Travel Affiliate Marketing Best Programs – Is it Still Worth it and How Much Can You Make with it

$564.87 billion.

That’s how much people spent on travel purchases online last year.

The travel industry is one of the world’s largest and most enduring industries. Trends might come and go, but people will always need (and want) to travel for work and for pleasure.

Little wonder that across all the sectors, the travel industry contributes over $7 trillion to the global economy.

With so much money being spent, the competition in travel affiliate marketing is tough.

Is it still worth promoting airline and hotel affiliate programs? And if it is, how much can you actually make from it?

Read on to find out.

Travel Industry

Overview

Travel Industry

The sheer number of directions you can take a travel site makes the niche particularly intriguing.

There is the potential for enormous general travel sites that discuss how to get cheap flights or there is the potential for a site that focuses on the best places for retirees to visit in Australia, for example.

If you look at the mind map above, there are so many products you can promote and so many ways you can segment the market.

The market can be segmented by:

  • Continent
  • Country
  • Region
  • City
  • Type of tourist attraction (best place to surf, swim with sharks, bungee jump)
  • Age group (students, retirees, families with children)
  • Interests (golf, art)Budget (cheap, mid range, luxury)
  • Events (bachelor/ bachelorette party, location wedding, business conference)

With the combination of products available to promote and different demographics of people to promote them to in various different locations, there are almost limitless options that you can combine to form a website with manageable competition.

The Travel Industry By Numbers

Travel was one of the first verticals to fully embrace online commerce. The first consumer-focused travel website – Expedia – was launched way back in 1996.

Expedia, of course, is still alive and kicking today. It actually made $5.73 billion last year.

Here’s what the travel industry looks like by the numbers:

  • $7.17 trillion: Total size of the travel industry in 2015.
  • $533.52 billion: Total money spent on online travel sites in 2015.
  • $39.3 billion: Total sales across all of Expedia’s properties in 2013.
  • $1.8 billion: Average annual online advertising spend of Priceline (mostly on Google Ads)
  • 105 million: Total people engaged in the travel sector (3.6% of all employment)
  • 104.6 million: Total rooms booked by Priceline.com in Q1 2015.

Unfortunately, there are no concrete numbers available as to the size of the online travel affiliate marketing industry. However, if I had to guess, I’d say it’s probably a substantial portion of the $6.8 billion global affiliate marketing industry.

How Much Can You Make with Travel Affiliate Marketing?

In terms of sheer numbers?

Hundreds of millions. Here’s an example.

You might have used Kayak. This meta search engine is essentially a very advanced affiliate marketing site. It pools in data from multiple travel sites. When a user selects a flight or hotel, Kayak gets a commission from the booking site.

Kayak flights comparison

In 2012, Kayak did $292M in revenue.

Of course, building a site like Kayak would be far beyond the scope of the average affiliate marketer.

Thankfully, even small city/region/country-focused travel blogs can do substantially well with affiliate marketing.

A quick search on Flippa shows multiple affiliate sites in the travel niche, many making thousands of dollars each month, mostly through affiliate channels.

Flippa sites in the travel niche

So how much can you make in this niche?

Anywhere from a few hundred dollars each month to millions.

Your raw marketing savvy and much you can afford to scale the site and its content and the size of your niche will likely be the most important contributing factors to your revenues.

What are People Searching For?

travel keyword search trend

Branded Keywords

Keyword Difficulty Volume (desc)
expedia 46 5,310,000
kayak 66 3,350,000
trivago 38 2,020,000
skyscanner 35 922,000
marriott 67 759,000
british airways 26 504,000
hilton 62 417,000
ryanair 42 175,000
sandals 12 155,000
samsonite 11 59,000
american airways 64 4,700

The easiest way to make money in affiliate marketing is to recommend products that you know people already want. That is why identifying branded keywords is a great place to start.

We have already mentioned that Expedia is the largest travel company in the world, that’s why it makes sense to find out whether or not they have an affiliate program and sign up for it (Hint: they do).

The same goes for all other major brands. Try thinking of something related to travel and playing the brand association game:

  • Suitcase = Samsonite
  • Hotel = Hilton
  • Flight Comparison = Kayak

This will give you a great idea where to start searching for affiliate programs. From there, you can analyze the competition to narrow down what angle or categories you want to include in your site.

Travel Keywords

Keyword Difficulty Volume (desc)
last minute flights 37 66,000
saving money 47 13,000
teach english abroad 50 11,000
teaching english abroad 48 8,400
best luggage brands 11 6,300
how to find cheap flights 76 6,200
hotels in albuquerques 6 4,700
itinerary maker 33 3,100
how to travel the world 35 2,700
best suitcase 20 2,000
how to plan a trip 36 1,300
romantic things to do in nyc 7 1,200
best restaurants in bali 7 150
seminyak villas 4 150
bali wedding venues 1 70

As I mentioned earlier, there are lots of different ways to approach a travel website. Keyword research is one of the best ways to decide which angle to take with your site.

Product Based Keywords

Keywords such as “best luggage brands” and “best suitcase” have a high search volume combined with a low level of competition. When you couple these points with the fact that you can monetize these keywords through Amazon, it seems like a perfect candidate to create a post about.

“How to Find Cheap Flights”

General keywords like this have really high competition because there is the opportunity to monetize them.

These will be targeted by the largest blogs as well as by airlines. There is also a high chance that searches like this will be biased towards sites actually selling flight tickets. This makes it almost impossible to rank.

Avoid keywords like this.

Location Dependent Keywords

Keywords such as “best restaurants in bali”, “seminyak villas”, “bali wedding venues” are hyper localized.

As you can see the search volumes are only 150, 150 and 70 respectively for these keywords. Basically, the search volumes are too low for this unless you are ranking first, second or third for lots of similar articles.

Similarly, the traffic is far too low to monetize through something like advertising.

This means that you will need to spend money creating lots of articles to get significant traffic to your blog. So, in order to make profit, you need to be creating the articles around offers that will either convert at an extremely high rate or will convert for an extremely high commission per sale.

However, being an expert on such a localized area – look at The Bali Bible in Bali – is a good strategy to rank and provide properly useful and expert information to your readers.

Who is Doing Travel Affiliate Marketing Well?

Nomadic Matt

Nomadic Matt

Nomadic Matt is a giant amongst travel blogs.

What started out as a humble travel blog has led to the site owner, Matthew Kepnes, becoming a New York Time bestselling author.

Nomadic Matt Ahrefs overview

The site has almost 7,000 referring domains and gets around 270,000 visitors per month from organic search.

On top of his books, Nomadic Matt monetizes his content through articles with affiliate links in them like this one titled “How to buy good travel insurance”.

Nomadic Matt “How to buy good travel insurance”

This is a very simple, text-based article. There are no images and there is very little formatting. However, this page probably converts quite well because Nomadic Matt has built up so much trust with his audience. Throughout the post, he tells personal stories of when he has needed insurance when he has been travelling.

travel post with an affiliate link

Matt monetizes through simple text-based affiliate link that takes the user to World Nomads for an insurance quote.

travel insurance quote

Further down the page, he has also embedded a widget that gives an immediate quote for users.

Y Travel

Y Travel

Y Travel is also a more general travel blog.

Y Travel Ahrefs overview

What particularly interested me was their post “11 of the best suitcases for easy travel”.

This is a mammoth post about something that would numb the mind of the most avid traveller. Surely, no-one really care enough to read a post about suitcases with a table of contents.

Y Travel “11 of the best suitcases for easy travel”

However, Y Travel Blog clearly decided that this was what’s necessary to rank in Google.

Y Travel “11 of the best suitcases for easy travel" Ahrefs overview

And it worked. For this article alone, Y Travel Blog get around 5,000 visitors per month from organic search.

This is around 1/8th of their total traffic from search engines.

However, this is not what really interested me. This article from Y Travel Blog shows that you can focus on products in the travel niche and be successful. Even better, you can monetize through Amazon.

Again and again, we recommend Amazon Associates as probably the easiest way to monetize an authority site. So, the fact that it is possible to generate serious money from products in the travel niche is a big tick in the plus column.

Amazon product

Clicking on the link here will take the user directly to Amazon, where you can depend on the well-oiled Amazon machine to convert the customer more often than not.

My International Passport

My International Passport

My International Passport is interesting because it shows that travel is a niche that allows people to generate significant traffic in languages other than English.

My International Passport Ahrefs overview

Javier Eduardo Sanchez initially set the site up as an English language blog before realizing that traffic was easier to come by in his native Spanish.

My International Passport

This allows him to rank for keywords that are extremely difficult to rank for in English, such “What to do in Cancun”.

It just goes to show that there really is almost an infinite number of ways to segment the travel market.

Before jumping in and starting a website in a second language however, it is important to consider how easy it is to monetize.

Do the same offers exist regardless of the language? Can you still monetize through Amazon? Do the countries you are targeting have sufficient purchasing power?

Best Travel Affiliate Marketing Offers

Advertiser Category Deal Network
Amazon Luggage 7.0% commission, 1-day cookie Amazon
Expedia Flights, Hotels and Activities Flight 1% per transaction
Car 5.5% per transaction
Hotel 6% per transaction
Packages 3.5% per transaction
Activities 12% per transaction
Ground Transfers 12% per transaction,
30-day cookie
AWin
Kayak Flights, Hotels White Label Options Kayak
World Nomads Travel Insurance World Nomads
Lonely Planet Books and Guides 15% for print books and ebooks Lonely Planet

What Are Some Pros of Travel Affiliate Marketing?

Selling travel offers isn’t without its positives. Some of the biggest pros to working in this niche are:

  • High quality offers: Most well-paying hotel/flight/cruise affiliate programs are from highly respected and well-known brands like Expedia, LonelyPlanet, etc. You’ll never have to worry about sending shady offers to your readers.
  • Easy (and fun) content creation: Forget about writing drab how-to’s and guides – content creation for the travel segment is actually fun. Plus, since the best performing travel content is usually visual, you won’t have to do a lot of writing.
  • Lots of hidden opportunities: Most of the competition in this sector is centered around English-speaking, US-based audience. If you go outside the US, you’ll find lots of opportunities. If you can write in other languages, you’ll find that some lucrative keywords are virtually free for the taking.
  • Growing segment: The Millennials might be the most well-traveled generation in history. This generation is also more inclined to explore little known destinations and experiences. This means that there are more opportunities than ever for content creators and affiliate marketers. Sure, the competition for “Guide to Orlando, Florida” might be tough, but “Guide to Angkor Wat in Cambodia” isn’t.
  • High payouts: Expedia pays its affiliates as much as 10% of the booking amount. That might not sound like a lot, but with most international flights costing over $1,500 and hotels amounting to another $1000 for a week, you’re looking at tens of hundreds of dollars in commissions.
  • Lots of travel bloggers: Finding writers and content will never be a challenge. There are tons of bloggers in any niche you can imagine.
  • Low competition for local offers & keywords: You might not make it to the top of the SERPs for “new york travel”, but you can definitely win big if you focus on smaller towns where the competition is much lower.

What Are Some Cons of Travel Affiliate Marketing?

Travel affiliate marketing is wildly lucrative, but it is also equally challenging.

Here are some of the biggest issues you’ll face as a travel marketer are:

  • Need targeted traffic: If you’re running a site about Spain, only someone looking to travel to Spain in the very near future will click on a hotel affiliate offer. This means your traffic needs to be highly targeted if you’re going to get any conversions. There are few “just curious” buyers in this segment.
  • Tough competition in the SERPs: The most targeted traffic for travel offers is through organic search. However, the competition for most lucrative keywords is incredibly strong. For instance, if you want to rank for “best hotels in Dallas”, you’ll have to beat the likes of Lonely Planet (DR: X), TripAdvisor (DR: X), Kayak (DR: X) and Expedia – all multibillion dollar companies.
  • Low customer lifetime value (LTV): A visitor who lands on your site about Spain will only read your site when he is planning to visit the country (something a tourist won’t do more than once or twice). After he’s booked his tickets and planned an itinerary, you’ll likely lose this visitor forever. Hence, you can’t add people to an email list and keep sending them more and more offers in the long-term.
  • Can be Spammy: Perhaps it’s because of the very nature of the segment - travel blogging requires little in experience or expertise - but this field is incredibly spammy. You’ll almost never get a guest post without paying for it (which breaks Google’s ToS and so is not something we recommend). Corollary: this makes link building very hard in the travel market, especially if you want to play nice with Google.

Is it Worth Getting into Travel Affiliate Marketing?

Yes, provided you do three things right:

  1. Niche and keyword selection: A general-purpose site about “travel tips” or “destination guides” will sink faster than a block of lead. Before you jump into travel marketing, make sure that you select a narrow niche (such as “Ecuador Travel” or “Traveling Guides for Solo Travelers”) as well as keywords with low competition.
  2. Content creation: The best kind of travel content is usually visual. Such content does very well on social media. If you can create informative, visual content consistently, this segment might be for you.
  3. Link building: This is a massive challenge in this niche. Most conventional link building methods (such as guest posting and outreach) don’t work. Fortunately, getting social media traffic is easier since everyone likes to read about exotic places :)

Travel is a nearly inexhaustible niche. Sure, the competition is immense, but so are the opportunities. If you can ace content creation and figure out a scalable link building strategy, you’ll be golden. Plus, with the variety of products you can sell – from tickets to travel insurance – you’ll never be short of offers.

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8 Comments

  1. Hi Gael, when did you write this? I just noticed it now. I happened to find it with a Google search.

    Anyway, I don’t agree with the travel industry being spammy and that it’s hard to do link building. I mean it depends on your approach and market segment, sure. But for me link building has been very rewarding, consistently converting at around 30% (that’s initial outreach to actual link placement conversion). And those links are all from quality travel blogs.

    I do put a lot of effort into optimizing the outreach process and tweaking my copy so that’s a contributing factor for sure.

    And my site is about a specific destination of which I’m a local expert, so it’s really unique in that way. And also because I just write epic stuff, not the fly by night article kind of stuff that they internet is plastered with. I provide immense value to my visitors and of course the people I outreach to see that. That all helps.

  2. Signing up for travel affiliate programs is only the first step in building a travel affiliate. The real challenge is building a robust business with a solid brand and loyal customers base. It’s time for affiliates to start focusing on building a business that will grow as their brand strengthens.

  3. I have a few travel related websites. Here’s my thoughts on it.

    Firstly, the MAIN thing you need to know is that it’s very competitive. VERY. You must get creative with keywords and really think about the intent of the visitor when choosing keywords.

    There’s very little expensive affiliate products to promote. Almost everything is small commissions, like a 14 hotel booking fee from booking.com. In other words, you need a LOT of traffic if you want to make good money.

    The travel niche has the MOST friendly bloggers in any niche I’ve ever been in. People are more willing to help others here. I don’t agree that link building is hard here. I find it easier than in other niches where more people are “me me me” only.

    The travel niche is also MORE competitive than your typical niche. If you aren’t going to build your website to a domain authority of 30 MINIMUM you ain’t gonna rank for much stuff. Get ready to hustle in this niche.

    1. I agree with Jason: “link building for travel is easier than any other niche.” It’s a breeze to find tons of blogs and websites which are friendly to link to you.

      The Bali Bible example and keywords research inspired me. Thanks anyway.

  4. Thank you for the article!
    In my opinion, the situation in the market of tourist partner programs is not fully described. And what about the Skyscanner program or Travelpayouts? In addition, in such partner networks as Travelpayouts or We go there are additional services (car booking, hotels and apartments, insurance, referral program, white label)

  5. Excellent point on “Low customer lifetime value (LTV)” , many people don’t realize that before and specially after the vacations travelers are not interested in room discounts, restaurant recommendations and 2-for-1 tour deals. Collecting emails is pointless for the marketing and affiliate purpose (except if you don’t care for spam reports and annoyed travelers), they could be used for loyalty programs instead of sending offers.

  6. Hi Danny,

    This website is based on a travel book I self-published, and was also published in a different format as Maverick Guide to Bali and Java, and also Maverick Guide to Bali.

    It is based on WordPress, and I have used used Yoast to learn about SEO. It now has a Green Light on Yoast in all chapters/pages, so traffic is now rising.

    How long should I wait before I join an affiliate program ?

    Best Regards,
    Don Turner
    Sydney, Australia

    1. This’ll really depend on the affiliate program you join. I’d wait until you at least have a bit of traffic coming in but be sure to checkout the specific requirements when you sign up.

  7. And the reason why AuthorityHacker is one of my go-to sites for inspiration is this very article.

    We sometimes wonder why we put some much effort into each and every article we write, but in the end, we know the evergreen, well-researched travel articles with appropriate affiliate links have our best readership.

    Thanks for yet another data point to confirm our validation and thinking.

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