newbie” bloggers to be associated with?

    I still think the way Frequent Miler does this is the best. But I do understand the economics behind it and if it is going to be done your way is the way to do it by the full disclosures.

  13. You really do go the extra mile with full disclosure. I’m impressed. As always, your clear and complete discussion puts you ahead of the herd. But I suspect haters will continue to hate. They’re not gonna invest in the time it takes to build an audience…they prefer to gripe, cry, and moan.

  14. I’ve always appreciated that you promote links that don’t earn you $$, as well as the ones that do. Thanks for doing this series. I know blogging is a lot of work, and I think you deserve that extra income.

  15. @Ed…CPA here and he definitely doesn’t get a W-2 for income from credit card. He’d get a 1099 for sure though as they pay him over $600 in a year. He’d then report the income on his Schedule C for the business (unless he’s organized as an S-Corp or Partnership with someone else or as a C-Corporation). He can deduct the costs of running the business (ie. technology, web hosting, etc).

  16. Once again, an excellent piece from MMS. I will add my thoughts on this touchy subject…

    One thing that is not really mentioned in the piece is that the affiliate networks are in fact multi-level-marketing schemes (“MLM”). Someone like MMS can sign up other underneath him, and he will take a cut of their production, and they in turn can sign people beneath them and they take a cut and MMS takes a cut, and so on and so on. This is something to keep in mind. Personally I don’t mind this, there are a million and one MLMs out there and they are not all bad. It is frankly a very good way to build a sales network.

    The issue I have with these particular MLMs is actually the fact that the commission payer (in this case the banks) make the number one cardinal sin of marketing and that is to offer a better/cheaper product outside of it’s affiliate channel. I have worked in other marketing/commission based businesses where the margins are many times the magnitude of these card links (this insurance products that pay commissions of hundreds of thousands of dollars for a single sale) and in all cases the commission payer “protects” their sales network. So you simply cannot get a better deal by not using the affiliate. The number one problem in this space is the banks are willing to sell directly and pass the cost savings of the affiliates to the consumer. This is why there are “better” links out there that pay higher sign ups or have less spend requirement or bigger statement credits. I have never seen this in any other commission driven business. Insurance is a great comparable. You won’t get a cheaper quote from All State if you call their number directly, go through a wholesale website, or if you use one of their agencies. If you did, I can assure you their agencies would be up in arms. I am sure this is what gets discussed at these bank meetings, and frankly I find the banks both arrogant and stupid (and having worked at banks like JPM and Citi in the past, I know from experience that is likely the case) for not addressing this.

    If the affiliate link was always the best offer available, there would be zero discussion of this anywhere on the web.

    The other aspect of interest to me is the approval/disapproval of smaller/larger players. I think there is a really interesting balancing act at play here. I guess the banks don’t want the compliance headache of dealing with lots of little sites. I understand that. One of them mis-markets your product and bang you have a potential class action law suit on your hands. But at some point some of the sites must produce so much volume that the tail suddenly starts to wag the dog as it were. @GaryLeff I think this may be part of your situation. I am sure you generate a lot of volume for your network, and so they have to draw the balance between keeping up their numbers and keeping you in line. Your production level buys you breathing space as it were. When you are more in the building phase, say where this MMS blog was 9-12 months ago, I am sure Daraius had to deal with a lot more push back. At that point FlexOffers holds all the cards. When you are bringing in thousands of apps a month, suddenly they can’t afford to you lose any more and I am pretty sure you buy some leeway.

    @TBB – I think you are way, way over-doing the being an angel thing. Simple, well written disclosures and well organized links is all that is required. It is going to be really hard for you to put up your own links given the stance you have taken on the subject. It would be like sending the Pope to sell condoms LOL

  17. Good post. Good blog.

    • @Travel Bug @jim @jrey @peachfront @Lisa @Sean – It works out best if we all know what’s in it for me!

      – I’ll do that if need be, but I haven’t had an issue, so far, with promoting better links.

      @Gary Leff – The concerns were more around me listing the non-affiliate link in way readers could interpret it as being a direct link from the bank (especially on the credit card pages), but we’ve figured out ways to make it clearer that the non-affiliate links are distinct from the affiliate links.

      @Ed – I’m not an employee, so I get a 1099 as Jeremy mentions later in the comments.

      @Adriano Gomes – Glad it worked out. Safe travels!

      @TravelBloggerBuzz – It keeps on changing and is different from when I signed up a year ago, so I really can’t say. I’ve listed 3 other ways to get links in the post. And google is your friend, or do you want me to spoonfeed you?! Can we expect a “Welcome [Big Daily Newspaper] readers” from you too! 🙂

      @MilesAbound – They discontinued the ability to refer others to the network and they haven’t provided an accounting of the folks who signed up during the time when you could refer others, so it is a bit of a mess.

      There are always better credit card offers, and most don’t make it to the blogs because they are highly targeted (as tests) or because they require a special code to get the offer. Some banks are better than others at having the same offer, and some don’t care. I’m not sure if this is indifference or if someone is really testing to see which offers lead to better leads, conversions, and retentions.

  18. What is the best card for those with spends around dining, groceries, and gas? Thanks

  19. thanks for the info, really appreciated. I will try to signup for these programs for my blog, too.

  20. Most people cannot get affiliate links. You need tons of traffic to your site. Dariaus spends lots of time making posts and invests lots of time on his website. It’s not that easy making a living blogging, but congrats to those who have. I certainly am not ever going to give up my day job to blog.

  21. As someone who has just recently received their first “Big Boy” affiliate links (at least any that are what I would apply for), the process is convoluted and frustrating, but at the end of the day, it encourages me to be a better blogger. I’ve got to get the traffic on my site up to their standards to get noticed, so here’s to better and more informative posts!

    Love this site, by the way. You’re a great writer.

  22. @MilesAbound: “The issue I have with these particular MLMs is actually the fact that the commission payer (in this case the banks) make the number one cardinal sin of marketing and that is to offer a better/cheaper product outside of it’s affiliate channel.”

    This is simply not true. Like Darius, I always list better offers than the commissioned ones on my website when I find them. No credit card issuer has ever objected to this.

  23. Thanks for the info. I think you do a better job of disclosure and presenting higher value non-affiliate links than most of the other travel sites.

  24. Thank you MMS for a very interesting article on a very controversial topic! I’m in the category of small niche blog who under the present conditions will never qualify for affiliate credit card links. Even medium sized blogs like Inacents, Cranky Flyer and Travel Summary can’t get affiliate links or get kicked out for not meeting a quota; which makes no sense at all. For the record, I have never been against people monetizing their blog with affiliate links, I don’t care about disclosures as I can see by hovering the cursor over the URL if there is a tracking link built in. I think it’s up to the individual to do their homework and get the best possible deal.

    My issue is with the affiliate companies (not bloggers) themselves. What I don’t get is why are Flex Offers so picky? Why should they care if a blogger brings in 50 new credit cards a month or 2 new credit cards if they pay a commission on the over all sales. Big blogger would still make commission on 50 credit cards but what’s the harm in letting small bloggers have a small piece of the action? Big blogger still gets a few thousand $, small blogger gets $50 which is usually enough to pay for hosting. For me, even to get that I would have to promote on my personal Facebook page as I don’t get enough traffic on my blog from casual web surfers passing by.

    I also don’t get why all credit card issuers don’t have some kind of bonus for anyone (not just bloggers) to earn a commission for referring their friends and relatives? I know Amex sometimes does this and I can refer for Australian Amex cards to a better deal than people can get without a referral but I can’t refer on any of my American based credit cards.

  25. @Gary Steiger – I think you are missing the point I am trying to make (which I freely admit I may not being doing a good job of). I am not saying you cannot show better non-affiliate offers alongside your affiliate offers. I am saying the *banks* are in the wrong to actually allow better offers outside the affiliate channels. The affiliate channels bring HUGE volume to the banks, and they should be grateful for that and respect it by making sure ALL affiliate offers are as good as the best publicly available offers. But I think they like to have their cake and eat it by leaving zombie links out there and then just blame it on the “difficulty” in updating their IT. If as an issuer you want to do affiliate marketing, you need to protect your affiliate network, rather than try to bash them into submission.

    @MilesToTheWild – I think the main issue for the bank is compliance tracking. There are definitely real legal risks for a bank in having a third party affiliate market their product. So the more of them there are to “police” the more chance of a failure. Just takes one blogger to put up some link with wording that promises something that does not exist and the card issuer could be subject to a lawsuit down the road. I can understand why the banks don’t want large numbers of affiliates, much easier to deal with a smaller circle of big producers.

  26. great post MMS! you’re definitely the best blog in terms of providing visitors informed info about your links so they could make their own decision of what to click. if heard it thrown around that while most will give you $, some affiliates will give you miles for each person who applies. is this correct?

  27. Excellent post, Daraius! Appreciate you taking the trouble to de-mystify yet again what others would prefer to keep hidden.

  28. A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!!! You are such and honest man! I literally had tears in my eyes while reading this.

    I will make sure to always include one or some of your links in my App-O-Rama’s!

  29. You, sir, are quickly becoming one of my favorites. You’re miles ahead of the other bloggers with regards to honesty. I appreciate your straightforwardness.

  30. It’s posts like these why I keep coming back to your blog and clicking your links, even though I find your trip reports borderline insufferable.

    Some bloggers are money first, readers second (in the FT thread you link, one well known blogger explicitly admits as much)

    Some are readers first, $$$ second.

    Agree with TBB…. the “best” way would be the FM way. But if you’re going to try to monetize the blog by including links in the posts (and I certainly don’t blame anyone for doing so), your method is the way to go.

  31. Pingback: Credit Card Affiliate Links | Million Mile Secrets

  32. @Miles to the Wild: I think one thing that gets convoluted and everyone needs to understand is that FlexOffers has very little involvement in say of who does and does not get approved to be affiliates. When you apply to be an affiliate, the credit card issuer is the sole decision maker on who gets approved.

    FlexOffers is not the one saying who should or should not get approved. They know what it is currently taking to get approved and maintain a relationship with that issuer (i.e. traffic, potential for volume, brands they want to be affiliated with, and compliance). The benchmark for approvals is constantly changing on part of the issuers dependent on marketing budgets and willingness to work with new affiliates. What works today to get approved could be totally different tomorrow.

    Now keep in mind, once approved, you may not see certain offers based on volume or limited affiliate promotions. Meaning certain cards and promotions are only visible and available to select sites. But FlexOffers (FO) is not the bad guy! They simply manage the program and make sure you stay in compliance with the issuers. If you don’t want to stay in compliance, then the issuer decides to kick you out, not FO.

    It makes no sense for FO to limit the amount of low volume affiliates. The card issuers hold the upper hand, and want to see traffic, volume, and compliance.

    The other thing that the OP does not touch on, and is important for those thinking they want to get involved in the credit card affiliate programs, is that the credit card portion of FlexOffers has now been sold off to BankRate. For the time being, they are still being managed by FO, but eventually its all going to be merged together.

    Why do I bring this up? FO currently pays the best, and BankRate the lowest. There is a good possibility that down the line, the commission payouts could substantially be less than they are now. Meaning BankRate keeps a bigger piece of the pie and pays affiliates less, like they do now. For fulltime bloggers relying on income from credit card referrals, they may face a stark new reality when their commissions are cut in half or more with the new company.

    Any questions, let me know.

  33. Great post man you take the disclosure seriously. I’m convinced most readers have a very good eye if posts make sense and recommend the best possible product or the highest bidder. I appreciate you outlining it ever better.

    As an alternative to all the ‘static’ affiliate links there is also http://skimlinks.com which transform many site links into an affiliate link. Arguably this allows more editorial freedom 🙂

  34. This just goes to show why I LOVE your blog and will keep returning for great travel deals… and why your site is the one I always refer my family/friends to. thanks!

  35. Great post, Daraius – thank you for sharing all this interesting information. One quick question: is it against the rules, or, in your opinion, is it unethical to use your own referral links when you or a family member applies for credit cards?

  36. Thank you Daraius. I love your blog, and one of the main reasons is because I trust you!

  37. We need more blogs like this around, with honest write-ups that put the reader’s interest first. Many other review sites would most definitely post the lesser valued card just to get the commission. ..unfortunately

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  39. I want to open my own blog for mostly the university students in my school. What’s the best way to get started?

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  41. Thank you for your transparency and honesty in this post as I am considering doing affiliate links myself in the future 🙂 I found this article very informative!

  42. I decided your site would be my go-to for links to applications after seeing a non-affiliate link to the often-ignored Priority Club card several years back (that I STILL keep for the redemption rebates and annual night). Its always refreshing to see some transparency and honesty to the business side of these affiliate commissions, and how they might affect the choice of offers that get talked up. Keep doing your thing, and readers who understand the value of this honesty will keep supporting you!

  43. Thanks for sharing this. I have been thinking about having a blog about some of the things I love, and in there having affliate links to products. In order to do that, do I need to have a LLC, or will companies pay out to an individual?

  44. You look better as a LLC or Corp with an EIN though – who knows they may turn Sole Proprietors off faster.

  45. As always, I appreciate your honesty and forthrightness, and taking the time to answer everyone’s questions. We always use your links :).

  46. Hi, thanks so much for this post, it was very helpful! Could you please let me know what the best affiliate program (in your opinion) to get involved with to promote the Chase Rapid Rewards Card would be? Please feel free to private message me too and thanks so much for the advice!

  47. Very helpful post and much appreciated. I had given up on promoting credit cards as the merchants were always having us remove content and offers. So I did apply for those you mentioned in your post. Thanks again!

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  50. Hi, I just set up a Mandarin-based website for credit cards (http://www.tipsforcards.com) and so happy to read your advice here!

    Since my website is a new site, do I have any chance of getting approved by any merchant (considering it is in a niche)? If possible, any advice on that would be greatly appreciated!

  51. As the President of BearMax LLC, I would like to discuss becoming an Affiliate Broker. We have purchased premier domain names targeting credit cards and credit repair, which generate over 350,000 average monthly searches according to Google.

    Please contact me to discuss becoming an affiliate.

    Respectively yours,

    Chris McMullen

  52. Really appreciate your insight! I’m thinking of using these types of links on my LinkedIn posts and I’m researching on it at the moment.

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  54. Hey MMS! I’m researching an article on hotel rewards cards. I read three Best Of lists: Simple Dollar NerdWallet and Money Crashers. SD and NW didn’t event list the Chase Hyatt Visa, while MC listed in 15 out of 17 cards.

    My guess is that they aren’t listing the card because they don’t like the affiliate perks and would rather push the Amex SPG or the Chase Sapphire Preferred (and now the Reserve) because the benefits are better. If that’s the case, it seriously undercuts their credibility as a source of financial advice. If you’re making cash on credit-card application conversions, you don’t have the reader’s best interest in mind.

  55. Hey! I’m a long time reader and huge fan of the blog! I recently came across this post while making a small blog about points/miles and travel to share with friends and family. A lot of them have wanted to sign up for cards through my links but I don’t have referral links for too many cards and I know there is often a cap on referral points earned. I was wondering if I could be approved for affiliate links even being brand new and having low traffic. Would you suggest going with FlexOffers as a newbie or to one of the other sites like CreditKarma. Thanks in advance and thank you for all the great posts over the years and for helping my family and I to travel like we never thought we’d be able to!

  56. Hi! I like how honest and up front you are. It’s refreshing and warming. I’ve been using points to travel now for about 10 year. 44 countries and 6 continents thus far. I like what you’re doing. Thank you and keep up the good work good people. Cheers!