Thursday, August 16, 2012

Are Reward Credit Cards Ruining Travel Blogging?

I present to you the following evidence:

Exhibit A

Exhibit B

Exhibit C

Exhibit D

Exhibit E

That's a total of four five* blog posts devoted to one question:  How much are Hilton Hhonors points really worth.  And, in the end, it doesn't really matter because, as One Mile at a Time admitted, miles are basically a personal choice.

Before I go any further let me make one thing perfectly clear: I LIKE both of these blogs.  I really do.  One Mile at a Time runs some great trip reports, as does View from the Wing. Both guys know and understand the industry and can post some great aspirational trips.

All that being said, it's getting to the point where one in four blog posts is a shill for another credit card "deal" (for which the blogger receives a kick-back -a fact they admit on their blogs) that's just too good for the reader to pass up.  In some blog posts you get the feeling that, if you don't click on their link, you're going to be left out holding a light points bag while newly minted credit geniuses hop on board expensive planes and fly away to places you can never hope to go, safely tucked in on the good side of the flimsy little curtain that's pulled close shortly after 10,000 feet.

Look, I've got nothing against bloggers making money.  In many cases I believe that a blogger should be paid more than the 'professionals' working for the media.  In the travel industry I think this is certainly true, but as the big bloggers circle away from (you know) travel and more toward how to cash in with the latest credit card deal that only requires a $25K annual spend for 10K points with an extra 5K bonus if you're willing to donate your 1st born's spleen should it be needed.

It needs to be said that there is a good reason the banks are pushing rewards cards.  They're extremely profitable.  In many cases they carry a higher APR which can erode the benefits fairly quickly.  The easy answer to this is to "never carry a balance".  This is what all of the travel experts will tell you to do.  I do this on most of my personal credit cards (two of which ARE points cards FWIW) but, from time to time (like when my A/C went out a couple of months back) I needed the cash so I couldn't pay all of my balance off.

Sure, it's now paid down, but I got nailed for a month or two with a finance charge.  Fortunately, I was able to roll the charge on a low-interest card, but had I just paid for a big flight or something on a points card, the interest would have been painful to absorb.

The point is it's starting to get saturated to the point of breaking.  When blogs are breaking down into what the value of individual points are because this makes their referral links seem that much more lucrative then there's a problem. 

One of the reasons people have abandoned the MSM when it comes to travel advice is that there's a correct feeling that a lot of the articles are bought and paid for.  Travel bloggers offered an escape from that.  If a hotel had nasty carpet they would say it had nasty carpet and not that it was "homey".  There was a lean honesty that arose from some savvy travellers with a marginal writing ability popping up from time to time and saying "wait a minute, this trip sucked".

It's getting to the point that some of the bigger travel blogs are walking down the same road the MSM did except this time, it's about points credit cards carrying high annual fees and APR's instead of hotels with nasty carpet.

One last thought:  I said earlier in the post that I really do admire both of these bloggers for the quality of their travel related posts.  I'm not suggesting that the baby needs to be thrown out with the bath water.  As a reader, you always have the ability to ignore the CC sales pitches and focus on the travel-related content.  I suggest you do so.  Hopefully it doesn't get to the point that travel content is only about 25% of content instead of CC posts being 25%. 

That's the real fear.

*Updated 08/17/2012 @ 7:32 AM to include new blog post from View from the Wing.

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