One of the things that has always annoyed me about the miles and points blog world is the incessant pushing of buy or share miles promotions. I actually think it bugs me more than credit card promotion because I personally find signing up for credit card bonuses to be a way better return on my investment than buying miles (though I have done both).
I really got to thinking after the Alaska Air Emirates devaluation last week. If you were paying attention, some time in mid February Alaska did a 40% bonus on mile purchases and quite a few people advertised that. Then of course last Thursday happened and a lot of people were stuck with a lot of miles. Alaska has at least said that anyone who bought miles in the month of March can return them, but this all still happened.
After the devaluation some people were of course complaining that Alaska was aggressively selling miles while planning this devaluation. It felt like a bait and switch. But nobody (that I know of at least) wrote a post apologizing for writing posts linking to Alaska’s mileage sale. Or even a “man I thought buying Alaska miles was a decent deal at the time but boy was I wrong” kind of post.
And what about those links? I remember really appreciating Matt’s post a couple years ago about the usage of pretty links to hide affiliate links. I learned a lot about what to look for and how to figure out if someone was possibly profiting off selling me something. If you haven’t read it or are fuzzy on the particulars I suggest you go back and take a look.
What I hadn’t realized before a few months ago is that points.com, the site you buy the Alaska miles through, has an affiliate program. You can read about it here.
Now, the details are a bit fuzzy on that page (you’re supposed to contact them for more info) and I have no hard proof that the way it works is “people buy miles through your link and you make money”. I thought it would say that, but instead under “commissionable miles” it says “Earn commission when customers join or complete a swap transaction of their miles or points into another program on Points.com”. So maybe they don’t earn commissions when people buy miles through their links.
But the fact is, if you search for them, you’ll find that some of the big sites “buy Alaska miles” links are pretty links. They generally read something like blognamesomethingelse/Alaskapoints or the like. So what’s the deal, do they earn a commission when we buy miles through their links? I’ve never seen a direct disclosure like I do with credit cards. Why not?
I took a look at five big sites, typing their names into Google along with “buy Alaska miles”. I found that two of the sites didn’t seem to have points.com affiliate links (for Alaska at least) as far as I could tell, while the other three did. Out of those three, one of them had a generic affiliate disclosure. For the other two, no disclosures in the buy miles posts, just the post about the buy miles promotion along with pretty links.
If people were earning money off others clicking their links and buying miles…I dunno. That doesn’t sit well with me. If I had personally bought miles and then gotten stung by the devaluation and THEN found out whoever’s link I clicked made them money; I’d probably want an apology.
Anyway, nobody cares what I think, but I say if you have a link that is going to make you money, disclose it. I don’t really have much of a problem with the “credit card pimping” that goes on out there, and I put that in quotes because I wouldn’t even call it that. For many bloggers their blog is their business and part of their business model is credit card sales. I see blogs as being news aggregators and never expect them to be objective, and I just default to assuming I am being sold a bill of goods.
But if you’re making money from some link on your blog, I wish you’d at least disclose that. Then I can use that knowledge to discern just how biased the information you are giving me is.
Businesses have every right to run their businesses however they want. But if the business practice is shady, I have every right to take my business elsewhere.