When it comes to making money with a travel blog, affiliate marketing can be far more profitable than banner ads, and more reputable than publishing sponsored posts. There are numerous bloggers making five figures a month, making it a full-time business for them.
This post is an introduction to affiliate marketing for blogging newcomers. It explains what is affiliate marketing and the types of programs available.
What is affiliate marketing?
According to Wikipedia here is a simple definition:
Affiliate marketing is a type of performance-based marketing in which a business rewards one or more affiliates for each visitor or customer brought by the affiliate’s own marketing efforts.
With affiliate marketing you place the merchants links with your unique code on your website. The reward can vary from a payment per click, or per sale.
There is of course more to it than just posting an affiliate link on your site and hoping for the best. The most successful affiliate marketers provide added value through comprehensive travel reviews or destination guides. It also helps if you are something of an expert in the field. For example Johnny Jet (as he is known online) has been running a travel information site since 1999, with a particular strength in air travel. He is an expert in travel credit cards, which is shown in his years of travel and how to earn points.
How to be a successful affiliate marketer is a topic for another post. For now this is an introduction on getting started.
Where to find affiliate programs
The easiest way to find affiliate programs to promote is to sign up to an affiliate network.
An affiliate network is a third party intermediary between publishers (affiliates) and advertisers (merchants).
I personally prefer a network over an independent program whenever possible. Payment thresholds are usually lower and there is a perceived level of trust in a third party network. The affiliate network is also be getting paid per sale, so it’s in their best interest to make sure that the tracking is working correctly, and that all sales/leads are credited.
The biggest advantage of joining a network is that all sales are counted towards your minimum payout. You may sign up with 30 merchants within a network. One or two of those programs may do well while the rest only make a few dollars a month. Those sales will count towards your minimum payout so you will be paid anyway.
Finding programs to promote in a network is easier as well. For example cj.com list over 300 travel-related advertisers, ranging from hotels, airfare bookers, travel gear, and car hire.
Some of the top affiliate networks include:
They are free to join so sign up and have a look around for marketing ideas.
Independent affiliate programs
Not every affiliate program is in a network. Some companies are big enough to have their own in-house affiliate managers, or they have custom software to run the affiliate program. The biggest benefit for a merchant to set up an independent program is that they don’t have to give a cut to an affiliate network, but then they have to find affiliates to promote their site, so money saved might be time lost.
An example of an independent program is B&H photo, which is a famous photography supplies store in New York. Here is their affiliate program.
Sometimes merchants opt to have an independent program and network presence. For example Hotels Combined have an independent program and are also listed on CJ.com.
In the case of Hotels Combined I have gone with their independent program as I like their link structure which is easier to link to. If you have a blog dedicated to a regional audience you can also use their country domains. If you are a British bloggers writing about travel from Britain in GBP you can use the www.hotelscombined.co.uk website to make it more useful for your readers.
Their payout threshold is $100 though, so if you aren’t doing large volumes I recommend going with the cj.com program, where your commission is aggregated with your other affiliate programs and the payout threshold is lower.
If you have a preferred business you would like to promote search for “merchant name affiliate program” to see if they offer publishers commission.
Amazon is a brand in itself that resells millions of other products. There are plenty of opportunities for travel bloggers to find something to sell here, especially travel gear, camera gear, and electronics.
The bonus with Amazon is that someone might click your link to buy a $5 guide book and end up buying a $5000 flat screen TV. The downside to Amazon is they only offer a one day cookie, so if your reader doesn’t buy within a day you don’t get the commission.
Sign up for the Amazon affiliate program here.
Travel products to sell
If you do a search for “cheap hotels in Paris” the search results will be filled with the big boys of hotel bookings (and probably half of those being TripAdvisor links). You might think that you have no hope in competing with these sites. Hotel booking is a huge market though, and plenty of small publishers make a living from hotel bookings.
Most of the big accommodation booking sites have an affiliate program, including:
Ctrip (big China booking site)
In addition to the OTA’s many of the biggest hotel chains have their own affiliate programs, so if you want to promote booking hotels direct then this is another option.
As an example Park Plaza Hotels have an affiliate program at cj.com. They offer 5% commission for all referrals, with the average order between $300 – $400.
Commissions on airfares can be made through the airlines directly or through an online travel agent (OTA). Booking sites that offer commission include:
Commissions vary from a per click/per lead basis, to a flat rate or percentage per sale.
Some airlines also offer an affiliate program. For example Air France are on cj.com and offer 1.25% commission for their US publishers. With the average sale in their US program around $1,500 that equates to about $18 in commission. Signing up to the Air France program would be useful if you have a site about visiting France. You could then place a call to action link at the bottom of each post “check flights to Paris with Air France” or send out an email alert when there is an Air France sale on.
Scanning through cj.com I found the following airlines that offer affiliate programs:
Swiss International Air
If you have a blog related to travel in Europe then rail passes are a natural option. Eurail have an affiliate program on Affiliate Window and offer 3% on ticket sales. If you sold the 3 months continuous Eurail pass at $1830, you would get a $54.90 commission. The European version of Eurail is Interrail, which is also on Affiliate Window.
Car hire is another big market with typical commissions at around 5%. There are programs by aggregators such as Auto Europe and CarRental.com, and the leading car hire brands have their own programs.
Beyond the consumable items of hotels and airline tickets is travel gear. Popular items include bags, clothing and footwear, cameras, laptops, mobile devices, and other electrical accessories.
The advantage of being an affiliate is that you don’t stock and ship any products, or handle customer service, so you can list
Amazon is a popular all-in-one shop, and there are hundreds of independent affiliate programs – too many to list here. To see if a product you’re interested in offers an affiliate program, search for “productsite affiliate program”. For example, I use and recommend REI travel bags, so search for “REI affiliate program” and you will find http://www.rei.com/help/affiliates.html.
Selling travel books is another way of monetizing your travel blog. Books you could sell range from traditional guide books (such as Lonely Planet), books on how to improve your travels (such as How to travel on $50 a day), or travel narrative books (such as Eat, Prey, Love).
The obvious place for book affiliate programs is at Amazon, which is the world’s biggest bookstore. Also check to see if guide books offer their own affiliate programs. Lonely Planet have an affiliate program via cj.com and Affiliate Window, where a sale earns 15% commission. By comparison Amazon pay 4 to 8% commission (depending on your monthly sales) but you also get commissions if the purchaser orders other products.
Think outside the travel box
Beyond the obvious travel products of hotels and flights there are plenty of other goods and services that are useful for everyday travel.
Credit cards are a huge market and for travel bloggers there is the opportunity to promote credit cards that offer generous frequent flyer points at signup. bankratecreditcards.com is an affiliate network that specializes in credit cards.
For currency transfers Payoneer allow you to receive payments to your Payoneer account from companies worldwide.
The goods and services listed are a general overview of the types of affiliate programs available. You may discover other products which are closely aligned to the them of your site.
If you don’t have a blog yet and are interested to get started here is my guide to starting a travel blog.
Affiliate Marketing for Travel Blogger is a great write up by MariaAbroad on why you should add affiliate marketing to your travel blog.