Yesterday, Chris Elliott wrote one of the more interesting pieces I have read in a while – “Is it time to shut down the the “shills” who are paid to endorse credit card companies?” You should read it if you haven’t already. Let’s look at my favorite parts of the article. (I truncated the name of the reader who contacted Chris since they weren’t reaching out to me.)

Reader TF  is concerned about the evil part. He contacted me after I penned a column criticizing the ethics of travel hacking. Reader TF is particularly troubled by “manufactured” spending that can generate hundreds of thousands of loyalty points every month, often by buying a handful of gift cards.

“It happened to a neighbor,” he says. “She dabbled in some credit card schemes similar to what you wrote about. Now she’s in financial trouble and can’t get out.”

He believes a small group of travel bloggers who are paid to endorse the credit cards are to blame for getting his neighbor into debt, and he wants to see them brought to justice.

“Did some blogger make money on her credit card application?” he wonders.

I tried to find out. I made an effort to reach the neighbor to determine who pushed those cards on her. But Facnauu said she didn’t want the publicity. That’s not unusual: Over the last few years, I’ve been in touch with one or two other “victims” of bloggers who peddled these cards, and they were shy about having their names or stories used.

I’m rarely left speechless, but I hardly know where to begin with this. Really, I don’t. That said, I’m going to start with some full disclosure, move into some real life story, and close with some bloviating and opinion.

Full Disclosure

In the past I have maintained an affiliate relationship with credit card companies. They have chosen to no longer do business with me because I don’t sell enough credit cards, and I like it that way. First, I have a job and am blessed with a good income. Second, said job is somewhat demanding of my time and I don’t have any “help” here at MJ on Travel to deal with the understandable regulatory compliance challenges that affiliates face. Finally, life is more important than cards. I simply stopped giving a damn about credit cards and I got rewarded for it. I’m still good with it.

Real Life Story

I was flipping credit cards before I knew flipping credit cards had a name. Heck, I was doing so when I worked for a certain big AAirline and earning miles while there. Same can be said for manufacturing spend. A few years ago I was doing what I’ve always done. Spending that good income I referenced above and having a good time. I got lazy…really lazy. I’m at my best in things like maximizing card rewards and innovative spending strategies when I’m at my best for being anal (for lack of a better word) when it comes to my finances. Tracking every penny. Spend $2 at Starbucks, it gets recorded. Did I mention I got lazy? I forgot to track those $2 coffees and a lot of other things. Actually, I didn’t forget, I just didn’t care. There’s 2 miles to be earned there! I was rolling in miles, and then life happened. A surprise vet bill. A surprise car repair bill. A cruise bar bill. A really surprising tax bill….all in the space of a few months. All of us have been through it in some way or another. You see, the thing is…that one day, the bill came due and for the first time since I was in my early 20s and making $16K a year flying for a regional airline, I didn’t have the money to pay it without emptying every single cash savings vehicle I had.

Bloviating and Opinion

It’s been a few years, but the situation I found myself in was nobody’s fault but my own!!! I didn’t reach out to my wife, my mother, a neighbor, or a consumer advocate. I sucked it the F up and fixed the problem. I rediscovered my lost discipline, I found the money to pay the bills, and most of all, I stopped doing stupid sh*t. I spend with a plan. I apply for cards with a plan. I meet my obligations with a plan.

The truth is that I have experienced a lot of travel opportunities that I never would have experienced without credit card rewards. I love card rewards and I still believe in them. I also believe in affiliate marketing and I absolutely have no problem with bloggers who promote rewards cards. It’s a personal decision on the part of readers to decide whether they want to apply for a card or not. If a blogger has something to say or a tip to share that helps a reader and that reader wants to use their affiliate links to compensate the blogger for the time they spend on their blogging effort, who the heck am I or anyone else to say there’s something wrong with that? I’m sorry, but bloggers aren’t responsible for anyone’s financial problems.

In trouble because of rewards cards? Looking for someone to blame? Look in the mirror. Then look in that mirror again to find the solution.

-MJ, February 5, 2015

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