An OTR Editorial Decision…

I’ve been writing Online Travel Review for nearly 9 years (time flies!), and it’s a labor of love. I love writing about airlines, and I’m amazed that people actually read what I write. Fantastic.

Over the past 2 years or so it’s been difficult to write about the airline industry without writing about credit cards and loyalty programs because they’ve become such an integral part of the airline industry; this is true for the airlines themselves, many of which were helped financially by the banks that issue their credit cards, and for travelers who can fly pretty much anywhere in the world they want for free just by opening a couple of credit cards.

How to best take advantage of cards and points has been a part of this site for the past couple of years, though I don’t have quite the passion for it that you find in some of the other sites out there (more power to those who want to spend a weekend at an airport hotel talking about this stuff…) But I think I’ve approached this whole topic from a bit of a different perspective without, perhaps, some of the hysteria that you may find elsewhere.

This is a preface to a quick note about the current state of affairs viz a viz the Vanilla/Bluebird Situation (VBS). I read a few blogs each day, and I just went back and counted more than a dozen posts on those blogs over the past week or so about the VBS. A dozen. Possibly more (I stopped counting). Thousands and thousands of words all basically saying this (for those who have no idea what I’m talking about):

Buy a (or many) $500 Vanilla Reload cards at Office Depot with a Chase Ink card and you’ll get 2500 Ultimate Rewards points per $500 card (it costs $3.95). Use that card to fund your Amex Bluebird account (basically a checking account), and then pay whoever you like through their billpay service.

That’s it. There are posts on where to buy the cards (hint: go to and look at the list); posts on how to pay off the credit card bill with the money you purchased with that credit card (sketchy); posts on how you should get multiple credit cards for you, your spouse and your family members with a disclaimer not to ruin your credit (ha); posts on how to purchase an orangutan from the zoo, shave it, teach it to walk upright, and get it credit cards; posts about how there are no Vanilla Reload cards left; posts on how to tell a drug store cashier to ring up a card, etc etc etc.

I’m torn between whether I feel the hysteria is justified (yes, you really can get a bunch of Ultimate Rewards points for next-to-nothing); and part of me wonders whether the thousands and thousands of words spilled on the topic have something to do with the affiliate payout on the Ink Cards (I get them as well, so pot kettle black, y’know?)

This was the long way around to say that unless I find some brand spankin’ new angle on this, you won’t hear from me about it. Frequent Miler started this whole thing, and he deserves all the credit for the dozens of blogs that are now writing about this as if it was their discovery. If I come up with a unique angle, I’ll write about it. But until then, I’m pretty sure you can find out everything you want to know elsewhere. And if you want to apply for the Ink cards, you’re welcome to use my links, or those of the 200 other sites working for your business.

Thanks for taking the time, and I’ll leave you with the types of stories I really love: Bulgaria’s BH Air has applied to serve Chicago and New York from Sofia, Bulgaria, marking what would be, I believe, the first nonstop service between the two countries (whew, now I feel better…)

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  1. Thanks, Jared. I read your blog daily precisely because you do not shamelessly promote credit card signups. Your posts are original, insightful, and always very interesting.

  2. Jared, nice to hear this perspective. I love many of the other blogs but it does kind of puzzle me how someone can wake up in the morning and write a pages-long post on something where I can easily find the exact same information from another blog that was just written yesterday. That would drive me nuts if that were me. Glad you’re still going to be doing your own thing.

  3. Jared, like always, you hit it spot on. This, together withthe fact that sometimes you make me laugh out loud, make me wish I needed to sign up for a card so that I could use your links. Thanks for keeping it real.

  4. Amen! Thanks for being the voice of reason in all this nonsense. may as well be renamed at this point. For those of us who don’t have an OD nearby that stocks them or simply don’t choose to participate, having every blogger shoving Bluebird down our throats with every post is getting really old. I always look here first for an affiliate link when signing up for cards and will continue to do so due to your simple/sensible approach to the frequent flyer/credit card “game”. Thanks and keep doing your thing Jared!

  5. Tell me more about this Orangutan shaving, I’m very interested. I owe you a CC referral for my IcelandAir trip to Hawaii, Aloha Jared

    • You, your wife and, at a minimum, 3 cousins have to apply for both the Chase Ink, Chase Plus, and Chase Banana credit cards. Then, purchase an orangutan, preferably one with a credit score above 750 – remember, your credit is very important, never do anything to ruin it, like purchase an orangutan with a 650 score and try to apply for 5 credit cards.

      I was glib when I said “shaving” – you can also use a product like Nair to get rid of the hair on the primate.

      Then, run down to the Office Depot in Tempe, Arizona. No, not the one you’re thinking of, the other one. Down by the Old Navy. Yeah, that one. Purchase $720,000 worth of Vanilla cards. But call them Beans so no one knows what you’re talking about. Remember – it’s a secret.

      Then, have the orangutan slowly, but confidently, walk up to the cashier and purchase the cards. After the purchase, have him (her?) slowly walk away from the register. S/he will be very tempted by the candy at the front of the store. Keep moving. Then, once you’re out of the store, you are free to celebrate.

      And if you purchased the orangutan with your Ink card, when you go to return the orangutan to the zoo (“sorry, he didn’t fit”) they’ll refund you the money but you get to keep the points. Score!

      • Thanks for the zoological sequel. I was already going to say that your orangutan line was the funniest thing I’ve read all week.

        Well, funny to the “mileage community,” I guess. I suppose 99% of Americans would read this stuff and wonder what freakin’ nonsense these dweebs were babbling about.

      • Unfortunately none of my cousins have as good a credit score as I do, I’m not married either (that I know of), but my dog has a very good understanding of money so ill have her apply for the ink cards. You know which card earns the most points at petco?

      • okay your orangutan follow-up comment was hilarious and well worth a post in itelf. Love it!

  6. Testify! :-)

  7. can i do the vaniila-office depot thing with a saphire card. i dont have a business card.

  8. , keeping it real :)

    thank you for not doing the ‘me like vanilla too’ inanity. (to be fair, i do love the vanilla thing and will enjoy it within reason while possible).

    thanks for making me laugh often enough that I’d happily use your link next time I apply for a card.


  9. Jared, thanks for having the most interesting blog. I too find the vanilla thing seemingly too time consuming/complicated and risky.

  10. Online Travel Review Steps Away From Bluebird Madness - Street Smart Traveler (beta) - pingback on November 8, 2012 at 6:31 pm
  11. Kudos to you for writing a sensible, level-headed post on the Bluebird mania. It’s awesome how you keep crediting Frequent Miler for discovering this.

    I actually liked how you wrote a post about how to earn lots of miles without “Vanilla Fuss.” Enjoyed your fresh take on it.

  12. Jared, I appreciate your take on the airline industry, and I don’t think you should feel pressure to write about credit cards if that’s not what you’re interested in. You have your niche, and I learn a lot from you. Thanks for all your work.

  13. I always scoffed at how hard most bloggers pushed the Chase Ink cards, even though the “business” aspect was frequently dubious and the card minimum spend isn’t suitable to most frequent churners.

    The Vanilla Reload finally justifies previous hype, but in time, Chase (or the merchants selling reloads paid for by credit card) will crack down.

  14. *hat tip* go to your local cvs store and look on the gift card rank. Some VR cards are waiting for you ;)

  15. When I read the first sentence of your post “I’ve been writing Online Travel Review for nearly 9 years…” I somehow thought you were going to announce shutting down the blog, and was very disappointed. I’m very glad that is not the case. Thank you for writing one of the few blogs that actually provides original content. Less is more!

  16. i protest! you write about the credit card deals in a clear crisp way that is > easily understood that other sites. owing largely to you, i was able to make 10 grand last year on cards. please continue!

  17. I’d just like to add my two beans’ worth and invite your readers to visit my new gorilla-credit-centric blog, The Multi-million Banana Status Guy. Once I get this shaving thing down, I’m looking forward to offering weekly videos of me in shorts answering urgent reader questions about home-based businesses for large apes.

  18. Jared, I appreciate your contrarian take on the miles/points game while reporting on the “real” airlines industry. I’m still waiting for some of the bloggers to provide analysis on the AA bankruptcy, but that would be harder than writing about the Chase Sapphire/Ink or trip reports. And don’t forget the amenity kit reviews. How pathetic.

  19. Funny post-thanks for that, and thanks for remaining level headed about the Vanilla thing. I too appreciate your fresh content and owe you a click through in an uocoming credit app for your help scoring Icelandair for me a few months ago.Big thanks!

  20. Thanks for the thoughtful, honest and funny post.
    When I next apply for Ink whatever it will be via your link as a reward for your reasoned approach to adding value to the miles sport/hobby.

    Thanks again,

  21. Hi Jared,

    I very much appreciate your post on this subject. To that end, I don’t know whether you feel comfortable about this, but would you mind disclosing what the affiliate payout on these cards actually is? I am often surprised that bloggers write “full disclosure – I get paid if you click my link”, but I have no concept whether a blogger is pushing an AMEX card over an INK card because he/she gets paid MORE by the former. If the actual payout isn’t listed, it isn’t “full disclosure” at all.

    • Hi Joe. We’ve all been asked not to share the payout amounts, a request that:

      1) I understand is annoying to readers; but
      2) Makes sense from the affiliate company’s standpoint.

      The amount of their payout is a piece of competitive information they don’t want shared (there are other affiliate companies out there, and they cut their own deals with credit card companies).

      I personally don’t think the referral amount is particularly important — your travel agent likely isn’t sharing what s/he gets paid by the hotel they put you up in; and your mortgage broker is likely not telling you their cut. Nor is your car dealer.

      I would say this, though:
      The widely read travel/loyalty blogs are not pushing one card over another because of the payout (I rarely read flat out incorrect or obviously biased info on the widely read sites); that said, I do think it influences the frequency with which we write about credit cards.

      That may not be such a bad thing — credit cards (as I wrote in the original post) have made it possible to travel the world for free, and with basically no effort. People are coming into this whole credit card thing with no idea what’s going on, and it’s helpful to see new posts on old topics, even if it’s annoying to longtime readers.

      That’s my long answer to your reasonable question: I don’t think the payout affects the cards that are pushed; I think that there’s any payout at all has caused a bunch of people to write blogs. And in turn, we’ve all probably gleaned something new at some point from each of those blogs, even if you find them, on the whole, annoying.

  22. Jared, sorry this is so late… Great post!

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