How Frequent Miler (the business) is surviving COVID-19

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Early in the COVID lockdown in the United States, it was obvious that the points & miles blog business was going to take a big hit.  Ad and affiliate revenues were plummeting.  Would the Frequent Miler business survive?  Three months ago, I published my answer based on what I knew at the time: How Frequent Miler (the business) will survive COVID-19.  Now, I’m back with an update.

First, for those not interested in clicking through to the above link, the gist of the previous post was encapsulated in an email I sent to my team and shared with readers.  I’ll repeat it here.  This was the email I sent to my team on March 31st:

The purpose of this email right now is to keep everyone in the loop regarding how COVID-19 is affecting FM’s business.

First: Last year was a very good year revenue-wise. Credit card affiliate revenue was up. And at the end of the year, ad revenue was way up thanks to Boarding Area moving to in-content ads. The point is that the business has plenty of money to weather the current situation…

And then COVID-19….

Ad revenue: Ad revenue is plummeting. My understanding is that marketers simply aren’t bidding nearly as much on ads as they did before. That makes sense to me.

Affiliate revenue: Affiliate revenue has just started to drop a little (about 30%), but I expect it to drop precipitously in April. Two banks have already pulled certain cards from the affiliate networks. The cards we no longer have affiliate links for represent 71% of affiliate revenue from the past 12 months. And I expect it to get worse. I expect that other banks will follow suit.

In short, I expect business revenue overall to drop to meager amounts.

How long will this last?

No one knows, of course. My gut tells me that we have to be prepared for 6 months of record low revenue.

How does this change what we’re doing?

I believe that Frequent Miler is a valuable business and so I will invest whatever it takes to keep it going through this downturn. For at least the next 6 months that means that I plan to continue to employ each of you at the current rates.

As far as changing our focus, I think it makes sense for us to do things now that will make Frequent Miler better prepared for a resurgence in 6 months (or whenever it happens). That means things like:

  1. Platform improvements: Complete changeover to new theme, re-work our email newsletters, finish tag project, etc.

  2. Improve SEO. Anything we can do now to improve search engine optimization will help us weather the storm plus will put is in a great position if/when ad and affiliate revenue returns to pre-COVID levels.

  3. Continue to expand into video and podcasting (and other media maybe?). We need to do more to grow our audio/video audience. Eventually these could be very important revenue streams.

The main takeaways from my email were this:

  1. Revenue is down and will soon be way down
  2. The business has enough money to weather the storm
  3. We should focus our efforts on projects that will make Frequent Miler competitive in the long term (rather than looking for short-term revenue boosts)

Let’s now take a look at where we are today on each of those points…

Revenue is waaaay down

I created the above chart by using credit card affiliate revenue earned each month this year.  Since revenue routinely jumps up and down quite a bit, I averaged January and February to create a pre-COVID baseline.  The rest of the data points are calculated as monthly revenue divided by baseline revenue.  You can see that revenue dropped just as precipitously as I predicted three months ago.

The good news, I suppose, is that revenue appears to be leveling off.  The bad news is that the new normal is just slightly above 10% of pre-COVID levels.

The business can weather the storm

In my March 31 email to my team I wrote: “I believe that Frequent Miler is a valuable business and so I will invest whatever it takes to keep it going through this downturn. For at least the next 6 months that means that I plan to continue to employ each of you at the current rates.”

In other words, at that time I committed to keeping everyone employed at current levels through September 2020.  Since that was written, though, I received a Paycheck Protection Program loan.  This loan covers two and a half months of salaries.  I won’t have to pay back the loan as long as I use that money for that purpose (which I will!).

This means that the business can survive at current staffing levels at least through the end of this year.  But it gets better because that projection doesn’t include incoming revenue.  If we continue to earn revenue at current levels (around 10% of pre-COVID revenue), we can continue to survive at current staffing and salary levels several months into 2021 before we need to make any hard decisions.  I’m hopeful that the credit card economy will bounce back enough by then to ensure that those hard decisions won’t ever be necessary.

Project progress

In the past couple of months we accomplished quite a bit beyond our day to day blog posts:

  • We released (and subsequently re-released) a modern new blog theme (which I love).
  • We re-designed our email newsletters.  The old newsletters had many quirks that made them difficult to read or flat-out ugly.  The new format, in my opinion, is about a million times better, at least when reading in Gmail.  It’s impossible to get it to show up the same in every email client, but we’ve done our best to make it work well with most.  MS Outlook proved to be particularly challenging, but we think we’ve eliminated most of the issues there.  We also made it easier than ever before to switch mailing lists.  Now, if you want to switch from Daily to Instant, for example, you can simply sign up for  Instant emails and you’ll automatically be unsubscribed from Daily emails.  You can find subscription options here.
  • We organized post tags.  Where Carrie did most of the work for the above two projects, Stephen took the lead on this one.  He drastically cut down the number of random tags that we used in blog posts and standardized the ones we kept in place.  The reason this is helpful is that now when you scroll to the bottom of a post, you’ll see the tags for that post and can click any one of them to see related posts.  Similarly, below the tags, you’ll find a section titled “Related Articles”.  I believe that the system uses tags and categories to determine which articles are related.
  • We started a new video series: Ask us Anything.  Every other week we go live on Youtube to answer your questions.

Further, we are currently working on the following projects:

  • New Card Talk series.  We will soon release a new video and blog post series called “Card Talk” where we have a credit card intervention with a real person who needs help deciding which credit cards to get or to cancel.  In a trial version of this we helped one person save nearly $3,000 (see this post for details).
  • New resource page.  Our goal is to make it easier to find the information and answers you need.
  • Evergreen post refreshes.  We’ve identified a large number of posts as “evergreen posts”.  These are posts that we think are relevant long term.  We’ve setup a process to select one evergreen post each day to fix any outdated information and to re-tweet it to remind readers about this information.  In many cases, when we’ve made substantial changes, we have re-published the post entirely so that it goes out in our newsletter as well.

Bottom Line

Frequent Miler, the business, is here to stay.  We have the resources to keep publishing the blog, videos, and podcasts without interruption at least through the end of the year, but probably well past that even if the economy doesn’t improve.  In the meantime, we’re making our site and our content better and richer as we go.  I’m proud of our website and media content, and even more proud of the team.  Nick, Stephen, and Carrie have done an outstanding job!

Most of all, I’m thankful to our audience.  You keep coming back for more, and that’s ultimately what makes this all worthwhile.  Thank you!

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[…] This just in…How Frequent Miler (the business) is surviving COVID-19. I told you things are really bad out there. For the record, I have no employees. I did not get a […]

CaveDweller
Guest
CaveDweller

Greg
Another way u can cut costs on trips is to get the unwanted points from ur bloggers. I got 70k of Hawaiian Airline points which I’ll never use and I could transfer to you only ..I canceled the card and never will go to PPT now !! Hawaii works for me.

Cheers Honest person.

Jeff
Guest
Jeff

It does not help that you support Black Lives Matter. You probably lost a LOT of members by posting that.

verylosingtader
Guest
verylosingtader

I kept seeing ” BLM thing”while I was at Red Rock National Park. Any idea why everything there is referencing Black Lives Matter?
Any idea why the BLM center was closed.
Oh, wait….Bureau of Land Management, NVM.

JJ
Guest
JJ

This is one of the reasons why I respect this blog. I know BLM is controversial and Greg could lose readers by writing what we wrote. I applaud you for standing for what is right over what is most profitable.

Dee
Guest
Dee

Yay!!!!!!! Congratulations.

Wearefamilee
Guest
Wearefamilee

Just wanted to comment on the background picture of Greg on the chart – creatively done! Keep up the great work!

verylosingtrader
Guest
verylosingtrader

So these graphs imply you had a massive profit during “good times.” Please post your full tax returns, along with social security number, for the past 5 years.

Srsly, I feel your pain. Guess how many tenants are paying their rent in the strip malls I’ve invested in?
Out of 30 strip malls, only essential businesses are paying and I can’t say I blame them. If they break their lease and move I don’t think we would find landlord-sympathetic juries and it’s not worth suing even though they have personal liability.
Two things you should consider:
1) Creating a national FM footprint in strip malls

2) Making a bid for Hertz.

CaveDweller
Guest
CaveDweller

Brutal are we Sir, the landlord just 33 years and 1 more to sell ..Greg just put the information out there he didn’t want anything. It’s going to be rough out there for a very long time lots of BK’s coming up .
Take care I hope the best for you .
#stayincave

verylosingtader
Guest
verylosingtader

Have a spare cave? I mean with all the luxuries of home.

CaveDweller
Guest
CaveDweller

HaHa more of a 3 story Flak Tower and that’s the 3rd time I’ve been asked that. The Big Guys are going to pick up a lot of STUFF for NUTTHING like 2008.
CHEERs

verylosingtader
Guest
verylosingtader

Who are these Big Guys? Is it a weight thing? Are they related to “they.”
That’s a trick question because I am “they.” Don’t tell anyone.

CaveDweller
Guest
CaveDweller

No kidding I new’s that !! I almost brought a strip mall 25 years ago but the maintenance costs are WAY higher than SF ..
Cooler Heads Always Win !!!
CHEERs

HoKo
Guest
HoKo

Thanks for the update Greg. You and your team run one of the best blogs in this space (and that’s coming from someone who follows ~35 miles/points blogs). Best of luck to you guys.

JeffS
Guest
JeffS

Thanks for the insight, Greg. Your integrity shows through in many aspects of FM, e.g., the Best Offer links, your Black Lives Matter post and, obviously, here, in the consideration you show your staff. I also appreciate the easy rapport you and Nick show during podcasts — no one would know who is the “boss” and who is the “employee.” Thanks for an excellent blog that is interesting to read and has helped stretch my travel dollars.

Tricia
Guest
Tricia

Ditto. You share your smarts (doing the time-consuming research to help us make informed decisions) and your hearts (supporting BLM is the right thing to do). Thanks for a great blog. You and your staff definitely have my support.

Mary
Guest
Mary

You’re showing a lot of integrity and dealing with your staff situation in the best possible way. I applaud you for being a mensch in such tough times. I will keep reading and doing my best to support what you do.

Matt
Guest
Matt

Glad you’re here to stay. One thing I personally would really like to see in the future is a suggestions page. There have been plenty of times where I have wanted to make a suggestion about a deal or idea I had but have not found a good way to communicate it. Sure I could join the FB group but I personally would rather not go anywhere near that slim ball Mark Zuckerburgs personal data harvesting empire.

CaveDweller
Guest
CaveDweller

Matt
Another Wise move the trouble is I want to send a link but have to be on FB to send it.
CHEERs

Geo@YQB
Guest
Geo@YQB

Keep up the great work Greg!

Dmat
Guest
Dmat

Kudos to you Greg for sharing your revenue situation (drop) during the pandemic. As a fellow small biz owner I’m always interested to see how others are doing.

My only suggestion would be to make the tough decisions sooner versus later if you at some point you can’t see the affiliate / card / etc revenue turning around in a reasonable period of time.

As the owner your job is to provide a service and also make $, not bleed $.

Kathy
Guest
Kathy

Thanks for sharing this, Greg! I love listening to your podcasts and watching your YouTube videos and am glad to hear they will be sticking around. Improving SEO sounds like a worthwhile project. When I search for general info about awards, properties, airlines, etc in google, often your articles aren’t on the first pages and then when I go back and put in “frequent miler” they show up. I would love to see them show up more in the general searches and reach more people, because your team’s insight is more useful than most of the top hits. Please let us know what we can do to continue to support your great work!

Dima
Guest
Dima

Planning on opening IHG card in early July, will be sure to go through your affiliate link. Only started following your site this year, and very much enjoy the content.

Kelly
Guest
Kelly

I think I said this on your earlier Card Talk post, but I would gladly pay you $$ to privately take a look at my CC portfolio and see if you can help with a better strategy and maybe save some annual fee $. After six years of churning I think it might be a little out of control. Just an idea for a temporary side business.

CaveDweller
Guest
CaveDweller

If he has time Great if not go to milevalue.com good group too.
CHEERs

Grant
Guest
Grant

Great work Greg, Nick, Stephen and Carrie! Even though revenues are down, your enthusiasm and excellent blog posts are at record highs! Happy Friday!

Jerry
Guest
Jerry

I love this blog, the ask us anything, and the podcast. After reading some big blogs for years, FM has quickly become my number one since I discovered it . Probably thee most uniquely informative and helpful content anywhere. You guys are fun to listen to. God bless all you guys, your families, and FM.

Anastasia
Guest
Anastasia

Firstly, I just wanted to say that it is has been so heartwarming to see the way blogs in the miles and points world committed to keeping and paying their writers and other employees at pre-covid levels. That’s the kind of thing that, in addition to amazing content, makes me want to come back and continue reading (and click on the ads). I’m really glad Frequent Miler is here to stay – it is a phenomenal resource that I’m grateful to have, and I’m really glad you and yours are able to weather this financial storm.

With that said, I do have to admit that I preferred the old layout.

JustSaying
Guest
JustSaying

Transparency is always a virtue………….just follow your heart and do what you know is right………..enjoy the ride and most of all happiness comes from having reasonable expectations!

Laurie King
Guest
Laurie King

This post reminded me I had planned to contact you and tell you about the dream-come-true vacation to Hawaii that my husband and I took in March due almost entirely to things I had learned from your site. But then, COVID, and my focus went elsewhere. But this seems like an appropriate time to cheer you on and fill you in on the almost free vacation we enjoyed thanks to FM’s timely tips and apt advice. I love games and you’ve managed to make this free travel stuff into a giant one for me.

We flew on Southwest from Grand Rapids, MI to Honolulu, later on to Maui, and back home to MI for under $50 thanks to RR points and our companion pass (which, btw, is our 6th year enjoying one!) We stayed 3 nights in Honolulu in an upgraded Hilton Doubletree room, thanks to my Diamond status, attained through the (annual fee waived the first year) Amex Hilton card. They kept giving us free perks throughout our stay that left us giggling like school kids. In Maui we stayed 4 nights in a fabulous resort, paid for entirely with UR points. We did PAY for (gasp!) an Airbnb for 4 additional nights from there, but of course put it on a credit card earning points. Both rental cars we had in Oahu and Maui were completely paid for with points. When closures began to happen back in Michigan, we responded to the stress of that by extending our stay on Maui an extra week! We found an oceanfront condo for half price (due to all the cancellations) and snorkeled and watched breaching whales while drinking wine on our lanai through the pain. It was an amazing trip which friends thought we paid many thousands for. It was my chance to sing your praises, but explaining the game to most leaves them glassy eyed and unbelieving. But me? I’m a believer! Carry on!!

Erika Hamilton
Guest
Erika Hamilton

yay! My favorite blog. Thanks for all the great content.

rich
Guest
rich

Down periods are painful in business. i’m not optimistic things will improve for quite sometime. While everyone wishes this was over unfortunately we are back to the beginning right now. Things like the stock market have been overly optimistic. Hopefully i am wrong. Good luck

Points Adventure
Guest
Points Adventure

One of the best blogs out there. Sincerely wish you the best of luck!

Charlie
Guest
Charlie

I have total respect for you and your blog and support it whenever I can. I have gained gained more here over the past 7 years than any other single blog. I think what sets you apart from most is that you stick to travel and MS opportunities and and that’s it… you realize that is what people come here for… please don’t lose sight of that.

Jonathan
Guest
Jonathan

Thank you for the transparency. You guys have the most thoughtful content. Stay safe!

Billy E.
Guest
Billy E.

Frequent Miler is the best in the game. I sincerely appreciate all that you all do. Have made my dream travel come true and changed my life forever.

Joey
Guest
Joey

Thanks for your dedication and transparency. Ouch on the 12% projection compared to a year ago —- but hopefully that 12% projection is still higher than the revenues your gblog had when I started reading it back in 2013. Either way, I hope the numbers for July will break that decreasing trend and start increasing soon. Rooting for you guys!

Kailash Nathan
Guest
Kailash Nathan

@Greg
Thanks for the update.
Frequent Miler is a team I respect. I appreciate your insight, deals and message to your employees.
Hope that I can also one day be level headed like this in situations such as this pandemic, and also supporting important issues.

Jan W
Guest
Jan W

You guys are the best! I originally followed many blogs, but years ago settled on just you and DOC. I appreciate your honesty and humor, as well as content. And I’ve especially enjoyed the addition of the Ask Me Anything Podcast. Thanks Greg, Nick, Stephen and Carrie!

ashu
Guest
ashu

Thats good to hear, recent changes have been positive! I am myself under 20% pay-cut but happy to have a job!

With the recent website changes, yahoo RSS has stopped updating. Also, there is no RSS for quick deals. Please check when you have time.

Good job Frequent Miler team.