I have officially been denied by American Express, Capital One, Chase, and Citi via the FlexOffers affiliate network. My applications for other, smaller banks are still pending, but I haven’t liked what I’ve heard so far, and want to make everyone aware of it so they know how this business works.
First some background. Almost every points/travel blogger that promotes credit cards uses FlexOffers as their affiliate network. There are other options, but from what I’ve seen FlexOffers seems to be the best from a user perspective. They also have ALL the credit card companies available to apply to. Other networks like Commission Junction have many of the same banks available as well.
These companies pay a relatively high commission for “selling” a credit card. I don’t have exact numbers since I wasn’t approved by them, but I guessed the range in my earlier article on affiliate links and was told my range was pretty accurate. To summarize, a referral results in commission of between roughly $75-$200 for most cards. I’ve learned that some premium cards and business cards can pay even more (I’ve heard up to $350 each, but haven’t confirmed that number). So be sure to sign up for that Ink Bold AND Ink Plus!
After hearing that the payout was that significant, I thought to myself “Okay…it’s time to get in on this.” I figured that I’d make a few hundred bucks at worst with my own and family/friends’ sign ups. Once Travel Summary started getting a decent amount of traffic I decided to apply. The problem was, “decent amount of traffic” was completely subjective at that point (note that Scott at Hack My Trip hadn’t yet written this article, which would have provided great guidance to me).
Fast forward to this past week. After being declined by Chase and Citi from FlexOffers, I decided to just apply for the Creditcards.com affiliate links from a different affiliate company. I’d like to thank The Deal Mommy for the suggestion, because otherwise I wouldn’t have known about it at all (by the way, I’ve never met her and I only know her through Twitter. Yet another reason why Twitter rocks). She said there was no quotas to meet as there was with the other affiliate companies, but that payouts were substantially lower. That sounded just fine to me, so I applied and got accepted last Monday, just hours before I found out about the 100K deal from that website. I still don’t know if I stand to make a commission off any of that by the way.
This past Friday on 1/11, I received an email from an Affiliate Manager at FlexOffers that read: “While reviewing your site, American Express found the following article that they need removed before they can make a decision on your pending application.” The article in question? Well, it was the most popular article that I’ll probably ever have…the one posted just four days earlier. It was the 100K post.
I didn’t like that, for lots of reasons. First of all it didn’t make sense why they’d care – after all, thousands of people signed up for their most premium card (granted for a ton of points). Second, I didn’t want to take down my most popular post. That post was still driving a ton of traffic to my website, even after the deal expired. And third, it just didn’t feel right. Why should I have to remove a post for them?
Nevertheless, I decided to ponder it for a bit. I posted the situation on Twitter and got many responses in both directions. Some said I should do it, take the money and run. Others said I shouldn’t give in. Ultimately, I thought to myself “Okay, this is likely the only issue they have with my website. If they were going to deny me anyway, they would have done it outright, right? And I can always put the post back up after getting approved anyway.” So I moved the post back to “draft” status, and hundreds of people received error messages when directed to that page.
I emailed the guy back letting him know the article was removed. I asked him why it had to be removed, and he said “If approved to the American Express affiliate program, you will ONLY be allowed to discuss the products available to you. If you chose to discuss offers outside of the affiliate space, they ask that you do not link to them.” To me, that means that no one that’s approved for Amex links can link to creditcards.com, for example. Knowing that ALL the other bloggers did that anyway, I responded “Got it. So all the other bloggers that were approved for the American Express affiliate program and linked to that same website did so against the terms and conditions of the agreement?” I received no response.
I didn’t feel right about taking the post down. I felt like I’d sold my soul. I felt whipped, and I didn’t even have anything to show for it yet. Then after two hours I received a phone call from another FlexOffers representative. He told me he wanted to discuss my account and website and answer any questions I might have.
He started off by letting me know I’d been declined by Chase, Citi, and Capital One, which I already knew. He then told me I’d likely be denied by Amex and other banks as well. Whoa whoa whoa…wait a second. Why the heck did I just take down my post if I’m going to be declined by Amex? I held on to this question for a little bit so I could gather some more info.
I asked the most logical question: What are the banks looking for when deciding on the approval? He responded that the first thing was the professionalism and layout of the website. He told me I had no problem with that part. The second part was whether my website’s content made sense for their product. I also had no issues with that. The third thing was something that Kathy at Will Run for Miles first told me about: Alexa.com ranking.
This ranking shows how “popular” your website is based on traffic (and many other factors that I’m not smart enough to describe). The lower your number, the more popular your website is. My ranking on Friday was around 1.8 million, and as of the writing of this article it’s about 1.6 million. So what do I need to be ranked to get me into consideration for those sought-after links? Apparently I need to be sub-300K, so I wasn’t even close.
So while that guy on the phone kept talking about a bunch of other uninteresting nonsense, I decided to check out a few popular blogs to see those rankings. Parag of Frequent Flyer University, who recently had his Chase links pulled, ranks 550K. Daraius at Million Mile Secrets is at 64K, Brian aka The Points Guy is 43K, and FlyerTalk is 6K. Okay…I’m not even in the same ballpark as these guys. Just as an FYI, Facebook is number 1.
Fair enough, my site doesn’t have the kind of traffic they’re looking for. I understand that they don’t just hand out links to anyone with a website, so I was willing to live with that.
Then came the good stuff. The FlexOffers representative suggested that since I’m already approved for Discover, that I “try to push those links to get that commission.” His words, not mine. He then said that I should sign up for the prepaid card affiliate links and start writing about those and pushing those as well, because then I’ll start collecting some money. He also said to make sure I “don’t pick and choose” which bullet points to list regarding the cards – I had to list ALL of them because the banks don’t like when we omit information.
At this point I was trying to hold back a little laughter – this guy literally told me to PUSH links. All he cared about, and apparently all he thought I cared about, was getting money. At that point I made my decision – I don’t want these affiliate links. Contrary to what their company name wants you to believe, they’re not flexible at all. And whether it’s FlexOffers or the banks themselves, it’s not right. If there’s a better offer, I should be allowed to talk about it. If I want to point to creditcards.com, I should be allowed to. If Amex or Chase has the best offer on their own website, then I’ll direct people there. If there’s a feature of a card that sucks, or vice versa, then I’ll point it out. If I want to leave out the 0% balance transfer part of the card, I should be able to. Those are my opinions, and they disagree with all of them.
I asked the representative how they monitor this stuff. He said that FlexOffers has employees that periodically check websites to ensure compliance with the terms and conditions and to ensure that expired links are removed. Whether this is done actively or not, I do not know.
So with this information in hand, and knowing that I want nothing to do with them anymore, I feel no fear by saying all this about FlexOffers. I don’t want to work with them, because it crosses my moral and ethical line to do so under such conditions.
The point of this post is twofold: 1) I now hate FlexOffers and want the world to know, and 2) Now people can know a little more about what they’re dealing with.
After my post on the play-by-play of the 100k offer, and even on the 100k post itself, many people were pleasantly surprised at my honesty and straightforwardness. I found that to be both rewarding and sad to hear at the same time. It felt rewarding because my main goal is to be as honest as possible. I’ve been told I’m blunt to a fault in my personal life, and I think I’ve carried that to this blog as well.
I also thought it was sad because if my honesty is refreshing and surprising, what does that say about some of the other bloggers? Not that these people (or me) are calling other bloggers underhanded or liars – it’s not that at all. But I think there’s a lot of information about the business side of this that people would love to know, and it may very well influence their decisions. It’s easy to get a beginner in the points game to sign up for a credit card by saying “if you sign up through MY link I can guarantee you’ll get the points,” but I think a mention that it’s available everywhere else is also appropriate. Similarly, when MileValue continues to push the inferior US Airways affiliate link, it’s simply not right. There’s a better, non-affiliate offer, and it wasn’t even mentioned. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read their website since they provide a ton of useful information, but I’d be wary of taking credit card advice from them.
And while I’m discussing this, let me ask…do you think credit cards would be pushed if there were no affiliate links? We all know credit card signups are extremely valuable to boosting your points/miles earning strategy, but would we really see them as often as we do now? I personally don’t think so. For the life of me, I can’t really understand why there are so many affiliate links at all. If these cards are so fantastic and so great for travel, wouldn’t all the points/travel bloggers point to them even without a commission? Why do the banks pay hundreds of dollars per card? If your response to that is “Bloggers will point to them more often if they’re paid for it,” then we have a problem, because that implies they’ll point to them when it’s not necessary – otherwise known as “pushing” links.
That’s fine, it’s their prerogative if they decide to do that. I just want everyone to be informed about what’s going on behind the scenes. This is why everyone and their mom needs to blog about it when a new card or offer comes out. They might add their personal thoughts on the card or link to their own review, but they want their affiliate money too. That’s why I thought the 100k offer was a little funny, because the big affiliate companies, and therefore most bloggers, don’t have links to creditcards.com.
If you’re interested in this affiliate stuff, I will say that it’s very tempting to get involved with. Just seeing the list of categories and companies that offer a commission made me want to quit my job and start making websites. There’s so much opportunity there, and it sounds amazing to be able to make money while you sleep, but there’s always a catch. Hopefully now you have a better idea of what that catch is.
- Credit Card Affiliate Links!
- How to Pick the Affiliate Link to Apply to
- A Play-By-Play of the 100K Amex Offer