September 2, 2014
Drew must have been having a bad day. On Sunday, Drew (author of Travel is Free) published “Please, Stop Listening to Bloggers and Getting Crappy Rewards Cards!” There were two major threads to this post: 1) Bloggers who receive affiliate commissions from credit card companies often give bad advice; and 2) Most of the credit card offers that bloggers have been raving about recently are crap. I agree with the first premise, but disagree with the second.
Bloggers often give bad advice
The biggest source of revenue for many bloggers is the use of affiliate links. The general idea is this: 1) Blogger puts product links on website; 2) Readers click through links and buy things; and 3) Blogger earns affiliate commission from the sale. In other words, many bloggers are at once salespeople and news/entertainment/advice writers. This often causes a conflict of interest in which bloggers promote products or offers not because they believe them to be the best but because they want to earn money. This is particularly true with credit cards. Bloggers with credit card affiliate links earn commissions when people click through their links to a credit card offer and are approved for a new card. This can lead to blogger bias in at least two ways: 1) a blogger may promote one card over another for the commission rather than their belief in the quality of the card; and 2) a blogger may promote an inferior signup offer when the offer that earns a commission is not as good as another public offer.
The irony of me writing about this situation is that I too earn money from credit card affiliate commissions. Unlike most other affiliates, though, I strive to keep this blog unbiased. Here’s how:
- On my “Best credit card offers” page I always list the best offers I know of regardless of whether or not I’ll earn a commission.
- Within my daily blog posts, I never post affiliate links. Instead, affiliate links are relegated to a few permanent pages on my site. I believe that this effectively separates my daily blog from the business of blogging.
- When banks offer incentives to sell more, I usually write less. Occasionally a bank will offer limited time increased payouts for a certain card or will offer a bonus if I make a certain number of “sales” (they think of them as sales – I do not). During these times I tend to avoid writing about these cards as much as I might have otherwise. Why? If I’m tempted to write a post for the money, I don’t think I can be as unbiased as I want to be.
Why do I do this? The biggest reason is that I hate reading other blogs in which the content is clearly influenced by affiliate commissions. I want to be proud of my content rather than ashamed. The other reason for this approach is that I believe it to be a good long term business strategy. Sure, in the short term, I often lose out on commissions, but in the long term my hope is that readers will respect my approach enough to come back often and to recommend my site to friends. To-date, this approach has worked out well.
The not so crappy rewards cards
Drew listed five sets of cards that have recently been promoted heavily and yet, in his non-biased opinion, they suck. He wrote:
Let me sum this up:
- There are 3 Delta cards with a 50,000 mile offer… and they all suck, but I’ll steer you straight.
- The Marriott card at 70k is still not the best hotel card no matter which way you slice it.
- The Virgin 90k offer, is not actually 90k, that’s deceitful and it certainly sucks.
- The new Citi 2% cash back card… sucks really bad.
- New Everyday Amex cards suck
Below I will explain why I believe Drew to be wrong. In the interest of full disclosure, within this list of so-called sucky cards, I have affiliate links for two of them: the Marriott 70K offer, and the Citi Double Cash card. With the Marriott card, though, I have long promoted a better non-affiliate link on my best offers page. So, that leaves only one card on the list for which I could reasonably be accused of being biased. I think you’ll see, though, that I give all of the cards a fair evaluation.
The Delta 50K offers don’t suck at all
There are currently four Delta credit cards with 50K signup offers:
- Gold Delta SkyMiles card: 50K miles after $1K spend in 3 months, plus $50 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase in 3 months. $95 annual fee waived the first year.
- Gold Delta SkyMiles businss card: 50K miles after $1K spend in 3 months, plus $50 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase in 3 months. $95 annual fee waived the first year.
- Platinum Delta SkyMiles card: 15,000 Medalion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) and 50K miles after $1K spend in 3 months, plus $100 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase in 3 months. $195 annual fee not waived.
- Platinum Delta SkyMiles business card: 15,000 Medalion Qualifying Miles (MQMs) and 50K miles after $1K spend in 3 months, plus $100 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase in 3 months. $195 annual fee not waived.
There are many reasons why these offers don’t suck. First of all, when you have a Delta credit card, you can use Delta’s “Pay with Miles” feature to pay for flights. So, these 50,000 bonus miles are worth $500 towards Delta flights when used in that way. There’s no denying that’s valuable. And, believe it or not, there are times where Delta miles are quite valuable for award redemptions. See, for example: “Delta SkyMiles: Value from domestic flights.” And, beginning January 1, I expect Delta miles to become more valuable, not less, when Delta introduces true one-way awards.
For those seeking Delta elite status, the offers for the Platinum card are the best I can remember. Not only do you get 50,000 redeemable miles, but also 15,000 MQMs. A person could sign up for both the personal and business Platinum cards to get 30,000 MQMs which is enough for 25K Silver status (if you can meet the MQD requirements) and more than half way to 50K Gold status. While circumstances vary greatly from person to person as to whether elite status is really worth seeking, there’s no doubt that if you’ve already thrown your hat in the ring towards Delta status, this is a great way to go to get there quickly.
For details about the Gold card, see my existing write-up: “An Analysis of the Gold Delta SkyMiles credit card.” And for details about the Platinum card, see: “An Analysis of the Platinum Delta SkyMiles credit card”. Note too that the above offers expire on September 8th.
The Marriott 70K offer still doesn’t suck
The weird thing about the new Marriott 70K offer is that it’s not as good as the offer I’ve had on my best offers page for years. That old offer is 70,000 points after $1K spend. The new affiliate offer is 70,000 points after $2K spend. There are specific situations where the $2K spend offer may be better (details here) so I added this offer below the other one, but for the most part $1K spend is better than $2K.
Anyway, Drew’s argument about why this offer sucks is just that there are other hotel cards with better offers. I agree with Drew that the Fairmont, Hyatt, Hilton Reserve, and Club Carlson offers are better for many people (and I would add IHG), but that doesn’t make this a sucky offer. 70K is enough for two nights in a mid tier hotel or more than enough for 1 night in a top tier hotel. Plus, you get a free category 4 night certificate. That’s not top of class, but it certainly doesn’t suck.
The new Citi Double Cash card doesn’t suck
Very recently, Citi unveiled a new no-fee cash back card that earns 1% cash back when you make a purchase and another 1% cash back when you pay for those purchases (i.e. when you pay your credit card bill). Added together, these rewards make the Citi card competitive with the best cards for everyday spend. With no annual fee, I don’t think there’s any doubt that people looking for simplicity (e.g. one primary card in their wallet, cash back instead of points, etc.), this card ought to be considered, along with the similar Fidelity Investment Rewards 2% card.
Drew’s explanation for why this card sucks is that people can do better than 2% through category bonuses, manufactured spend, and signup offers. There’s no doubt about that at all, but that’s also not the target market for this card. This card is a good choice for those looking to get excellent rewards simply.
Same goes for the new Amex EveryDay cards… They’re actually pretty great
I don’t agree with Drew here at all. I think the EveryDay cards are pretty terrific for people who know how to maximize value from Amex airline transfer partners. The irony is that I learned a lot of what I know about that subject from… Drew.
Anyway, at the very least, the EveryDay card is a fantastic no-fee option to keep your Membership Rewards points alive in case you cancel your other Membership Rewards cards. At best, the cards are pretty compelling. If you make 20 purchases per month on the EveryDay card or 30 purchases per month on the EveryDay Preferred card, you earn spend bonuses. When combined with category bonuses, you get:
Amex EveryDay: 2.4X at U.S. Supermarkets, up to $6K spend per year (then the rate drops to 1.2X); and 1.2X everywhere else.
Amex EveryDay Preferred: 4.5X at U.S. grocery stores, up to $6K spend per year (then the rate drops to 1.5X); 3X at US standalone gas stations; and 1.5X everywhere else.
Again, if your goal is to earn points for airline mile transfers and you don’t mind working the cards to ensure the minimum purchases per month, the point earnings are excellent. If your goal is to earn other types of rewards (e.g. cash back, merchandise, hotel nights, etc.), you’re better off looking elsewhere. See my full review of these cards here: “Amex’s powerful new EveryDay cards.”
The not 90k Virgin offer doesn’t suck
OK, maybe Drew got it right here. For many people, this offer actually does suck. At least, it’s not nearly as good as it sounds, and for many the old not 65K offer is actually better. More here: “Will the real Virgin Atlantic offer please stand up?”