What I Do & Don’t Do To Earn Money on the Blog

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In yesterday’s post, I explained what an affiliate link is and that Emily and I are very grateful when you click on our affiliate links!  That’s because we get a commission on some credit cards which pays for maintaining the blog.

But I also mentioned that not all affiliate links lead to be best offer, so here’s how I use affiliate & non-affiliate links on Million Mile Secrets.

Should the Buyer Beware?

I go about life not expecting others to present me with the best choices for my specific situation, but to usually make suggestions which are in their best interest.  “That’s a bad long term business strategy for the recommender” you say.  Sure it is, but most folks don’t think about the long term and short-term opportunism pervades many parts of life today.

So I ask Emily to get a second opinion when the dentist suggests breaking her metal crowns and putting in shiny new white ones.  I don’t sign-up for a more expensive cable package, despite being told that I’ll “save money” by bundling services.  And I’ve shopped around for low interest rates on student loans.

The Mother-In-Law Rule

But I use affiliate links on Million Mile Secrets in a very different way.

My goal is NOT to maximize my income, but to make sure that my mother-in-law won’t be led astray or click on a link which leads to a lower offer.

Emily’s mom grew up poor and didn’t go to college.  But she worked hard at the phone company and had a good middle-class life.  Except that a few years before her retirement during the financial crisis, she sold all her retirement investments, at almost the lowest possible point at the urging of a person who earned commission from the sale.

Of course, she should have been more diligent and researched the situation more, but she didn’t know any better.  So I want to be as transparent as possible should she apply for a travel credit card on the blog.

How I Use Affiliate Links on the Blog


I want to make it as easy for anyone to know – up front – while reading a post, if a link in the post pays me a commission.

As a marketer, I know that this disclosure on EVERY post with an affiliate link will definitely decrease conversions i.e. reduce the number of folks who are approved for a product using my affiliate links.  That’s because you are aware that I earn a commission from the links in the post, so you’re on-guard to see if the affiliate link benefits you as well.

If I wanted to maximize my income from affiliate links or have a cleaner blog post, I wouldn’t have disclosure in every post.   But I follow the “mother-in-law” rule.

That said, having disclosure in every post is messy, so many websites don’t disclose in every post, but rather disclose in one fixed location.  Sometimes that location is easy to find and stares at you because there is a tab which says “disclosure.”  And sometimes the disclosure is in every post or hidden away.

Note that the FTC does require disclosure if you are paid for endorsing a product, but doesn’t appear to require it on every page containing affiliate links.


As I wrote yesterday, there is a very clear conflict of interest if one link (with a lower sign-up bonus) pays the website owner more than another link.

But the “mother-in-law rule” means that I always try to list better offers to credit cards even if these don’t pay me a commission.

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).

I will usually update links in the Credit Card tabs (i.e Airlines, Hotels, Bank Points etc.) within a few hours of a reader commenting or emailing me with links to a better credit card offer, but no later than 72 hours in case I’m traveling or scared by the size of my inbox!

Yes, I will earn less when you click on a non-affiliate link instead of my affiliate link.

But folks who use those links will also earn more miles or points or statement credit.  I know my mother-in-law would be upset if I clicked on a link which had a lower sign-up bonus, so I wouldn’t want it to happen to you!

That said, I can’t always keep up with all the changes to all the offers as soon as they happen.  But I try to!  So please continue to email or comment if you find links to better offers.


Sometimes, I’m approached to sell the space on the blog sidebars and below the blog header.  I reject many of these proposals.

Some are for terrible cards (Visa Black card anyone?) and sometimes there is an alternative non-affiliate offer which is much better than the affiliate offer.

So I’ve never accepted money to place ads for the Citi Hilton cards (there is a better non-affiliate version for 50,000 points), the Citi American Airlines cards, or the United credit cards etc. because there are better non-affiliate links in the credit card tab.  I tried to negotiate a proposal where I could mention the better non-affiliate link along with the ad, but I wasn’t able to.

So I’ve walked away from months of guaranteed ad revenue because of my “mother-in-law rule.”

But I can’t always promise to do this, though I will try my best!  That’s because I could sell an ad slot and since the minimum term is for 3 months, there could be a better non-affiliate link available before the 3 months contract is up.  In those cases, I will write a blog post telling you of the better link and, as always, it will be in the Credit Card tab.

You’ll always find the best links, that I’m aware of, in the Credit Card tabs regardless of the ads on the main page.


I’m often asked if I will accept money to write a product review or mention a product or include links in my posts.  I stopped replying to those emails (it bumps down my response time to genuine reader email) and delete them.

I’ve never accepted money or products to write a review.  However, if the product really is travel related, I may consider accepting the product, writing a candid review and giving away the product in a reader giveaway on the blog.

I’ve also turned down writing about travel where the travel was arranged & paid for by the travel provider.


Emily and I are very grateful that we can earn money by doing what we love!  But we don’t use affiliate links in the blog to maximize the amount we could earn from the blog.

Instead we’re happier sharing ways for readers (and my mother-in-law) to make better decisions when it comes time to apply for travel credit cards.

So don’t be shy to email or comment when you find links to better offers than what is on the blog!

PS: I’m traveling over the next few days, so won’t be able to get to the comments on time.

* 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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65 responses to “What I Do & Don’t Do To Earn Money on the Blog

  1. When I read other travel blogs, I regularly see disclosures about sponsored trips. Bloggers get free nights, and free trips, then write trip reports. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with reviewing a sponsored hotel/destination as long as I see a disclosure. I’ve never seen a disclosure about hotel sponsorship in a miles/points focused blog. Don’t bloggers in this specific travel niche accept sponsorships? I think it’s funny that I’ve never seen this kind of disclosure.

  2. D, I love your blog and love the service you provide for free. But I would never pay you to advertise on your site because you have way too many readers that are anal retentive , cheap skates who have nothing better to do than complain about somebody who they get FREE ADVICE AND INFO from.

  3. I have a similar outlook in life. There’s only one person who going to look out for me and that’s me. I go to many blogs, read the content and then decide if that’s the best option for my personal tastes/situation. If it’s not the best for me, I don’t complain, etc. I just move on. I love your blog and I find it an interesting read every morning!

  4. Since you are one of the most transparent bloggers I follow, I think you give the most valued cc info. I recently did the Southwest 2 cc deal and now have the companion pass till Dec 14!

  5. Kudos Daraius – you’re setting a high bar of transparency, and I think / hope it will elevate the conversation on this topic!

  6. Daraius – That was an excellent post. I am glad you uphold the philosophy. Knowingly misleading readers to apply for lower offer links defeats the purpose of why we’re all here. After all, we strive to bring others to optimize miles, deals and leave nothing on the table!

    @Travel Bug – It being ok or not ok to accept free travel and disclose it is a dicey issue and in the eye of the beholder. As an example, journalists absolutely cannot accept any kind of comped travel or gifts, regardless of disclosure, when writing about travel. The media makes clear, in no uncertain terms, that this would taint the journalistic integrity of the writer. I am not saying that bloggers should be treated as journalists or that it is not worthwhile to read travel reviews of those that accept comped travel. It just makes sense for Daraius to point out he does not, as there are definitely different standards around this issue.

  7. Thats why we love you

  8. Mother in law rule——>BEST

    This miles/points addict salutes you Sir.

    Like I said earlier, I wish your transparency and disclosure policies were copied by all other bloggers in this space. But they won’t as most will try to squeeze/maximize every freaking dollar they can.

    I apologize for the crap I gave you in my blog for harmless things such as pics and arrows and too many pics with cards:-) Post away, you have earned it. Just keep it up, you know I am always watching.

    I am saddened to hear about your mother in law being taken advantage of a charlatan bent oh maximizing his/her income…every time I hear of this it makes me sick to my stomach (I am sick quite a lot, lol).

    I must admit I like the India pics:-)

  9. Thanks for the informative post. I do get the impression that you are more straight forward than a lot of other blogs and I doubt if that hurts you much, in fact articles like this are good marketing for winning over readers to use your affiliate links rather than another sites when the affiliate offer is the best offer available. So you are likely to come out ahead in the long run due to developing reader good will.

  10. I really appreciate how transparent you are and your commitment to providing readers with the best information possible. Your blog is perhaps the one I trust the most to lead me to the best offers, so I make a point to use your affiliate links when I can. Thanks so much for all of the information you provide.

  11. Great post today.

    IMO, the ongoing problem for all travel bloggers is that they are more likely than most to blur the line between CONTENT and SALES. Contrast this to a newspaper setting (NYTimes website, for example): the reader expects CONTENT to be (mostly) unbiased and the ADs “outside” of the content area. In a travel blog, people come to rely on the content area and may not realize that the blogger is also repurposing it to SELL.

    Well, I know this topic has been debated a lot and there will never be agreement on the best approach. That said, I really like your style and this series and I think it will serve you well in the long run.

  12. I don’t really have anything to add, but I feel like I should say how much I appreciate this stance. And that’s why I keep reading MMS and give you my clicks – when your affiliate link *is* the best, of course. 🙂

  13. Exactly a year ago I was led to this site and used some of the links, not knowing that they were affiliate links (or even what an affiliate link was). Since then, I’ve done 3 proper app-o-ramas, learned a ton about the mileage and credit “game”, and learned a skill that will truly improve the quality of my life forever. I never dreamed of giving friends and family free flights, but I am, even as a student paying my way through college. Sure, I use many other blogs as well, but this one was my first. Darius deserves every penny he gets from affiliate links and more, in my opinion. My credit score is 30 points higher after a year in which I was approved for 13 credit cards, and I have a 5 card app-o-rama coming up in 5 days. The need to spend on the cards has resulted in me creating my own reselling business, which turns a neat little profit as well. God bless!

  14. Kudos once again for ‘enlightenment’…. 😉 I find your site inspiring and you and Emily to be genuine and fun to follow, as well as helping with learning the game of ‘award travel’. The pushback from my wife and daughter is how to keep everything straight. So, quick question:
    I have looked at Award Wallet and a couple others, but, none is a complete solution. We’re in MPLS so Delta is a key player and isn’t listed on Award Wallet, neither is United. I looked at MommyPoints spreadsheet for tracking after her interview here. Do you and Em use anything ‘in-house’ to keep track of your cards? Anybody else have a way to keep it all straight??
    Thanks again for the great Blog and keep up the good work!


  15. Like many others I found your site first. Information has been good and having the chance to fly for two years for free is something I would never thought possible. I am going to Frequent Traveler University and hope to shake your hand. Grateful!

  16. Nice from now on I will stop bashing your site, great transparent post

  17. @Lance – Award Wallet has a workaround for Delta & United where you have DL & UA email your monthly statements to AW who update your mileage info in their system and forward you the email. Not quite as good as an automatic weekly update, but a lot easier than entering the info manually.

  18. Thanks for this post although most of your readers knew this already! I wish other bloggers would disclose whether they are bypassing free comps for reviews (not mentioning any names but when you put out hotel reviews as frequently as some others it’s pretty obvious and would never use an affiliate link but at least they give out valuable info!

  19. Bravo!
    Thanks yet again for your transparency.

  20. You seem to have a good heart. The transparency is appreciated, and I love your “mother in law” rule.

  21. This is why you’re the best miles and points blogger.

    I can attest that I have e-mailed Daraius on numerous occasions asking for advice and he has ALWAYS responed promptly and in-depth. It’s that personal attention and genuine desire to help others that leads me to apply to credit cards through his affiiliate links. It’s the least I can do for the free service he provides. Thanks, D!

  22. I, too have asked Daraius for his opinion via email – he was forthcoming, prompt to reply and cautioned me when it was necessary. Thank you, D.

  23. MIL rule is good but what about the other moral hazard, e.g. attention whoring with little to no discretion, to boost readership for a future payday?

  24. @HikerT

    Everyone knows that all posts with the arrows and circles were purely for altruistic reasons 😀

    • @Amit – You could do that and get the bonus again. With the merger with American Airlines, the card won’t be around after about 1 year.

      @john – Very nice!

      @Sammy – Yes, they will discontinue the card in ~9 months, so applying for it now is a way to get more AA miles.

  25. Good job, Daraius. Loving the latest series of posts. Loved link to Emily’s old post. Shows what the hobby is all about.

  26. Darius & Emily: very genuine!! I met them at the Oct 2012 Chicago seminars and the LA Frequent traveler seminars. As a former ID theft victim, I analyze things very carefully and they pass (with me) with a 100% score.

    Since I first found out I have cancer in Oct 2011, it made me a much better person. The Doctors just cleared me to travel by commerical air! I do not let my medical issues stop me from travelling!!

    Bottom line: I found their information to be on target and we (wife & I) have greatly benefited from their information.

  27. Hikert and the rest of newbies need to give it a rest. Jealousy is classless and I suggest you vent your vitriol elsewhere. D is making a business out of his blog and will succeed. Any bashing and negativity will only empower him further thereby guaranteeing his dominion.

    Bravo D greetings from vagator, GOA

  28. Thanks for everything Darius and Emily! Honesty (and forthrightness) is the best policy (you prove it!).

  29. @HikerT, LOL looks like business might have slowed down here somewhat…don’t let some of these bloggahs get you down. I come here to read other comments like yours who can see through the b.s and call it the way it is. But I know a large majority of angry crowd doesn’t want to give this more attention. Some of the subsequent defensive posts from clueless idiots add to the fun even more.

    • Thanks for your kind words, folks. And apologies for taking so long to reply in the comments since I was traveling!

      @Travel Bug – My concern with accepting a paid stay at a hotel is that the experience will be different than if I had paid for it myself.

      – So the trip report is okay?! I’m sure you’ve heard similar tales given what you do outside of TBB.

      @bluecat – I agree with you and I know from my marketing experience that companies LOVE it when they get endorsements from other users since it appears more genuine to consumers. That said, I’d argue that any media outlet isn’t as unbiased as you make it. The way the stories are written in say the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times are very different (even outside of the editorial pages). And the difference is more pronounced on TV.

      – I have a spreadsheet which we use and would be happy to share it if you email me!

      – Looking forward to meeting you at FTU!

      – Great to hear that you can fly again!

  30. Excellent Post Darius. Without doubt the hardest thing to do as a blogger is to keep integrity and transparency when the money starts coming in. I’ve had those approaches you talk about where people want you to talk about their product in order to increase their sales and it does test your primary purpose for writing, which is to help and inform.

    You should sticky this or make a page of it, like a ‘disclaimer page’ called the mother in law rule so it doesn’t get lost in the posts over time, in fact, if it is all right with you I might copy the idea of the mother in law rule for my blog (unfortunately my mother in law is something of a pain in the backside so the current rule is – don’t get stuck in an elevator with her never mind a trip to India!)


    Matt @saverocity

  31. Thank goodness you’re not a turd like the Frugal Travel Guy. For those who don’t know, this lowlife told readers to apply for a 30K American Airlines credit card via his affiliate link rather than the 50K link that didn’t give him a commission.

  32. I have really enjoyed this and the previous post. It is a wealth of information for how things work in the blogosphere and yet where you personally draw the line. It is truly a “full disclosure” post.

  33. You are the reason I keep coming back! Also, have you thought about the possibility of accepting PayPal donations? I support sites of other subjects because I enjoy their information.

  34. Darius,

    I have so much respect for you after reading this post. I know how tempting it can be to give into money at the cost of your integrity. With great blogging comes great responsibility.

  35. @Temo
    Using one of his affiliate links is better than a donation.

  36. And just because of your informative posts and returning back emails I’ve sent you in the past i just finished my trimonthly churn all trough your links except for one that I received trough email for the platinum card which offered 75k instead of 25k!
    British Airways Card approved
    Freedom Chase Approved
    Citi AA Visa approved
    Citi hilton Visa approved (2 browser trick with hilton didn’t work 4 me, could be dead like the AA 2 browser trick is dead now)
    Hilton Amex Approved
    Bofa Hawaii Air Approved
    Amex buss Platinum Approved
    Us Airways Card was the first I applied for and App is pending i currently have 3 cards with Barclays what do You recommend I do?

  37. Thanks alot by the way!!

    • @Ivan – Thanks for using our links! I’d wait to get a letter from Barclays or if you do call, you could offer to close one card to get another. With the Hilton card, you could write a reconsideration letter to Citi for the 2nd card.

  38. Hi Darius, thanks for the open explanation. Just a quick note on the FTC guidelines. I’m guessing you’ve run all of this by lawyers or have done your due diligence. However, I’m 99.9% sure you have to put the disclosure in the post and can’t just have a blanket disclosure statement as a separate page.

    The latest revised endorsement guidelines covers this in section 255.5 towards the bottom. Example 7 gave the most relatable example. Thoughts? I always just stick “(affiliate link)” right after the link text to cover my ass.

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  59. Props to you Daraius for the awesome blog, but more so for your ethical stance for truly putting your readers first.

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