How to monetize airline reviews: what 6 years of experience has taught me

I know. It’s obvious that I’m feeling very little motivation at the moment to spend time writing airline reviews. All my recent posts have strayed quite a bit from what I’ve been doing nonstop for many years now (pumping out a full review every week), and…I’m not gonna lie when I tell you that it feels great to procrastinate slightly while changing things up a bit. With that being said, please indulge me as I kick the can further down the road by teaching all you wanna-be trip reporters out there how to monetize airline reviews.

American Airlines 737-800 boarding door

What better way to kick off a “how to monetize airline reviews” article than to use this pic of a random dude kicking an American Airlines 737-800? This happened on a recent SAN-PHX flight btw…

First of all, I do need to say that money should *never* be the primary motivation for writing reviews about the flights you take. You’re going to be disappointed very quickly once you find out how difficult it is to earn money this way. There’s simply too much competition from other reviewers (who have waaay more clout than you), and it’s extremely difficult to draw enough traffic to your reviews that would make it possible to recoup your travel expenses.

However, it’s not impossible. I’ve been writing airline reviews since 2013, and in that time, I’ve learned a heck of a lot about what works (and doesn’t work) in regards to monetizing this niche. Let’s take a deeper look at the really important stuff:

Monetizing airline reviews: the stuff that works

Keep in mind that the things I’m about to list aren’t guaranteed to work for everyone. Every reviewer brings something unique to the table, and what might work for me and my content style doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to work for you. The key is experimentation and the willingness to adapt to what your audience wants.

1. Being unique

Seems kind of weird that the very first thing I list at the top of my “how to monetize airline reviews” post is something that doesn’t even involve monetization at all, doesn’t it? Well, there’s an extremely good reason for that.

Before you can even think about monetizing your airline reviews, you must be providing unique content (and value) to your audience. How are you any different than the hundreds (nay, thousands) of other travel bloggers writing reviews of the exact same airline products you are? Figuring this out is extremely important, because this is how you are going to draw people into into your content. And without those eyeballs on your stuff, monetization will be impossible.

SANspotter United crj-200

Standing at the back of an empty United CRJ-200, trying to think of what “SANspotter-style” caption I’m going to use to describe the moment. It’s gotta be unique!

It’s important not to overthink the “unique” thing. It’s usually solved by just being yourself and letting your personality show through in every piece of content you create. Nobody else is like you – so you must use that to your advantage!

Also, nobody wants to read dry and generic trip reports. Give your audience a glimpse into who you are as a person, and eventually you’ll have an audience who consumes all of your content because they like you just as much as they like the content you create.

2. Strategic placement of display ads

I hate to say it, but display ads are working the best for monetizing SANspotter.com. I do need to mention that I still haven’t gone “all in” on this monetization method yet, as this blog is my baby and the last thing I want to do is to turn into an annoying advertisement portal with a bit of airline content thrown into the mix. However, there is a “holy grail” balance of ads vs content that is extremely profitable once figured out, and I’m still testing what works best for both me and my audience. Here’s what I’ve learned:

First: it’s a numbers game

Successful monetization of an airline blog using display ads requires a decent amount of daily traffic. At least 500 unique visitors (sessions) a day is a good place to start experimenting, because anything less than that won’t be worth your time. You’ll literally be earning pennies every day and it’s in your best interest to be creating more useful content instead.

For an airline review blog getting less than 25,000 sessions a month, display ad providers such as Google Adsense and Ezoic are a good place to start. You aren’t going to get rich using either of these two ad platforms, but both are worth experimenting with to learn the ropes of using display ads to generate revenue.

A massive jump in revenue can happen once the blog is getting 25,000 sessions per month. That’s the minimum traffic necessary to join a premium ad network such as Mediavine, which will generally pay better (a lot better) than lower tier ad networks such as Adsense and Ezoic.

sanspotter monthly income reports

How much can you earn with premium display ads? It depends entirely on your audience, but I have a friend with a non airline / aviation related website that earns $3,500/mo with 160,000 sessions per month. As you can see, it pays to focus on building traffic to your blog!

Second: strategic ad placement may be more effective than blasting your entire site with ads

The thing about airline reviews is that some generate a lot more traffic than others. Some that I spend the most time on (such as the Xiamen Airlines 787 business class review) fall flat in terms of views, but others that I whip up quickly (such as my Qantas 737-800 business class review) seem to do well for reasons I can’t quite understand. It’s weird. And annoying.

Anyway, one of the things I’ve learned about display ads over the last year or so is to place them strategically into posts that get the most traffic. Other posts that don’t get so many views are left alone. This does two things:

  1. It doesn’t annoy every visitor to my site
  2. The site loads faster (on average) since it doesn’t have to serve up so many ads

I’m generally happy with the experiments I’ve ran which test this method. However, I do plan to go “all in” with display ads soon just to watch and see what happens when I do that. I know I’ll earn more that way. But…how much more? And will it outweigh the negative user experience of blasting my entire site with ads? Only time will tell.

3. Affiliate marketing

Remember the extensive review I wrote about ExpertFlyer? That was one of my very first experiments with affiliate marketing, and I learned a lot from it. Mostly that it can be a viable way to monetize airline reviews by thinking outside the box a little. No, I didn’t get rich from that post (I think I made $10 from it) but it showed me that it could work if I focused more energy on that kind of content.

For those that don’t know, affiliate marketing is where you get paid to promote products. You get paid a commission each time someone clicks your link to the product and makes a purchase (at no extra cost to them). It’s win-win for all involved.

As a matter of fact, affiliate marketing is one of Ben Schlappig’s largest sources of income. He promotes airline-branded credit cards and does pretty well for himself.

However, I can hear some of you screaming: “But I want to create airline reviews – not articles touting the benefits of travel apps and credit cards!” I totally understand. In that case, you’ll need to find products that you can easily promote within the airline review itself. Airline-based credit cards and things like ExpertFlyer can be interwoven into airline reviews relatively easily, but it does take a bit of extra work to integrate it in a convincing (and sincere) manner. Nobody ever said this was gonna be easy!

American Airlines a321neo interior

I bow at the feet of any airline reviewer who could successfully think of a way to tie an affiliate link to this particular pic of an American Airlines A321neo interior. It’s hard! Especially since I can’t find an aircraft seat manufacturer with an affiliate program. Grrr…

Sanspotter selfie lax latam airlines

However, promoting things such as clothing is much easier. For example, I am an affiliate for 08left.com (which is the place where I got this particular shirt I’m wearing), so it’s only appropriate to drop an affiliate link in the image caption. *hint* *hint*

FYI, I use shareasale to find products to promote here on SANspotter.com. I also like to reach out to the companies of products I already use in my workflow to see if they’d be interested in a partnership. This is how my review of Epidemic Sound came to be. I simply asked them directly if I could be an affiliate, and the rest is history.

Amazon Associates is another affiliate program worth looking into, since you can promote nearly anything that Amazon sells. From backpacks to camera gear, finding stuff to link to within your airline reviews won’t be difficult. The only caveat is that Amazon doesn’t pay very much (usually 5%) and you have to make one referral sale every 6 months – or else your account gets terminated.

Not all kinds of affiliate marketing works however. In the next section, I’m going to tell you about affiliate programs I’ve NEVER had any luck with.

All the stuff that doesn’t work for monetizing airline reviews

Listing out all the things that don’t work for monetizing airline reviews could be a massive article all its own. Trust me. Ever since I left my corporate day job last year to do this travel blogging thing full time, I’ve tried an ungodly number of things to generate revenue that didn’t work out.

American Airlines a321neo economy interior

FYI, waiting for the aisle to clear so you can get off the plane is a super awesome time to ponder potential monetization methods for your airline reviews. Especially when you’re sitting way in the back.

Most of these ideas were admittedly half-baked due to the sheer terror I was feeling about not having a regular paycheck coming in every two weeks. However, each failure was a learning experience and I feel wiser for having fallen on my face so many times. Here are the biggest failures I’ve experienced trying to monetize my airline reviews:

1. Digital products

As much as it disappointed me to learn this, people reading airline reviews are in no mindset to purchase digital products. Remember when I used to include social media image packs at the end of each review? And links to purchase high-resolution versions of my airliner illustrations? Well, I quit doing that since it was an epic waste of my time. Nobody wanted that stuff.

Edelweiss Air A340 economy class social media image pack

My Edelweiss Air A340-300 social media image pack. T’was doomed even before I started assembling the pics for it.

Looking back on it, it makes sense. The only thing that someone new visiting my website wants to do is read the review they clicked on from the Google SERP. They need to see some pics, read my opinion about the service, and then bounce. That’s all that 95% of my Google traffic ever does. Buying something is the last thing on their mind.

However, I suppose that I could have made my digital products (somewhat) profitable by being ****ing persistent. I probably gave up too early considering that I have a growing audience who makes multiple visits to the site every week. Those are the people I should have been marketing to.

I’m so over it though. At this point, I’m not sure if I will ever use digital products to monetize my airline reviews. It’s an incredible amount of additional work (for very little reward), and I’m seeing better potential with things like display ads and affiliate marketing.

2. Affiliate marketing for airlines

Despite my positivity for affiliate marketing (and how great of a way it is to monetize airline reviews), I’ve learned that promoting the airlines themselves never works. If you ever run across an airline that has an affiliate program, run the other way. Run like the wind!

For example, Qatar Airways is an airline with an affiliate program. They pay bloggers and content creators to get people to click links to the Qatar website and purchase tickets. Seems like an easy thing to do from within a review of Qatar Airways, right? All you’ve gotta do is write a glowing review, and your readers will have an uncontrollable urge to go buy tickets for a trip to Doha!

It doesn’t quite work that way. Nobody (and I mean nobody) makes a purchase directly after reading or watching an airline review. Purchasing airline tickets is a lengthy process for most, requiring days (sometimes weeks) of research.

The only way to make money promoting affiliate offers for the airlines themselves is to create a booking website. As a matter of fact, that’s how all the big travel booking sites (Google Flights, Expedia, etc) make money. They earn affiliate commissions on every sale.

Some final tips for successfully monetizing airline reviews

Hopefully by now you’re feeling some inspiration and motivation to start making a little money from your hobby. It’s not easy, but it’s a lot less stressful once you focus on the things that work and ignore everything else. Here are a handful of other things I’ve learned about profiting from all the hard work I put into my airline reviews:

Be genuine and real

Nobody likes a fake, and you’ll be in danger of being labeled a sellout as soon as you promote something not even somewhat related to the content in your airline reviews.

“Sell” your links properly

Let’s say (hypothetically) that you’re writing an epic review of Sichuan Airlines A330-200 economy class. In that review, you’ve got a pic of your fancy new backpack that you’re so proud of that you want to include an affiliate link to the Amazon listing for it. Instead of writing the link as “click here to buy this backpack”, spice it up a bit to give your reader an irresistible reason to click that link.

How about: “My new backpack is super light and far more comfortable than the model X it replaced. No more back pain while running though airports! Best of all, for anyone interested, it’s on sale at Amazon right now. Woot!”

Ok, the “woot” thing is probably overkill (and oh-so-2007), but you get the idea.

If you find something works, go all in on it

I’ve had so many failed attempts to monetize my airline reviews over the years that I know it’s in my best interest to stop trying to find “the next great technique” once I find something that actually works. I’ve wasted so much time and money being distracted and in constant search of monetization hacks when I’ve already had things in place that were working. Things that just needed to have gas poured on them to be massively successful. However…

Be ready to pivot

No monetization strategy will last forever, so you always have to keep an eye out for new trends. An easy way to do this is to look at other successful airline reviewers to see how they are monetizing their content. Don’t be afraid to make changes when the time is right to do so!

Consider sponsored content

Another way to monetize airline reviews is to do sponsored content. In other words: accept payment from companies who want you to create a positive review of their products. This can usually be integrated into an airline review without much effort (depending on the product), but the tradeoff is that it sometimes feels “dirty” considering that you’re being paid to say only good things.

United CRJ-200 boarding door

I don’t accept sponsorship deals for any product I can’t personally recommend. For example, United couldn’t pay me enough to write a gushing fan-boy style article about their crappy CRJ-200’s! Well…I would consider a five-figure offer, but only because I’m not afraid to admit that everyone has a “price”. Mine just happens to be five-figures for a gushy UA CRJ-200 article.

FYI, sponsorships usually pay better than ad revenue or affiliate commissions (unless you’ve got a massive audience hitting your website/YouTube channel every day).

Final thoughts about airline review monetization

Even though it’s been a while since my last written airline review, I’m still creating video reviews every week for my YouTube channel. I love creating this type of content in both written and video form, and I do expect to get back into the written reviews soon. I may never go back to a written review every week (it’s far too time consuming unfortunately), but I will start bringing them back soon and mix them in with a variety of other types of content.

Anyway, if you’re struggling to figure out how to monetize airline reviews, I offer this one last piece of friendly advice: be persistent, learn who your audience is, and experiment like a mad scientist until you find something that works.

This is an extremely difficult niche to generate revenue with, but it’s incredibly rewarding once you figure out how to do it successfully month after month.