Is it time to shut down the “shills” who are paid to endorse credit card companies?

Credit cards are morally ambiguous financial instruments. They can be used for good, to pay for something when you don’t have enough money. And they can be used for evil, to pay for something when you don’t have enough money.

Ted Facnauu is concerned about the evil part. He contacted me after I penned a column criticizing the ethics of travel hacking. Facnauu 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 understand their reluctance. If you’re credit-card churning, doing manufactured card spending and travel hacking, you probably don’t want a reporter asking questions.

Facnauu wants to know if this arrangement — where bloggers endorse credit cards that allow users to collect points, and are rewarded with a generous commission in exchange — is a scam.

“They are luring in readers who blindly sign up, and some of those people may have not even learned some of the financial basics on the responsibilities of using a credit card,” he says. “They are shown how to buy thousands of dollars in cash products, but not shown the risks of what could happen if something goes wrong. And since the credit card companies are paying the bloggers to basically continue this cycle, someone is bound to get hurt.”

And here comes the inevitable disclosure: This blog is part of an advertising network called BoardingArea that hosts some of the most famous loyalty program blogs in America. Many of my colleagues earn a considerable amount of money from credit card commissions.

Although BoardingArea doesn’t control the editorial content on this site, I’ll be the first to acknowledge that there’s a perception that I’m part of the problem, no matter what I write.

Here’s another disclosure: Although travel is one of my specialty areas, I’ve avoided playing the loyalty game. I don’t like loyalty programs. They’re like Vegas: the house usually wins. The closest I’ve come to active participation in a program is my beloved Starbucks gold card. (I’ve sucked down more espresso than my doctor should know, and collected a sky full of gold stars, but that’s a whole ‘nother story.)

Also, in the past, two hotel programs have bestowed lifetime elite status upon me instead of paying for consulting work. I would’ve rather had the money.

I don’t hack, churn or manufacture with any credit card, but I’ve become more curious about it recently and I’ve started to ask more questions.

So, now that we have all that out of the way, what’s next? Well, I asked someone I know and trust, loyalty program expert Tim Winship, who edits the site

“I loathe the credit card shilling that is currently funding so many of the travel blogs,” he told me. “My issue centers on editorial integrity. As long as their incomes depend on commissions from credit card sign-ups, these bloggers are morally compromised.”

But what if they disclose those relationships?

“No, acknowledging the compensation arrangement doesn’t make it any less egregious,” he says. “Most readers don’t read the fine print, or fully understand its implications.”

Winship is less worried about consumers like Facnauu’s neighbor.

“The great majority of the people I see churning cards and manufacturing spending are pretty financially savvy. I just don’t see this as a problem on the same scale as, for example, payday loans,” he says.

In other words, I’ll never get a meaningful number of complaints from disgruntled credit card customers, because they’re too savvy or too smart to go public when things go wrong.

Facnauu says I still need to take up this cause.

“Someone like you, who has a lot of years in the industry and who understands all sides of the issue could possibly communicate with the credit card companies to get them to stop paying commissions for credit card links that these bloggers put forth solely in the mindset of teaching and enabling their readers to break program rules and cross ethical and moral boundaries,” he says.

I agree: travel hacking in general, and manufactured spending specifically, is ethically troublesome. You’re using something in a way it wasn’t intended. And critics have suggested it could have unintended consequences, like raising prices or making travel worse for those of us who don’t have elite status. Those are valid concerns.

Perhaps a good start would be for readers to stop confusing these bloggers for journalists or travel industry experts. They are, for the most part, loyalty program specialists. They’re also salespeople and advocates for the credit card companies, a fact clearly disclosed on their sites.

But ending this little arrangement may be beyond my advocacy mission. I have a strict policy that I get involved in a case only when I’m asked directly by someone who needs help. And no victims have contacted me for assistance with their loyalty credit card — at least, not yet.

Besides, one of my New Year’s resolutions is to lay off loyalty programs, and I’m really trying to keep that promise.

How am I doing?

Do you trust a blogger who is paid bonuses for credit card sign-ups?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Underwritten by

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by

With nearly 20 years in the industry, over 128 airport covered in the U.S. and Canada, and over 1,000 Hotel and Parking Partners-we provide travelers the best options on how to get to the airport when flying. Whether you want to; drive yourself and park near an Airport (Airport Parking), stay the night before your flight at an airport hotel and leave your car (Hotel and Parking Package), or take a shared Shuttle/Private Car/Limo to the Airport- we got you covered. The best deals can be found online, and booking a reservation has never been easier. You can explore all of our options by visiting us at,,, and

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Cavalry Travel Insurance

Cavalry takes the worry of out travel by providing 24/7 access to medical and security professionals combined with the best medical evacuation and security extraction services. Cavalry gets you home safely when you need it most. Learn more at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Seven Corners

Seven Corners has helped customers all over the world with travel difficulties, big and small. As one of the few remaining privately owned travel insurance companies, Seven Corners provides insurance plans and 24/7 travel assistance services to more than a million people each year. Because we’re privately held, we can focus on the customer without the constraints that larger companies have. Visit Seven Corners to learn more.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by

Since its inception over three decades ago, G1G has continued to revolutionize the travel insurance industry by being the only aggregator to operate a customer portal, placing all of the user's primary needs in one place. We have continued to innovate and disrupt the market by reimagining the way travel insurance can be delivered to the end user in ways no competition can. Simply put, no one knows the market as well as its founders and no one else shares G1G values and mission.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Arch RoamRight

Arch RoamRight is one of the fastest growing, most-highly rated travel insurance companies in the United States. Travel advisors love working with us, and travelers feel protected with our trip cancellation and travel medical insurance coverage. We also make it easy to file a claim online with our fast, paperless claims website. Learn more about RoamRight travel insurance.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

As a company that is constantly striving to simplify travel insurance, VisitorsCoverage, is on a mission to help travelers make the better decisions about purchasing travel insurance, quickly. VisitorsCoverage has helped millions of travelers globally to buy the suitable travel insurance and explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at  VisitorsCoverage. Lowest Price Guaranteed.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International,, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.

Send this to a friend