My friend Ben from One Mile At A Time recently laid out his thoughts on the state of travel and points blogging, seeking to explain the prevalence of clickbait, its audience, and why that plays an increasingly central roll in many independent travel blogs. While there is no denying that clickbait is king, there is nuance to the editorial selection at Live and Let’s Fly that is not driven simply by a desire to generate clicks. I’d like to talk to you about that today.
This blog began in 2009 as something fun I did on the side, not even a side hustle. It was never my primary focus and even today, it is not my primary focus. I believe that produces better content because I’m not in it for the money…I would (and will) continue to post even if revenue dries up (as it did during the pandemic).
Blogging is hard work…just try it if you don’t believe me. It takes discipline to pump out posts on a daily basis, as we have done at Live And Let’s Fly since our relaunch on Boarding Area in 2016.
Ben cites clickbait as geared toward a wider audience than a blog’s normal daily readers and worded in such a way to encourage it to go “viral.” He’s right…to an extent. Many of my stories are geared toward a mass audience, because the number of loyal daily readers is actually fairly small compared to the number of readers who are drawn in via Google searches or social media platforms. It’s why I will also spell out acronyms and generally don’t use airport codes in place of airport names.
He’s also right that a well-worded headline about a disruption onboard along with appropriate picture or video, particularly if involves a pretty face, can really go viral and eclipse the sum of all other posts combined for the entire month (which does provide an incentive to post more of these stories).
Even so, I truly don’t post these stories in a naked effort to generate page views. Granted, I defend any blogger who chooses to do so—capitalizing on unique moments in time is how riches are made. But I write about the latest drunk idiot to slap a flight attendant because I actually enjoy reading those stories. I do…it’s something that I am drawn to click on myself, but I don’t walk away disappointed: for me at least, these displays of human depravity help me better understand the human condition. They are educational and instructive.
On Credit Cards
One thing Ben left out of his analysis was credit cards, which are similar to clickbait in that they represent one business model to independent blogging. Ben pushes a lot of credit cards…all the time. It’s not that blogging is an “either or” with credit cards or clickbait, but with only 24 hours in a day, there is often not time for a dual focus.
I know it brings great praise from my beloved daily readers that I choose not to place a heavy focus on credit cards on this blog. That is indeed to my financial determinant, as even in 2022 it remains lucrative to market cards. Furthermore, I actually believe in credit cards as a pivotal foundation to effectively leveraging miles and points.
Truly, the reason I don’t write more about credit cards is because I don’t enjoy writing about credit cards nearly as much as I enjoy writing about instances of misbehavior onboard.
I’ve never understood why readers whine about clickbait or credit card posts. This content is free: if you don’t want to read a particular post, skip it. Ben, and others, provide excellent analysis on credit cards and pump out so much free content that no one should begrudge them trying to capitalize on that by directing credit card sign-ups to their channels.
On Trip Reports
Do you have any idea how long it takes to write trip reports, particularly flight and hotel reviews? These are time-intensive investments and rarely worth the money…at least on a transactional basis.
Trip reports demonstrate how much I love this blog and how it represents more a labor of love than a simple business aimed at generating revenue. I look back with pride on the library of trip reports I have written over the years, which trace a glorious journey through the world. It is my great joy to write these reports and I write them for an audience of one: me (well, and maybe my children, who I hope will follow in my footsteps).
True, trip reports provide certain intangible benefits like credibility to comment on products and current events in the industry. Flying around the world increases my knowledge base and aids in dispensing advice to my clients at Award Expert, my boutique award consulting firm. It strikes me as problematic that some “travel bloggers” never seem to actually travel.
But trip reports truly demonstrate this is not about the money.
The best blogs, as far as I am concerned, are those that draw out the personality of the author(s). One reason (I’d like to think) Live and Let’s Fly has enjoyed some degree of success over the years is because I tend to be open and transparent in sharing my thoughts on a number of issues. This can be dangerous when I veer into a religious or political direction, but as my worldview solidifies and I gain confidence that some people will always be offended no matter what I write, I hope I can come across in a more humble and genuine way.
I greatly appreciate blogs in which the authors can speak directly rather than through a facade of niceties that fail to deeply engage the reader. I greatly appreciate Gary from View From The Wing and Ben for being long-time mentors.
I love writing for Live and Let’s Fly and I am proud to work with Kyle to bring you fresh content on a daily basis. Oh yes, you’re going to see quite a bit of clickbait here and we invite you to ignore it and any other story which may not appeal you. But I can assure you this: even if no one clicked on my clickbait, I’d still write it. I enjoy it and it seems that despite your protestations to the contrary, many of you enjoy it as well. Thank you for reading.
I post on Instagram and can see how clickbait and hashtags work.
If I post a normal post, I typically get no likes or maybe 3. If I post clickbait, I receive about 25 likes, as high as 125.
As far as blogs taking a lot of work, I agree. About 10 years ago, I was a guest blogger. It took about 3 days to write a good post, albeit not working on it full time.
My two cents: personality makes all the difference. I cannot stand Gary – too black or white in his posts for my liking. Ben makes me truly sad. Super smart but you can read his posts now and tell the incredible love of travel just isn’t there anymore. Seem like it is just a business – TPG2. And he seems much less tolerant of type of customer service interactions most of us experience every day. Not everyone lives at Four Seasons, or wants to. Real world can be messy but, at least to me, more interesting. I actually hate the humans-acting-badly clickbait and generally avoid it but find the other posts here more applicable to my own travel experiences than most blogs. Thank you for the effort – fully appreciate blogs are an insane personal commitment. So nice to hear someone speak to a love of travel.
I enjoy your blog. Keep up the good work. I appreciate your viewpoints, even at times when I disagree. The biggest problem with points/miles-focused travel blogs has always been disguising affiliate links for good advice. I don’t know how often I see bloggers do some weak attempt at “top 10 travel items you need” which is just some random crap most people don’t want from Amazon. I don’t mind affiliate links for revenue to make money from the blog traffic but make it worthwhile and not BS. I don’t mind the credit card hawking but it should be done honestly. I think Frequent Miler does this very well. Gary Leff is one of my favorite blogs and he seems to be an expert at throwing meat into the lion’s den. He generates a ton of comments and I’m sure it feeds his traffic. Oh and please, please, please get Boarding Area to stop with the stupid pop-up videos. No one ever said “Oh my gosh I’m so glad I got to see some pop-up video that slowed down my internet connection and covered half the content when I clicked on LiveandLetsFly.com”. I visit Boarding Area much less because of it.
I second your comment on the pop up videos. They are truly annoying. It’s so distracting to have the motion of some video playing in your peripheral vision while you’re trying to read a post. Please Boarding Area…get rid of them!!!
Your travel reviews are the only thing really worth reading.
Most of your personal observations on politics and law are laughably misguided and bad. But it’s your blog.
I hate the clickbait, but mostly ignore it
Kyle is terrible, and you should fire him. His writing and fact checking are a disgrace.
Your comments section is a dumpster fire, and should just be turned off.
In my opinion, your travel reviews are your strong point. I appreciate you keeping at it during the past two years to continually put out quality content. I don’t necessarily agree with many of your takes but I appreciate your perspective. However, I cannot understand why you have Kyle write on your blog. His style does not complement your blog. He has put out decent content on occasion but he typically is doing you a disservice. That said, you have hinted at the struggles your import business has encountered due to the closures, long stories regarding why you don’t have certain credit cards, etc. I’m sure your your story could be informative/helpful for many readers. I understand this is probably very personal but you are a gifted writer and you have the opportunity to help others navigate difficult situations.
I’ve never protested your clickbait… I enjoy it too!
I admire and respect Ben immensely, and I read every one of his posts, but as a previous commenter stated, you can sense his love of travel is gone, or it is not what it once was. LALF has sort of replaced OMAAT as the outlet where my love for travel is indulged and discussed on a daily basis. In the days of Dividend Miles 10 other bloggers would have been sitting in the FCT drinking champagne and toasting their Covid ducks, but today you’re the only one who does that and that’s what makes you unique.
I invite omaat to join the foreign legion in ukraine and fight the Russians. I guarantee the web traffic will be through the roof if he continues blogging from ukraine. And he will be fighting a guy who hates him and all other gays.
Anyway the state of travel blogging is sunny with a chance of missiles.
Blogging is hard. It takes a lot of discipline. I tried it and lost interest.
Thanks for spelling things out and using city names.
That and your analysis is most appreciated!
There’s also a time and place for credit card reviews, and I appreciate OMAAT filling that role. OMAAT’s takes on credit cards (and everything) are sure as heck less biased and advertise-y than over on TPG.
As a new reader of your blog, I’ve found the articles to be refreshing and interesting. Thank you for staying true to yourself and taking time to share your love of travel with the rest of us.
Matthew, I do think that you have slacked lately in what had been interesting reviews (at least to me): coffeeshops and the never-ending pursuit of a great cappuccino. That includes the SoCal area. If nothing is closeby to you in LA, Moongoat in Costa Mesa awaits and still doing ’em good. Keep the reviews coming…
Matthew, I look forward to your blog every day and I am glad you take the time to write. I recalled a blog you wrote as I plan a trip to Germany and looked it up to refresh my memory and I am now booked at one of your favorites, the Hyatt Regency Mainz.
You listed some of the milder forms of click bait. Those don’t annoy me or at least are only mildly annoying. The click baits I hate are the ones that are intentionally deceptive to get the click. I recognize those bloggers now and never click them despite the title.
Gary and Ben (and you) aren’t in those categories despite Gary’s attempt to be the next Springer.
DOC’s posts always have the highest integrity despite his downvoting my comments when he doesn’t like my opinion.
Matthew: I have been reading your blog since 2011 which is when I started to read about travel. It was your blog, TPG, OMAAT and later on The Mommy Points. Those were very different but each one had something appealing to me. Then TPG became unreadable and the style was not appealing anymore. The Mommy Points was sold to TPG so that was also gone. Thus, in the last 4 years or so I only read your blog and OMMAT. Unfortunately, OMMAT lost most of its appeal to me. Like other here mentioned, I don’t stay at Four Seasons, I don’t fly first class and I don’t apply to credit cards like I drink water. Thus, although I may take a look at OMMAT once a week, your blog became the one I leave open on my browser and refresh many times a day. Ben also became way too snowflake which you are not so I appreciate that.
Bah. I don’t like any of you. Especially Kyle — I can’t help but think of him as one of those bros on the Ped Mall at 1 A.M,, screaming “Go Hawks”. In all fairness, I did have a rule that appearing in that day’s DI for “public urination” counted as an excused absence.
But, yeah, cool. I know darn well it’s about AMP SEO and bring the first to send the story to the right audience. Build a channel for certain content and post that content as soon as possible. Ben’s got the rewards card/referral/conversion market covered, you’re fast to the draw with the “hot messes” COPS content, Gary’s best at dissing on AA. You and Ben do flight reviews, and to be able to put up with it, you can’t be too discriminating on taste: I mean, every meal is “tasty”. My dinner tonight was an AF poached egg on a puree of peas with what seemed to be a Quinoa salad on the side, Comte and St. Nectaire, and probably what they’d call a pear Tarte tatin. The egg and peas were practically flavorless, as was the salad. Yet the cheese — and I’ve had this cheese many, many times from AF — was surprisingly rich, perfectly ripened and at the right temperature. That was probably because I was the jerk that made them open the champs and then I dared wait for them to come around to ask for a glass of white. Now, with only me drinking the stuff in J, they weren’t going to burn another bottle, so they made an excuse about the white not being cold and they’d gladly serve me a glass with ice cubes (sacré bleu!), so I gladly stuck with the Champagne.
Or, as y’all might say, “tasty”. I mean, there are limits to how good stuff can be.
Matthew – thank you for sharing your approach, I think I speak for many in saying that your trip reports and travel updates are particularly well done, and we appreciate the relative lack of card-pushing.
However, I really do not enjoy Kyle’s posts, which actively detract from my enjoyment of LALF as a whole. At best his content is spammy, at worst it is actively frustrating to read – and if you don’t think this has an “inverse halo” effect on your blog as a whole, I think you’re making a serious mistake.
In the business world, there’s an interesting debate over whether or not individual companies should diversify their business lines. One side would say that, sure, businesses should branch out their offerings to that if one offering struggles, another will pick up the slack, and vice-versa. The other side would say that shareholders themselves are free to invest in both an oil company and a battery company – and if the core competency of the oil company isn’t batteries, then it should stick to it’s core strengths, and avoid wasting time and attention on a batteries division that it isn’t in its natural wheelhouse.
As a pseudo shareholder of LALF, I think you should divest from Kyle and reap the benefits of benefits of a tighter message and better site quality, even if it means reducing the volume of posts a bit – Kyle should be free to start his own channel for his particular blend of content, and readers can decide where to spend their time.
Keep it up, like others said the personal touch does count, as does your inclination to actually do some real travelling (subject to family commitments) instead of taking back-to-back flights without venturing further than lounges and airport hotels.
The reasons are quite simple why this is my go-to blog. Yes, I read others, but this is the one I consistently refresh, comment and enjoy.
1. You are genuine. It comes across in all of your posts. Further, you engage in the comments and actually seem to care about questions your readers have and then answering them.
2. Your click-bait is honest. That is, you mostly (not always) attempt to present it with less judgement (unless obvious) and more speculation as to the idea that there might be two sides to a story.
3. You are by far the best writer of any travel/miles blogger. Not starting every post with “WOW!” is a bonus.
4. You have actually built a community here. We often hate each other, much like a dysfunctional family, but it’s a community nonetheless!
5. Your photographs are the absolute best. They not only are clear and precise but often tell a story in how you lay them out. Your blog is the only one which I see a true depiction and emotional connection to the photos. The Photo essay of Narita and the TWA hotel being my favorites.
The only criticisms I have is yes, you do say “tasty” a LOT. And often it’s something that really doesn’t look all that, umm, “tasty.” But it’s endearing. And yes, the Boarding Area video popup is annoying as heck.
Keep up the good work, Matthew. You are doing just fine.
I forgot about the pop-up video. Most of us are following these blogs from phones and in improbable places. Those stupid videos eat data and advertise the article I’m currently reading, while preventing me from reading it.
Yes, I’m a bit misanthropic. Tasty is kinda endearing. I mean, we’re talking about mass -produced meals assembled, stored for hours, flown to altitude, exposed to extreme dry air, then reheated and served in front of a screen and to the tune of a pair of Pratts. I’m not looking for a restaurant critic.
I used to read a lot of “I’ll let the pictures do the talking”. No need to tell us! And some of us can’t see the pictures anyway.
But, hey, I’m cool with the clickbait. Revenue comes from people looking for content, whether it’s “what am I getting if I spend the extra bucks for PE?” or “Florida woman in airport”.
It’s your blog, you’re free to write any post you want, and it’s the readers choice to read it or skip it. You blog has become the only travel blog I read nowadays, except on Sundays. Keep up the good work, I admire your consistency.
For me, it’s all about personality and style. And this blog has both which is why I enjoy reading it everyday. Thanks for all the hard work, and great job Matthew & Kyle!
You have the best travel blog bar none. OMAAT used to be my favorite but I don’t see the enthusiasm anymore. Gary’s is also good. But yours is the best right now.
So, after reading this I went and looked at my Apple Security Report. In the last week says its has blocked 78 cross-trackers from liveandletfly.com in the last week. Hmm….
The difference between Ben and yourself is that Bens business is pushing credit cards. On your site readers are merely readers. On OMAAT readers are the product he offers to his true customers, the banks who offer cards.
I come for the tremendous cappuccinos but I stay for the freshly squeezed orange juice.
With the exception of Kyle, this best of the boarding area blogs.
Be yourself, it makes you happiest and never apologize. As you said, if people don’t like it, they can choose not to read. I regularly follow four travel blogs and yours is one of them. I stay 300 nights a year in hotels. I know that you know what you are talking about. I might not always agree, but it doesn’t upset me that you give your opinion.
Kyle is a good read on Sundays. He contributes to the theme of the blog. Interesting perspectives all around from Matthew and Kyle. And you both are open and genuine. Keep it up. And the website is user friendly and readable, without the clutter of many other blogs.
The clickbait is kind of sad, but it’s your blog–you get to post it if you want. I do find myself reading less, but I’m obviously still here, so it hasn’t driven me away completely.
At least it’s not as bad as when I accidentally click on one of Kyle’s posts–that’s truly painful.
I always love a good post on a fight on board a plane or inside the airport. They never get old. Please keep posting them!