One Mile At A Time Ethics Policy

OMAAT has long had an advertising policy, but in this day and age I don’t think that’s really enough. So I figured it was time to publish a more formal ethics policy.

In addition to sharing some black-and-white guidelines, I want to provide the philosophy behind each of these decisions.

Why? Because very specific rules don’t always tell the full story. For example, I could say I don’t accept free flights or hotel stays, while simultaneously accepting other things from travel brands without technically breaking that policy. I want to try and do a bit better than that.

A bit of background on OMAAT

I started this blog over 11 years ago as a hobby, when I was 17. Now, anyone who knew me at 17 would probably find the thought of me writing a post about ethics laughable (I would too) but everyone grows up, and I’m not the person now that I was at 17.

I never in a million years thought this would become my career, and I’m grateful every day for the life I have. I get to wake up every morning and write about an industry I’m passionate about. The fact that hundreds of millions of people have clicked on the blog over the years is just icing on the cake.

This is the largest independent miles & points/travel blog out there, and I don’t for a second take any of it for granted. Let me also stress that while this site is fundamentally a business, it’s also a passion project. This isn’t a company with a five year plan to be acquired.

I love what I do every day, I work with some great people, and as long as I’m in good health I hope to be here.

The internet has changed a lot

It’s amazing how much the internet has evolved in the past decade, and this goes way beyond the travel space. The evolution has been both a good and bad thing.

On the one hand, it’s incredible how much diversity there is on the internet, and how the openness and relative accessibility has made it possible for so many people to thrive and make a living doing stuff they love. On the other hand, you have people pretending to be vegan in order to sell meal plans, so it’s definitely a mixed bag.

Every company (including this one) has to make money, but I want to be as transparent as possible in order to make sure you guys know where I stand on things. That transparency is something you deserve as readers and supporters of this site.

How One Mile at a Time makes money

The blog makes money through a combination of impression-based ads and some affiliate links — for credit cards, Amazon, points sales, etc. There will occasionally be a post or contest that is directly sponsored by an advertiser. Our advertising policy has the full details of all those things.

If there’s a post on this blog that earns any type of fee or affiliate commission, the post will always clearly state that, up front and at the top of the post. I appreciate the support you guys provide, because ultimately we couldn’t have the team we do without your support.

I do everything in my power to maintain editorial independence

The people who like to criticize me for not knowing anything about running a business might have a field day with this, because I’ve actually (and intentionally) structured my business such that I have very little involvement in the day-to-day dealings and negotiations that go into running an online brand.

This might sound counter-intuitive, but my reasoning behind it is simple. I want to always be able to write freely and passionately about the things that interest me, and that I think will be interesting to you. I don’t want to write for some random metrics, or have my content or opinions influenced by thoughts of bottom-line revenue.

So I log in to Google Analytics roughly once a year, for about five minutes. I don’t even know the password to the affiliate portal that would otherwise tell me the varying commission rates for specific products. And while that’s not a perfect firewall, because I obviously could access all those things, I’m fortunate to have a team that not only handles and filters stuff, but understands why it’s important to my business plan that I don’t.

That doesn’t mean that if I’m invited to meet with the head of a loyalty program I cover, or the product team of a bank we have an affiliate relationship with I’ll necessarily turn it down. And I obviously talk to PR teams when there are program changes or other news.

Having relationships allows me to provide feedback and get insights as to why or how something might be happening — and I think that’s valuable to readers. But I try to keep those conversations separate from any business discussions that relate to OMAAT (and typically the people I’m talking with are similarly far-removed from the advertising and affiliate agreements anyway), and you’ll never see me in a brand’s promotional commercial.

This could certainly evolve over time, but it will always be important to me for the editorial and financial sides of OMAAT to be as separated as possible. And I write 95%+ of the content, so that has to be where my attention goes.

One Mile at a Time ethics policy

With that background as a foundation, let’s get into the other standards I’ve set. Note that this applies not just to me, but also to anyone writing for OMAAT:

  • We don’t accept any free travel from airlines or hotels; this includes not accepting invitations on delivery flights, or pre-opening stays at hotels that aren’t otherwise open to the public
  • We don’t accept any other in-kind “gifts” that could present a conflict of interest; whether free airline status, tickets to a concert, etc.
  • We don’t participate in any form of pay-for-play coverage; this includes not accepting any sort of payment from an airline or hotel in exchange for any expectation of coverage, and we don’t pay to promote OMAAT in other media outlets — all our press is earned media
  • We don’t let airlines or hotels know we’re arriving in advance, or ask for special access; this even includes things like contacting an airline PR person to ask for pre-boarding so we can take pictures of the cabin, as that could impact service — instead I’m the annoying guy who is lined up before the flight hoping to be the first onboard so I can snap pictures without drawing too much attention from the crew
  • We go out of our way to avoid media events; personally I turn down 99% of media invitations, and I only attend them if I truly think there’s a major benefit to readers, but I also don’t accept free dinners from airline people (or take their marketing teams out to dinner)

I also want to be clear that I don’t split hairs and say “well, One Mile at a Time isn’t receiving any benefit, I’m just here as Ben, so this doesn’t count.” It’s not in my best interest to separate myself from my brand like that anyway.

Why now, and the need for further disclosure

None of these practices are really new to OMAAT — outside a minuscule handful of trips over the past 11 years, I’ve been paying for all my own travel for over a decade. And I have always disclosed any financial relationships in clear text at the top of any post.

Still, the internet has come a long, long way. There are some legally required advertising disclosures, but beyond that I increasingly think there’s value in ethical disclosures.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting I’m more ethical than others, or that my standards are better than anyone else’s.

Rather, as the internet and influencer space continues to evolve, it’s important to know what you’re getting yourself into. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with someone receiving free flights to attend an event, or taking a payment from a local tourism board to visit and promote a destination, or going to networking events to build relationships with marketing and PR teams. There are tons of sites creating unique content and providing value to their readers and customers under that model.

To give one positive example, in the airline industry I have a ton of respect for Brett Snyder of Cranky Flier. He specifically has an ethics page where he not only discloses the media trips he takes, but also discloses what he was invited to and has turned down.

I would absolutely trust any review Brett wrote, regardless of whether the flight was comped or not, because he gives so many details, and even discloses the things he is offered but doesn’t accept. There’s huge value in that commitment.

I would encourage other sites, bloggers, and influencers to similarly disclose what their policies are. I’m not at all suggesting everyone has to (or even should) take the same approach I do, but at least let your audience know what they can expect from you. They deserve to know.

Still, I can’t always be anonymous

I’ve been at this for over a decade, and increasingly my goal is to just fly under the radar.

I want to experience things the way you guys do as much as possible, and I go out of my way to make sure that happens. Now, let me be clear — I can’t be 100% sure no one ever knows who I am.

This site has a significant readership, and it’s inevitable that occasionally I’m recognized, and there’s not much I can do there. I also have elite status with a variety of airlines and hotel programs due to how much paid travel I have, and in theory those brands should be recognizing their top-tier members differently. Similarly, generally speaking luxury hotels should be Googling their guests before arrival to see who they are. That’s just good business. But you’d be surprised by how rarely that seems to happen in any sort of a significant way.

So further to that point, going forward I’ll make an effort to note when I suspect a company knows “who I am,” and if that has potentially impacted my experience.

Bottom line

There’s more I could say about my understanding of the unique platform I have, and the responsibility that goes with it. As I’ve grown and come to better appreciate those things, it has certainly changed how I approach my coverage of other humans, the manner in which I travel, and how I direct my givings.

For the purposes of this post I wanted to keep the focus on the financial and editorial relationships of OMAAT, but it all circles back to my evolving priorities and the things I’ve realized matter most to me as a person, and how I want my business practices to reflect those values as best I can.

I want to be very clear I don’t think there’s anything wrong with attending media events, or asking to board early to get pictures of a cabin, or even accepting comped flights or sponsored trips.

Everyone has to decide what makes the most sense for their brand or business, and as long as everything is properly disclosed, I don’t think anyone should get “extra credit” for doing things one way or the other. Just be upfront about it.

But part of my commitment to OMAAT readers is to be as transparent as I can, and I hope this is helpful in showing where I stand and how I approach things.

Everything in the world evolves, and just as my stance on this has evolved over time, it’s possible it will evolve further in the future. If it does, I’ll update this post so you guys always know where I stand.

Comments

  1. So you mean we shouldn’t expect to see you in the back of cars with Marriott executives at award shows or come out with a ranking of airlines that is then picked up my every major news site within the hour?

  2. Well said Lucky, I for one certainly appreciate your ethical stance, it makes your content far more interesting!

  3. The fact that you don’t accept free travel or hotels or in-kind gifts is massive and separates you from the majority of travel journalism. I know you’re not a journalist, but your product (the blog) is to an extent analogous to travel journalism so I think it’s a notable comparison. Good for you on publishing this and being transparent on your ethics policy.

  4. Ben, are you saying your reviews and attention paid to Capital One Spark miles cards, and Avianca Lifemiles promotions, are in no way paid by them through direct payments or royalties on clicks?

  5. Ben – Thank you for your commitment to transparency and integrity. That is why I am a loyal reader! All the best.

  6. @ Chris Fields — I’ve never been paid a dime by LifeMiles. I promote the miles because I consider them valuable, and I appreciate that they offer OMAAT readers a good deal, but I get nothing else out of it. As far as the Spark goes, the card is part of my affiliate network, just as dozens of other credit cards are.

  7. Fantastic page, Lucky and should be a model for others to emulate.

    I think the general policy should be this — it’s not a crime, or even de facto unethical to accept free gifts, travel, or invitations from airlines, BUT… any such transactions must be disclosed clearly. And not in some fine print in size 3 font at the bottom.

    If there are any sites that are not doing so, that is wrong and they should be called out.

  8. Please explain how your time in the SPG Stars Program fits in the above policy. I am under the impression that SPG Stars Program participants received SPG points to use for travel which then was the subject of blog posts. I get it was disclosed in the blog posts, but was the above policy in place while you were in the SPG Stars Program? If so, did you violate your own policy?

    Since we are all coming clean, figured it was a question to ask.

    From your W South Beach blog post “Full disclosure: This experience was in conjunction with the SPG Amex Stars program I’m participating in, courtesy of the Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express. They gave me 70,000 Starpoints for this experience, which I redeemed for my two night stay at the W South Beach.”

  9. Well said Lucky. This is why you (and the team at OMAAT) are the best. Slight correction:

    “We don’t accept any other in-kind “gifts” that could present a conflict of interest; whether free airline status, tickets to a concert, OR INVITES TO THE OSCARS, etc.”

  10. Good post.

    I’m sort of surprised that this post doesn’t also have some sort of reader/commenter ethics statement to clarify how you moderate comments. It seems like our ethics matter to your website as well. I know you have covered it before but I’m sure its a constant struggle dealing with the nasties.

  11. Five years plan of company to be acquired makes me feel it is implying TPG, the point guy. I feel at least Ben is running the site with passion plus making money

  12. You might be saying the truth, because “ethics”, but this post comes across as virtue signaling. Your content shows your personal biases that come across in your posts time and again.

  13. I’m impressed. You don’t have to take this stand, but you do anyway, and it sets you apart from the rest of the blogs and travel writers who appear to be mainly concerned with keeping the free junkets flowing.

    Hats off to you good sir, and thank you for the great information you keep making available to us!

  14. “I’ve been at this for over a decade, and increasingly my goal is to just fly under the radar.

    I want to experience things the way you guys do as much as possible, and I go out of my way to make sure that happens.”

    Without being overly critical, I don’t believe your actions in the past match up with this. I don’t follow the blog as closely as I once did, but I do follow you on Twitter and when there is an issue at a hotel you have frequently (multiple times) tried connecting with the specific hotel. I am not saying you are asking for preferential treatments, but I would think that telling a hotel through means other than social media would allow them an opportunity to “make it right” without having to disclose you are a prominent travel blogger. You also publicize when you are at hotels through social media. So not exactly flying under the radar to give a review of an experience that most normal folks would have.

    I’m happy to see the disclosure as I find that I am more interested in honest reviews of products that were paid for. Though, others will point out while it was years ago you did take free trips/stays… some of your other writers have utilized similar opportunities more recently.

    Otherwise, I find your blog very useful and I think you and your team do a great job. I think that the people that complain a lot, I’ve been guilty of this in the past, would find a significant void if. you were to stop this blog all together. Thanks for all the passion and dedication you’ve put into it.

  15. funny talking about ethics, when you fly to countries that behead people if they ask for human rights, or kill them because they’re gay

  16. @ Eric @ jettyboy — Sure, initially was something where readers got the same experience I did, but their approach changed, and it’s not something I’m doing anymore (and haven’t since a late 2016/early 2017). Going forward it’s not something I would do, and a great example of how things have evolved over time.

    Everyone — Please keep the questions coming! I have an appointment in five minutes, but will be back in about 90.

  17. But you’re still posting pax fist fight videos and your hatred for trump?

    This site is basically TMZ and buzzfeed combined.

  18. @ iolaire mcfadden — Good point, that’s something we should work on compiling. Our sentiment with comments has definitely evolved from “if people want to be awful on the Internet, that’s not really our problem” to something where we do want to be more conscientious about the environment being created in our home.

  19. @Shannon “This isn’t a company with a five year plan to be acquired.” is probably Million Mile Secrets – that blog came out after OMT and TPG were already established blogs with good brands – it was built with great content for beginners and marketed very well, it was acquired by TPG group after TPG sold out.

  20. You have my full support Ben.
    I love the fact you maintain editorial independence and you write most of the posts on this blog yourself.
    I really appreciate this post, and I truly wish you all the best for the times to come.

  21. These policies, which I have had a sense of by reading your work over the past 10 years, is why I’m gravitating to your site more and more. Keep up the good work!

  22. I like the ethics policy. Will you start calling out TPG for not having editorial independence, as Gary Leff has done with Bonvoy?

  23. Thanks for these clarifications, Ben.

    As you write in first person, can you just confirm please that these same standards also apply to everybody else who writes blog posts on OMAAT?

  24. Ben knows the difference between doing what each reader wants (impossible; we all want different things) and doing as he thinks best, while telling us openly about it. I feel good reading this blog for many reasons, including those Ben discussed in this post. Mostly, though, it’s better writing and extraordinarily consistent standards in reviews. Wanna know if Vietnam Airlines is better in J than Virgin Atlantic? Suppose you could only read one blogger. There, I rest my case.

    Now that you got it off your chest, Ben, here’s a plan, to drive your point firmly home: “accept” the most lavish, outrageous, compromising invitation/offer you receive in the coming months and write about the whole experience from beginning to end, as a sort of a sting operation. It’ll make good reading and you’ll get another round of TV appearances (makeup please!), which you know you love…

  25. Just wanted to say thank you for laying this all out, and for being so transparent with us. You’re a decent, stand-up guy, and that’s one of the reasons this blog remains a part of my daily routine.

    I’m a business owner myself, with investors and employees to answer to. I know tempting it can be to cut corners and engage in business practices that are…questionable at best in the interest of inflating the bottom line. Many of your competitors have clearly succumbed to this, so kudos to you for resisting that temptation.

    Keep doing what you’re doing my friend. We’ll keep reading.

  26. And this is why I read this column daily and only go to The Paid Guy for some trip reviews that aren’t covered here. I used to read them both daily..

    Thanks for the honesty

  27. Lucky

    I so enjoying reading the blog. Without ethics, integrity or transparency you are nothing.

    You are a well rounded young man and make your parents proud.

  28. Thanks for the free high quality content Ben, much appreciated. Seems to me you often get the same crappy service we all experience from time to time, or sometimes even worse! So not really concerned about your morality, you and your team run a good business. I must admit though I sometimes miss the UA trip reports combined with HI Express and Crowne Plaza reviews back when you were a teenager getting kicked out of lounges for being under 21. In any event, keep up the great work.

  29. This is why many miles enthusiasts continue to read your blog and stopped reading TPG, but many people would love to see TPG called out publicly (like Gary did) because I think TPG owes his readership (or former readership) a response to all the charges out there (seriously how much longer can TPG sit silently while everyone raises pretty compelling questions about the horror show that is Bonvoy).

  30. The two things that get me worked up re: your ethics:

    1. When you pitch points sales with your referral link without mentioning that your readers could be using Topcashback to save a few percentage points.

    2. When you pitch your husband’s luxury booking business without mentioning the Citi Prestige 4NF benefit, which is often the only way to get a discount at a luxury hotel. This is becoming less of an issue by September though.

    Curious for your thoughts or Tiffany’s on these two.

  31. @ Brent — I appreciate the feedback, of course. You’re right that back in the day I’d frequently contact hotels on Twitter (like, years ago) since often it’s the best tool for getting things resolved. However, I rarely do that nowadays, and for that matter can’t remember the last time I have.

    As far as “publicizing” on social media when I’m at hotels, are you talking about posting pictures, and stuff? If so, I usually do that either at the very end of my stay, or after I’ve left.

  32. @ Skeptic — I’m sorry you feel that way, though I guess not surprised based on your username. 😉

    I genuinely mean it when I say that I think people can take comps and do things very differently than me and create great content. I really don’t think everyone else needs to take my stance. I’m simply sharing my perspective on things, and yes, I am encouraging other bloggers to do the same (and by “do the same” I mean disclose their practices the way I’m doing, and not have the same practices I do).

  33. @ Shannon — It honestly wasn’t referring to anyone in particular, but rather just the generic “five year plan” concept that businesses use.

  34. @ sj — We all evolve over people as time, and this is also an issue on which I’ve evolved in some ways. I won’t visit Saudi Arabia and Tanzania right now, for example. But there’s no denying there is a slippery slope. As far as “killing humans because they’re gay,” that’s not a practice I’m aware of in the UAE, Qatar, etc., if that’s what you’re referring to. Rather my personal perspective is that there’s value in engaging in dialogue and showing people that gays are just like everyone, rather than refusing to talk to them.

    Along the same lines, 35 US states (including the one I live in) allow gay conversion therapy for minors. This is a sickening practice that drives people to depression and suicide. I’m disgusted it’s legal. But I’m not sure if I should just move out of the US in protest, or what the right course of action there is?

    My point is just that all of this is a slippery slope…

  35. Lucky, What about your comment moderation policy? Perhaps worth publishing, too, when do you censor contributors and when not? I’ve had many comments that have never been live or have been hidden pending approval Vs other that’s are immediately approved

  36. Why the disclosure now. Is it because of the TPG article on WSJ? But in any case TPG was also part of SPG Stars program as I’m sure many others were plus a similar program with Amex.

  37. @ askmrlee — There’s no particular reason for the timing, and as a matter of fact this I started writing quite a while back, and have edited more and more over time, and I figured it was time to publish it.

  38. @ Mikey — There are two different points here. The first is what comments are automatically approved, and the other question is about our moderation policy. On this blog, comments from first time commenters, comments with links, and comments that have select words we filter, go into a moderation queue. Most of them are totally fine and get approved, but we like to moderate them to be on the safe side.

    As far as what’s acceptable and what not, we really should probably draw a line there. As Tiffany stated above, historically our policy has been that if people want to make fools of themselves online and have ridiculous comments, we’ll let them. But perhaps it’s time for a stricter policy given the general state of dialogue on the internet.

  39. I appreciate your ethical stand point and admire it greatly. Especially compared to the major differences between this blog that other well known blog.

    I’m a first time poster but a daily, all day reader. However, I’ve tried to comment in the past and my comment never gets posted after it says delayed for moderation. Here’s to hoping that this one does. 🙂

  40. When it comes to preferential service etc, do you think some airlines flag your name up, and other famous travel bloggers, and assign their best crew etc to your flight?

  41. “We don’t accept any free travel from airlines or hotels”
    “Note that this applies not just to me, but also to anyone writing for OMAAT”
    “None of these practices are really new to OMAAT”

    Daniel accepted free hotels and flights and put those reviews on OMAAT. Reviews for Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort and Condor business New Orleans to Frankfurt are just a couple of examples where “invited” content is on this site.

    But then there is the asterisk:
    “outside a minuscule handful of trips over the past 11 years, I’ve been paying for all my own travel for over a decade. And I have always disclosed any financial relationships in clear text at the top of any post.”

    This is clear as mud. You don’t accept free stuff, except when you do, which is ok because you disclose it. Either you do or you don’t. No asterisks please.

  42. @Jake – Highly unlikely since the pilots and FAs bid on flights a month or so prior to the actual flights. I can’t imagine that they would swap out crews for a blogger.

    A few years ago, an AA FA friend of mine was selected to fly the US Airways Charter carrying the Pope to the US. She had 40 years seniority at the time.

  43. @ Jay — We didn’t have a strict policy (for much of anything really) when Daniel was writing for OMAAT. That experience reaffirmed for us why it was important for comped trips to not be a feature of this site, and we learned a lot about the guidance we need to be giving to any contributors in order to ensure everyone is on the same page.

    I don’t see a conflict in saying “yep, there are different things we’ve tried over the years, and we’ve always disclosed it regardless, but this is what we’re committing to going forward,” but if there’s anything we can help clarify we’d be more than happy to!

  44. What is your policy on approving comments that want to know why you were banned from United MileagePlus and how that ban affects your coverage?

  45. Nobody is perfect
    I applaud your effort to be as transparent as possible

    Thank you for the post, it is much appreciated

    (Just trying to counter some of the inflammatory posters)

  46. The timing of this post is spot on. I was staying at a Marriott three days ago and noticed that they had a big promotion where TPG basically sold his soul on repeat for Marriott. It was news to me to see that and I definitely don’t plan on visiting his site nearly as often. So thank you Lucky for not doing the same. It’s certainly appreciated by me.

  47. @ Sam — Hmmmm, looks like they get approved (along with the other comments you’ve posted asking this same question), like pretty much all comments do that aren’t obscene or obviously intended to be hurtful.

    If you feel like there’s a coverage gap in the OMAAT content, we’re always open to post suggestions!

  48. @Tiffany – I understand your clarification. If that’s what the article said, then it would be clear. But Ben specifically says
    “None of these practices are really new to OMAAT”

    What you’re saying is that some of these practices ARE new to OMAAT after some review. If that’s the case, Ben’s quote above is not accurate and should be amended.

  49. @ Jay — I suppose the emphasis should be on “really” then? An ad-hoc contributor writing about comped trips two years ago isn’t reflective of the approach we’ve had for years, or that the vast, vast majority of content has always been self-funded.

    But, I appreciate your point, and we certainly don’t intend to be unclear on this.

  50. “Similarly, generally speaking luxury hotels should be Googling their guests before arrival to see who they are. ” – Nooo. That is just frickin creepy.

  51. “I would absolutely trust any review Brett wrote, regardless of whether the flight was comped or not, ” – the problem is not with Brett. The problem in that scenario is that the airline knows they are being reviewed and are likely to adjust their service accordingly and what ends up being reviewed is not necessarily going to reflect what everyone else will experience on the same flight making the review not as useful as it could be.

  52. @Ben Does this ethics policy also apply to Ford when you are travelling together and you post a report about any aspect of such trip? To be more specific, if Ford accepts a travel agent rate or goes on a travel agent familiarization trip through Virtuoso and you both stay at a hotel or take a cruise that results in content on OMAAT, will Ford forego the privileged rate and either pay with points or pay the full retail price that any of your readers would pay?

  53. In this age, practicing business in an ethical way considered a rarity and in that respect you belong to my old school of thought which is what we were taught and practicing many decades.
    I love your blog, its presentation and lucid contents and timely information which are definitely educational. I have to read OMAAT every day and Thank you for what you do. I have great respect for you.

  54. Ben and Tiffany,

    I’ve met both of you at FTU events and I read the blog every day and find it incredibly valuable. I respect both of you and only want to say to keep up the good work!

    Alison

  55. This is why I read your blog and have been a loyal reader for years. We may not always agree, but I feel like you are making an honest effort and I know you were saying something from a good intention. Much respect.

  56. Great post Ben. That’s why I love this site. Your opinion to me counts. Your honesty is refreshing and I for one will continue to enjoy reading every day. Keep up the great work and I look forward to that Kuwait Airways first class report to make a full house.

  57. @ VaCavalier — Good question! Ford is offered FAM trips often, and rarely accepts, but when he does, he takes his mom or a friend. Ben is pretty adamant about never going on those trips, mainly to avoid the potential conflict you’re referencing, but also because it’s obviously not a “normal” experience in those circumstances.

    Of course, as a friend I’d love to encourage him to actually go on a trip with Ford with the advance thought that it wouldn’t be reviewable, and thus could be an actual vacation, but he’s pretty dang stubborn.

  58. Ben and Tiffany and the rest of the team at OMAAT: Great work and thank you.

    I appreciate this disclosure piece and hope the great philosophy listed here would be maintained. It is well thought of, and the independence of the blog upholds the integrity of the writings, reviews and reporting.

    Pls keep up the good work.

  59. This, is exactly why I’ve been reading, interacting, and making sure I support this blog and stopped reading TPG 5-6yrs ago.

  60. Very nice Ben, thanks! I think a lot of this is already clear to regulars and I truly respect all of the above!….although I will say when you advertise your upcoming travels, the airlines know. Can result in better or even worse (think CAI) incident. Not your fault.

    TPG is ABSOLUTE garbage now…and that is on top of that nauseating lanky guy who feels he needs to tool pose in every picture. Not to mention their constant pay for play for UA and DL …nonstop sucking up and misleading reviews/comments.

    Anyway, cheers and good for you!

  61. Thanks for the disclosure.

    On a side note, I’d love to hear your experiences of when you actually wanna travel low key but someone in the hotel or flight or lounge recognized you or a random person came up to to you and asked “Wait, are you Lucky?”

  62. Ben, I appreciate the post. I remember reading your FT posts back in the day, and have followed the blog since the beginning–being a daily reader for the last 5-6 years. You’re the best at what you do and add real value for a lot of people–both information and entertainment.

    I appreciate the clarity and it is important to know how the site is monetized, not because I’m particularly concerned about your impartiality, but because I want to support the website when I can.

    I almost never comment, so as one of the many, mostly silent, folks who come here every day–thank you.

  63. I think there are two classes of readers here – and most readers interchange between the two classes.

    Some read reviews in anticipation of specific travel.

    Some read reviews for aspirational reasons.

    I think your chosen policies and ethics are very much the best for the first class. On the other hand, sponsored content with access to multiple room types, excursions and interviews can be best for the second group. I really approve of how you are trying to be ethical but I still think there is space here, as well, for comp trip reviews etc so long as their is a clear “sponsored content” banner – especially if doing so could finance an additional writer. More content is good.

    The one area where I worry whether you are being true to your ethics is the number of posts about credit cards. When you write about PP restaurants you spam the posts with lists of the credit cards offering the benefit. Now, you might genuinely not know which affiliate links are the most profitable but I am sure you do know that credit card affiliate links are profitable and there is strong evidence that knowledge is affecting your writing.

  64. One other policy that is separate from the above but would instill a great deal of trust: ensuring affiliate links promoted on OMAAT are the best publicly available offers. I remember a few years ago finding a significantly better deal directly with the card issuer (which was very easily findable) for one of the cards promoted on OMAAT. That definitely eroded my confidence a bit. It might have been a complete one-off, but having a stated policy (but not necessarily promise) that every effort is made to ensure the best available offer is being shared, regardless of affiliate status, would make me confident to always sign up directly via OMAAT.

  65. @ Paul — That’s a great point, and we actually do make an effort there, despite some contractual restrictions that we sometimes have to work around (and the “fun” conversations it leads to me having with some of our partners).

    With the Amex Gold and Business Gold, for example, the referral offer was better than the affiliate offer when both cards updated, so we happily encouraged folks to share and use those links instead. The recent 75k offer on the Capital One Venture was only available through one publisher, or directly from Capital One, and since our commissioned link stayed at 50k we linked directly to CapOne during that window, etc.

    If you see a better offer elsewhere, we always want to know about it. If there’s a reason why we can’t link to it directly (and there sometimes is), then we’ll work that out, but we sometimes miss things, so always appreciate the heads up.

  66. Thanks Ben. I enjoyed this post and it is the very reason I keep coming back to this blog, and this blog only, for more great content.

  67. Lifemiles gives you money! Or something…. No way this awfal new site is posted here for free. Ir so bad lifemiles new site!!!

  68. @ Tiffany — that’s great to hear. And it might go a long way to at least say something like “to the best of our abilities, we will always share the best publicly available offer.” I know in the particular case I am thinking about a few folks did call out the better offer in comments, but from what I call it was never addressed. To be fair, it was at least a few years ago. And given the sheer volume of posts and comments I attributed simply to an oversight as I like to presume trust, but I know not all readers are quite so generous with their assessments. 😉

  69. I don’t see how accepting a free flight/hotel or gifts/payments/experiences/tickets/ from airlines is frowned upon, yet everyone seems to be fine with credit card affiliate marketing. I get that a free flight or room would impact the objectivity of a review of that specific experience. Receiving money from a credit card company for a branded credit card from a hotel or airline is no different to me.

    Even if you aren’t aware of how much money you’re making from each card, you know that you’re incentivized to sell them, and you know that’s what pays the bills. If you wrote a glowing review of a single stay at a Marriott hotel because you got a comped room, I don’t think that would drive people to have loyalty to the brand. If you promote a Marriott credit card and gloss over some negatives of the card (forget the program’s issues!) , you know you’ll sell more cards and make more money. It doesn’t matter if Amex or Chase is the entity you’re an affiliate of and get paid from, as you wouldn’t get a commission on those cards if the hotel/airline’s name wasn’t on it.

    So how is it righteous to not accept money/gifts in kind directly from an airline or hotel company, but is perfectly “ethical” to receive money on behalf of those same companies, just from a credit card issuer?

    It’s an extremely slippery slope.

  70. @Ben & @Tiffany, great to see the OMAAT team being upfront about this. It’s increasingly hard to find independent travel news, when so many others accept as many freebies as they can and always right glowing reports. Really appreciate that OMAAT has a balance of what went well and what didn’t. Keep doing what you’re doing! Been an avid reader since 2015

  71. I continue to find it astonishing that readers feel justified in criticizing this site even though it is offered to the public absolutely free. They act as if they are paid subscribers who are not getting their money’s worth when they really have only one appropriate recourse, i.e., don’t read the blog.

  72. Well said. I don’t love everything you write but without a doubt you’re one of the better voices out there in this corner of the internet. Keep up the good work!

  73. I’m just wondering when you’ll do an amenity kit giveaway or anything special really to give back to us loyal readers, like you suggested in your 10 year anniversary post.

  74. Ben

    I read your blog daily, but when it comes to which cards you choose to promote I have sometimes found your affiliate link isn’t the best public offer out there. That, of course, is completely fine and what I would do if i was in your shoes. But then this post comes up about being open and transparent. It just sits a little funny with me since to me you’re not being as open and helpful to your readers as you could be… you’re clearly not saying “hey, this isn’t the best offer out there, the best offer is found here ________”.

  75. @Donna,I’m pretty much sure if Lucky booked a mainland China carrier’s flight this days.They will know excatly who is coming.Then the flight or at least the front section of the flight will be taken care of specially.It’s kind of The Big Brother things.

  76. Ben-

    Do you mention there is a better card offer than your affiliate link when such case exists?

    Why or why not?

    Thanks in advance.

  77. Ben-

    I think your ethics stance is miles ahead of anyone else in similar blogs. I used to subscribe to and read most travel miles/points blogs, but I have dropped them all over time, except this one. People can be critical all they want about credit card promotions, etc. but I find your info/reviews re- cards to be about as unbiased as one can hope for and never misleading. Keep doing what you’re doing and ignore the haters.

    John

  78. @Lucky (and Tiffany) — I think this post is very good.

    As a long-time and daily reader, I wonder if there’s a touch of transparency missing… A number of guest bloggers were introduced with much fanfare about a year ago, and yet it seems over the past year they have written less and less. I know you’ve mentioned in comments what happened with James, but for fans of the blog I wonder if it’s worth having an update about your vision for the blog. I just feel as a regular reader a little confused about the issue. I don’t know if I’m alone in this.

  79. So, as you say you are trying to stay under the radar, I am curious. When you go to the sort of luxury hotels you would expect to use google, if you are going with your partner or anybody else, would you use their name instead of your own in order to get a potentially more ‘normal’ experience? Just curious.

  80. So you’re saying there are cases when OMAAT is contractually prohibited from mentioning an offer better than your affiliate link? That means the card issuer prohibits you from telling readers how to save them, the issuer, money, right?

    I believe you but why in the world would they do that? Is it to maintain control of who can sell and on what terms?

  81. Very clear article, Lucky!
    This just leaves me wondering what OMAAT’s ethics policy regarding climate change is…

  82. Very good read! As you’re climbing up the luxury ladder, Lucky, I hope you remember us “poor folk” who have turned to your site for advice on how to get the most out of our traveling dollar and continue to blog for “us” as well, sitting back in coach. Someday I hope to experience some of the luxuries you have experienced and being almost old enough to be your grandmother, my time is running short. Congratulations on building a business you love, keep up the good work!

  83. @Lucky

    When I visited Singita Lebombo last year, Brian Kelly from TPG was also there (took me a while to realize as I don’t read his blog).

    Apparently he had invited his parents to come along. But instead of spending quality time with them, he was mainly occupied with impressing them about how well he has done for himself and being arrogant to the staff.

    He kept bickering one whole evening about some employee or business partner of his by whom he felt betrayed when instead he expected eternal gratitude. So his poor parents had to listen all night about how he was going to “crush that guy”.

    Truly, rarely have I met a more self-absorbed and entitled person…

    The reason why I’m writing this is that it gave me so much pleasure to read that you will be taking your father to that same place soon. Seeing you as a travel blogger with integrity and an intact moral compass is healing me from that sad experience back then.

    So thank you for the good work, looking forward for everything to come!

  84. Just wanted to share my appreciation of your efforts. It’s clear from the article just how much thought you put into this. As a long time daily reader, I know that you absolutely try to be as regular a passenger/guest as possible.
    It may not always turn out that way, but over the years I found I can trust your reviews 100%. We all have different priorities when it comes to travel. Some aspects are really important to one group of readers while it’s of no interest to others. However, whenever I read your reviews I can be certain, that you try your very best to be as balanced as possible.
    Even for me as a regular passenger, flying the same route on the same airline in the same class of service and perhaps the same seat even, I will have varying experiences. The same goes for hotels.
    What really matters is the consistency (or lack thereof).
    And one thing that is important to me as a reader, is supporting you and your efforts. Nobody is forcing me to accept a credit card offer. It’s an option I can choose to look into.
    And that’s what I really appreciate. You are passionate about your work- and it shows. And you are fair and balanced. I may not always agree with everything you write, but you are authentic and I respect your opinions.
    I have the feeling that there are a lot more readers like me, that greatly value your opinions but don’t really comment.
    Please keep up your good work.
    It’s more appreciated than you may think.

  85. @ Gray — This blog is also about earning and redeeming points, and a lot of those hotels are ones where I have status. So I’m not going to forego earning and redeeming points to book a stay in someone else’s name. However, like I said, I get the feeling that very rarely are hotels actually paying attention in that way.

  86. @ Sled — I think you’re missing the point of this post. I’m not at all saying that it’s “not acceptable” to accept anything from airlines or hotels. What I’m saying is that there should be clear disclosure. I actually think I was very clear in this post when I said that I have no issues with blogs taking things from travel brands, it’s just the disclosure that matters.

    Every business has a business model, and in my case I’m drawing the line and saying that I do get a commission for certain products, which are clearly disclosed, while I don’t earn any money directly from airlines or hotels, and go out of my way to fly under the radar.

    So I’m not sure if you have a better suggestion — would you prefer me to not have any products off of which I can make money, in which case this isn’t a sustainable business model, or would you prefer I start accepting free flights and hotels?

  87. @ Vanina — I’ve shared feedback regarding the new LifeMiles site with LifeMiles management, and I’ve never made a dime from them…

  88. I also appreciate the transparency but….hehehe, subtle way to ignite an internet posting war…

    2 off topic comments
    -more posts from Tiffany, my fav
    -please engage the services of an editor

  89. I appreciate your honesty. I know I read your blog because I trust your constructive reviews without the influence of payment or other incentives plus the articles are entertaining. I wonder if Apple news + ever accepts blogger articles and if so would you consider being inside the Apple news + service?
    For that matter would it ever be a consideration to have a Patreon so subscribers can donate even a dollar a month to fund the site? I voice this out because promoting credit cards are not exactly promoting financial health and prudence. This is not a criticism as I understand how integral credit cards are with generating air miles.

  90. Thanks for responding, Lucky.

    I agree on the disclosure part, but titling this as an “ethics” policy and not a “disclosure” policy infers that you do find it “not acceptable” or ethically questionable to do certain things that you have clearly outlined that you won’t do.

    You say “We don’t accept any other in-kind “gifts” that could present a conflict of interest; whether free airline status, tickets to a concert, etc.” – your stance here is clearly that these things could present a conflict of interest (even if it is written as if you think some gifts are acceptable if you don’t think it would create a conflict of interest, I’ll assume that’s just English being tricky and not your intent).

    By accepting payment from credit card companies on behalf of hotels for selling products, you infer that does not create a conflict of interest – is that because the hotels aren’t paying you directly, or because you don’t believe that that model doesn’t have the risk of creating favoritism?

    To me, if a blogger receives a $600 Marriott hotel room for free, they’re getting $600 of value from Marriott. If you sold 6 Marriott credit cards from Amex or Chase at $100 each, for $600 total (I have no idea what they actually pay you), I still see that as receiving $600 on behalf of Marriott.

    I don’t have an issue with the business model, but rather with the ethics title. Anything that provides revenue on behalf of a hotel or airline can influence what you write. If another blogger says “Marriott gave me tickets to the _____ valued at $5000” and writes a fluff piece on the brand weeks later, is that correlated with how they write? If so, how would that be different from saying “we make money from Marriott credit cards” (which a blogger can’t disclose exactly how much they are earning from these, from what I’ve heard is in the contracts) and immediately writing a fluff piece about that brand and how readers should get that brand’s credit cards?

    All bloggers getting commission on cards have written overly rosy reviews of cards.

    A business model is a business model. You need to support your site somehow. Capitalism is wonderful. But just don’t get high and mighty on ethics, as disclosing conflicts of interest doesn’t make something magically ethical.

  91. @ Sled — To be clear, I think there’s a difference in terms of ethics between accepting a free flight or hotel stay or invitation to a media event, and accepting gifts. So maybe I am taking a personal ethical stance there. Part of the reason for that is that when you are invited to a media event or something, it’s supposed to be clearly disclosed, and in theory it allows you to provide coverage of something.

    Meanwhile if you see someone writing about airline or hotel news, you’ll almost never hear them say “XYZ at [insert airline] invited me to [insert event].” It also does nothing for readers, since they’re not even getting a review out of it.

    As to your other point, there’s a *huge* difference in practice between a credit card company and a hotel or airline when it comes to credit cards. The management of co-branded credit card agreements is handled almost entirely on the credit card company front. Generally speaking the airline or hotel has very little interaction or say, beyond the contract they agree to with the credit card company. So I understand how it could seem that way to you, but I really don’t think that’s the case.

    Anyway, if you don’t agree, I certainly respect your opinion, and maybe there’s not a whole lot I can do to convince you otherwise, though I’ll keep your feedback in mind, and appreciate it.

  92. @ Ben….

    Good stuff. I personally have no issues with you or your team excepting anything as long as it is disclosed. Your reviews are so detailed that one can make their own judgement regardless of what observations you note.

    An improvement of your site would be to hold back comments from posting that references political parties or politicians- no matter the party. One can learn from other posters, but irrelevant political rants distract from wanting to read thru the comments.

  93. Every time I fly in business to Europe for ~$5.60, or in first to Buenos Aries for the same price, or to Southeast Asia round trip in business for under $100, or benefit from our second go round of the SW companion pass, I thank you (and Gary Leff) from the bottom of my heart. So, “sell” credit cards and do whatever else you have to do to keep the business solvent. I think it’s always been clear how you support the blog. So grateful.

  94. Would love to see some meta-posts on the travel blogging industry – is the massive proliferation of authors collapsing/consolidating? Are you finding the competitive crowds thinning out in the meetups?

    I’ve noticed that the travel blogging industry is emphasizing a lifestyle focus rather than a value maximization model – is this driven by business need on the CC end? WSJ articles seem to point the way, largely driven by the TPG affiliate machine.

  95. @ Sam — There are some really bonkers (to me) rules out there. For one minor issuer, as an example, we aren’t allowed to link directly to their website unless it’s through our approved affiliate link. And we only have links to maybe 5% of their consumer and small business credit card portfolio. How that benefits anyone is beyond me (all acquisitions cost the bank money in one way or another, so it’s not about that), but I’m sure it seemed like a good idea to someone in a conference room at some point in time.

    I don’t like getting into the sausage-making, but helping issuers understand the needs and priorities of OMAAT and our audience, and bringing rationality to these agreements is something I’ve spent a lot of energy on over the years. There are a lot of things I can’t influence, and other things that just move incredibly slowly, but on balance it’s definitely getting better.

  96. Appreciate you trying to stay under the radar during your travels to experience what your readers will receive. Notably, even though some bloggers don’t receive monies, they will promote a company in hope of receiving a sponsored deal or whatnot. Keep being you and respecting your readers, you’ll get the respect back.

  97. Ben,

    Wow – thank you for writing this post. As a reader I appreciate it and the explanations for each. I think you produce the best content in this space – largely because I think you communicate better than any of the other blogs out there. As you said – the lion’s share of the content on here is yours (even absent a byline, your tone is easily identifiable). I also think that you’re a good writer. I may not always agree with what you’ve written (but, hey, that in and of itself is a good thing), but you communicate it very well. I’ll continue to come back to your site daily…even on days when I know there’s not a new review to be read!

  98. I read an earlier commenter said you addressed what happened to James in a previous comments section. Now that I’m thinking about it I am really curious as to what happened with some of the previous guest bloggers like James. Because now that I’m thinking about it I’ve only seen you and Tiffany post lately. Is it just lack of travel or is there another reason behind it?

  99. @Tiffany: “Hmmmm, looks like they get approved (along with the other comments you’ve posted asking this same question), like pretty much all comments do that aren’t obscene or obviously intended to be hurtful.”

    I’m mostly curious as to how the determination of something that is “obviously intended to be hurtful” is made.

  100. @ Mike — Yeah, y’all might just have to trust us on that. I’m pretty sure that the people making these comments do so knowing they’re horrible, and aren’t surprised when they aren’t published. I’m grateful for our little community because this isn’t a common occurrence, but there are some topics that bring nastiness of the woodwork. When Ben and Ford got married, for example, there were several gross, sick-to-your-stomach insults in the queue, and then even more, from the same people, directed at me for moderating them.

    Basically, we’re happy to receive criticism, and don’t moderate comments saying we’re wrong, or generally idiots, or whatever else that’s related to our work. We don’t feel obligated to publish comments making personal attacks on us, our families, or other readers, or stuff where if we did publish it, the reaction would likely be along the lines of “Wow, that is just mean, and adds nothing to the conversation, and also are you in 3rd grade? Because that’s a painfully immature insult.”

    It’s just how the internet is, and we don’t take it personally, but also want to be cognizant of the environment we’re creating. It doesn’t seem fair for the people who are here to learn and contribute to have to wade through a cesspool of irrelevant insults, so we try to filter that stuff a bit.

  101. Ben, Tiffany and OMAAT team: You have earned your reader’s and fans’ trust over the years. I like that you like to do things the right way instead of easy riches. Keep up the good work!

  102. I’ve been in the hobby for about 4 years now. OMAAT and Doc are my fav go to sites. I appreciate your content and all that you do. Please keep it up as you’re a valuable asset to this community.

  103. @Tiffany: “It’s just how the internet is, and we don’t take it personally, but also want to be cognizant of the environment we’re creating. It doesn’t seem fair for the people who are here to learn and contribute to have to wade through a cesspool of irrelevant insults, so we try to filter that stuff a bit.”

    Which seems, based on what you’re saying, to be limited only to comments directed towards you folks. That’s not unfair of you to do, but it does seem to explain why the comments on some posts go the way that they do around here.

  104. @ Mike — No, we do try to catch anything unnecessarily caustic directed at anyone, but sometimes don’t see things (or don’t see them in the same light at first). If someone feels something is concerning, we always appreciate when it’s flagged. We know we’re not perfect, but we are trying.

  105. Ben, You are absolutely correct. Everything evolves. For good or bad and whether it wants to evolve or not, it still evolves. That is our main mission here.

    We thank you for your writing. Honesty and truth is the wave of the future. The young ones are going to be demanding it.

    There will be radical change on corporations, yippie for us, we hope travel will get better, nicer people, better service everywhere we go.

    And Ben to have so much love of flying, we really wonder about your past life, what did you do?
    Flying seems to be in your heart, mind and soul. Its a great wonder you found this love and can
    pursue it. Thats a great evolvement !

    Timmy

  106. Hi Tiffany, I noticed you didn’t respond to my two questions. Sort of a defeating silence or maybe you missed them…?

  107. TPG tries to be all things to all people, diluting its effect. I appreciate your appeal to a narrower audience by being authentic, Ben. Your continued quest to just be yourself takes care of many potential ethical violations. Thank you as always for your good work & transparency.

  108. This is literally why you are -by far- my favorite blog out there. I have the utmost level of respect for you and your team and how you do things in a very transparent, unbiased way.
    Congratulations on all your continued success!

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