Business Model of Booking Sites

A lot of guys want to write about travel. Good reason too, and I can’t blame them. Once you’re on the road, it’s easy to churn out fresh and interesting content.

Then though, eventually the question comes up of how to make money from a site like that. Generally speaking, you’ve got a few options. All of them have positives and negatives.

  1. Make a product. The most difficult, time-consuming, and pain in the ass option. Highest risk and highest reward possible. Also an over-saturated market.
  2. Affiliate sales via travel sites. Very easy to set up, drop a few affiliate links in. Yes, the big boys like TripAdvisor have programs. It’s a small cut you get though.
  3. Sell ads. In this case you need the traffic. If you are doing less than 25k unique visitors a month you’ll just get laughed out of the building.

Today though I’m just going to talk about #2, and take a look at their business model. Many guys ask me how they could start a travel blog. Generally I tell them don’t even bother. I certainly wouldn’t consider This Is Trouble a travel site. On top of it, many want to start a blog based off a singular one week/month/etc. trip. That’s not enough to keep a site going.

The reason my niche sites like Ukraine Living and Eastern European Travel have seen some success is because I’m on the road all the time. 10 months a year. It’s not difficult for me to keep finding new things to write about. But you can bet your ass if I went to Asia for six months I’d start running out of things to write.


Here’s generally how the structure of these sites works.

  • Someone buys a plane ticket, let’s say it costs them $100.
  • The booking sites almost never reveal how much of that they make. I’m not joking. You join the program and have no idea what cut they take and therefore, what you get.
  • The general thought and consensus is that they get 15%.
  • You then can get 50% of that, in a best-case scenario.
  • Result: $7.50 for a $100 plane ticket.

7% commission is not that high in the grand scheme of things. That’s barely above what Amazon pays their starting associates, and everyone is quick to hate on them.

It’s not worth it until you hit high traffic numbers. Think of them as one small funnel in the grand scheme of things. A “nice to have” so to speak. It’ll buy you a few beers, but it won’t buy you a house.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

PS: This is the kind of gold I drop when I do private consulting, which you can get for free. Kind of.

  • Vance says:

    Great article, man! This is exactly what I’ve found out since monetizing my site. I wouldn’t suggest a travel blog to anyone looking to make decent money through writing. Like you said, the majority of affiliate programs related to travel don’t pay out well unless you target luxury travellers…and in order to do that you need to know something about that world.

    Also difficult to create a unique product in such an oversaturated niche that will get you a decent ROI. Travel blogs that seem to be doing well (Tourist 2 Townie; The Blonde Abroad) do so in part because their massive following attracts sponsorships from companies that essentially foot the bill for their trips in exchange for exposure. And they got in the game early.

    I’d still encourage anyone that wants to start a blog about travel – it’s a great creative outlet and a great way to learn about blogging in general. But it is by no means the best route for making money online.

    • Kyle Trouble says:

      Nail on the head. Remember my Bachelor Travels site? I wanted to write about miles and points and quickly realized I would never be able to compete with the big guns like The Points Guy and Million Mile Secrets, no matter how good my content was. They’ve just been in it too long.

      I put up my 20 or so posts and then pivoted away from it.

      Agree with your last paragraph. Something is better than nothing, but it’s not a quick path.

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