Affiliate marketing has grown from a niche way to make money from a content website or social media account to a legitimate business model. The WireCutter, an affiliate website deriving its income from the Amazon Associates program, sold to the New York Times in 2016 for $30 Million dollars.
Anyone with an audience can use the affiliate model to generate income from their hard work. While not a completely passive income stream (is there such a thing?) affiliate marketing can be worthwhile with some up-front effort and sweat equity.
How does Affiliate Marketing work and Does it work in the Travel Niche?
Bloggers work with brands by promoting their products or services. Using the brand's affiliate program software, bloggers add special links to their content. When someone buys a product or service (converts to a customer), the blogger receives a commission.
The travel industry is a great niche for affiliate marketing as it's one where there are millions of potential customers seeking products and services to help them travel better. Airlines, tour groups, travel accessory manufacturers, travel apps and software, and many other businesses understand the value in affiliate marketing.
Now, before you slap affiliate links from every travel affiliate program all over your site, there’s something you need to consider. The only reason you have the potential to get commissions is that your website enjoys a certain amount of traffic. This traffic comes from real people searching for answers and clicking through to your website.
The last thing you want to do is irritate and frustrate these people. Take an honest and measured approach to product promotion. Keep the number of affiliate links to only the products you use and trust. Building a loyal audience takes time. Losing a loyal audience takes seconds.
Looking for a quick way to discover more affiliate programs to promote? Check out this list of over 10,000 programs, including travel-related affiliate programs. Or try the Ultimate Affiliate List which showcases almost 2000 curated affiliate programs.
Portals for Travel Affiliate Programs
Many businesses in the travel industry use 3rd party platforms to host their affiliate program. This can be expensive for the business but it removes the hassle of setting up an affiliate program. For the travel affiliate (that's you), this can be a good thing, as you might already have an account with the platform that your favourite hotel bookings company uses. The travel niche is particularly open to affiliate marketing and you can find almost every major brand on one of the most popular portals. Here are the main ones most useful to owners of travel blogs:
An affiliate network with over 60 travel-specific affiliate programs, including Booking.com, Hotels.com, Agoda, and Tripadvisor. More than 250,000 website owners work with this portal to simplify the management of affiliate programs. Commissions are based on the CPA model and vary between offers from 1% to 20%. The cookie lifetime depends on the offer but is 30 days on average and 365 at maximum. The interface is nice and easy to use.
Probably the easiest to use and the one we've had the most success with.
AWin can be a little clunky to navigate but has an incredible number of referral programs already in the system.
Travel brands with affiliate programs on AWin include Hoppa, Interrail, and Europcar
The interface takes a bit of time to get familiar with, but once you've figured it out, it's easy to create your own custom links and find brands in the travel niche willing to work with you. I'd vote Impact as the best platform overall for publishers.
Popular travel brands on Impact include Hilton Honors, Scott's Cheap Flights, NestPick
CJ is not my favorite advertising network for several reasons: the interface is clunky and conversions always seem few and far between. Nevertheless, it's one of the world's most popular affiliate networks and hosts big names like Booking, CruiseDirect, Emirates, and Kayak.
Travel comes with inherent risks. Travel insurance is all about making sure that travelers don't go bankrupt from the high cost of medical bills in certain countries (the USA, for example). Responsible travel bloggers should remind readers about the dangers of traveling without a comprehensive travel insurance policy.
Safety Wing offers bloggers an easy-to-promote travel affiliate program in its competitive offerings. There are two types of insurance to promote: Nomad Insurance and Remote Health. Each will appeal to a different audience but both products come with a monthly recurring 10% affiliate commission.
So that's one option of interest to affiliate marketers and travel blog owners: referring customers to SafetyWing.
The second option is referring other affiliates or what the company calls ‘ambassadors'. SafetyWing offers $100 per ambassador signup once they have made their first sale. Refer creators, influencers, and other affiliates to SafetyWing (the insurance I personally use for my travels) and get $100 when they make their first sale. Get a $500 bonus when they complete 5 sales.
There's decent money to be made from referring digital nomads and travelers to SafetyWing. It should be relatively easy to convince people to use the service and they can sign up for SafetyWing insurance even if they're already traveling.
The system is probably the easiest I've seen. Insurance just keeps extending (renewing) every month until you cancel. So it saves on administration. And visits to home country are covered.
We might as well talk about it here because almost every travel blogger uses this service. Booking is one of the biggest hotel reservation websites on the internet and you can almost always find a link for a hotel in the affiliate dashboard.
The commission structure is a little, well, misleading on Booking’s affiliate program page.
It states “Earn up to 40 % of the commission on bookings made through your site”. Wow, 40%!
Sorry, no. It’s 40% of Booking’s Commission, which could be 5% of the reservation. Let’s say that works out at $10 (for a $200 stay). You get $4 of that $200.
All the same, with almost 3 million properties, Booking is an attractive option as an affiliate partner.
Hotels.com is another favorite travel referral program for bloggers with websites and social media accounts.
You can sign up for the Hotels affiliate program through Awin and CJ. You will need an account with one of these platform portals to take part.
Once you have an account your business will need to be approved by the affiliate management team. But oncer approved you can begin adding affiliate links to hotels that you recommend in your content.
Hotels.com offers a flat commission from 4% to 8% on consumed stays. With almost 5000 hotels worldwide, there’s plenty of places to offer your readers.
Sign up through CJ affiliates
Impact is the place to go to sign up for Skyscanner's Referral Program if you're in the UK or the US. Skyscanner also works with other networks like Trade Doubler. The company has an affiliate program with liberal promotion rules, allowing bloggers and marketers to place links and promote on many types of platforms including blogs, forums, social media groups, deals websites, advertising networks, and cashback websites.
As a consumer, I use Agoda and am very happy with it. Agoda has a nicer interface and is much better than Booking in Southeast Asia and some parts of Europe.
The Agoda Partners program offers a 5% commission on a booking. That’s not a whole lot, but if you’re already recommending hotels that you like, simply adding a link takes a few minutes and can generate commissions as long as people visit your posts.
Agoda uses its own portal and reporting software.
This might not seem like the most obvious choice but don’t discount the power of Amazon. The world’s largest online retailer stocks almost every physical product you might ever want to tell your readers about. Amazon also offers a huge array of digital products.
Let’s say you have a packing list blog post or a travel blogging camera post. Maybe you’ve written about backpacks or the best drone for travel videos.
You can be pretty sure that every product you mention is on Amazon. And if you like the product and are willing to recommend it to your readers, you might as well add an affiliate link.
Sign up for Amazon's affiliate network here
Now the bad news: As of April 2020, Amazon has significantly reduced the commission payout percentage on a range of products – up to 80% in some cases. I have removed many Amazon affiliate links from my websites and have sought out alternative networks or referral programs from the vendors in many cases. Walmart and Target in the US offer much better commissions on similar products so these are also worth a look.
Some alternatives to Amazon Associates for popular products recommended by travel Bloggers:
Again, the key to succeeding as an affiliate in the travel blogging world is to diversify. The Coronavirus pandemic in 2020 has shown the world that putting all your travel blogging eggs in one basket can lead to disaster.
Wise (ex-Transferwise) is a currency transfer service that many travelers and digital nomads love. The fintech platform has become very popular thanks to Wise's Borderless Account, which lets travelers take out cash in ATMs without incurring exorbitant currency exchange fees. Customers can make online exchanges within their own accounts and open real bank accounts all over the world.
World Nomads is well respected in the travel industry and offers an easy-to-use service for customers. As one of the original “internet” travel insurance providers, bloggers can feel confident recommending the products and services.
WorldNomads is moving to CJ.com but in the meantime, sign up for World Nomads Affiliate Program here:
VPNs are popular these days, especially with the rise of internet streaming services that block access from outside your “home” country. With increased travel to places like China and Russia, where internet access is controlled and certain websites are banned, VPNs can be the solution for travellers looking to get back full access to their favourite apps and websites like Google and Facebook.
If you’re doing any travel at all, spending time in airports, hostels, or passing through country with lax privacy laws, a VPN is a must.
Recommend your favourite VPN service to your readers and enjoy one of the best commissions in any software product. VPN companies are particularly generous with their commission structure.
Be aware that there is a lot of competition and even free VPNs (apps and built into some browsers) so it’s a tough market to crack. But if you have an audience that trusts you, there’s no reason not to recommend a product that you use and trust.
Everyone has a story or two about a flight getting cancelled or travel plans being interrupted by an airline's schedule changes. Many seasoned travellers know what it's like to feel let down by an airline. While in most cases, the airlines are not trying to irritate their customers, they don't always make it aware to customers that they can claim compensation for your flight delay or cancellation. The problem is the making a claim is a hassle. AirHelp is a service that takes care of the process for you. AirHelp also offers one of the best affiliate programs for travel sites, marketers, and bloggers.
Everyone’s jumping on the drone game these days. And it’s not hard to see why. Technology that fits into your hand for a few hundred dollars does the work that a helicopter costing thousands did a few years ago. Getting those incredible overhead flyby shots is within reach of every traveller. And DJI is the number one company offering drones that are perfect for bloggers and anyone that wants to grab aerial shots of their travel destinations.
DJI offers 5% commission on products sold through your links.
I believe that car rental will be more popular in 2023 as people try to socially distance a bit more. So there's plenty of opportunities for bloggers to recommend their favourite car rental firm, or even the most convenient option based on location.
The big rental firms don't always cover the less-frequented destination well. Countries like Armenia, Georgia, and Bulgaria, don't get as much love as the more popular destinations.
LocalRent offers car rental services in out of the way places as well as some popular destinations like Thailand, UAE, and Turkey. So if you write about these countries and need a solid affiliate partner, this is a great option. The average commission is high and the company claims that 50% of its revenue is delivered to affiliates. They also pay commission on car insurance purchases.
Much to the dissapointment and annoyance of travel bloggers the world over, Airbnb has turned off its affiliate program.
If you have affiliate links on your site that promote Airbnb, you might want to remove them. You could even recommend competitors like VRBO and Nestpick.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I become a travel affiliate?
Sign up with any of the affiliate portals listed above. If you find a product or service that you'd like to promote, look in the footer of the website for the words “affiliate”, “referral”, “partner”, or “ambassador”. Fill out the application request and wait for approval.
How do I track and monitor the campaigns that are driving affiliate commissions?
You can use in-house tools and Google Analytics but for robust conversion tracking for affiliates, Improvely is one of the best solutions. With one tool you can track all of your commission sources, and see which campaigns, ads, landing pages, and keywords are generating commissions.
What are the highest paying affiliate programs?
This depends on your traffic numbers, traffic sources, and niche. Travel insurance, currency exchange platforms, and courses or products generally offer the highest paid affiliate programs.
Is affiliate marketing still profitable?
Absolutely. It's one of the best ways to monetize a website and it's growing every year.