Airline Affiliate Programs and Flight Referral Programs
Airline affiliate programs are ideal for travel bloggers and holiday portals that generate income by reviewing and recommending destinations and the airlines have routes to them. By signing up for an airline affiliate program, you too can earn commissions on every ticket sale made through your affiliate links, or that’s the theory at least.
These types of referral programs are ideal for:
- Travel bloggers
- Destination review sites
- Airline review sites
- Aviation enthusiast sites that perhaps specialise in particular airlines
They are not suitable for General Aviation sites and I’ve covered what’s best for them in a separate post about aviation affiliate programs. In this post, we’ll explore how these programs work and list some of the best ones in the industry. Disclaimer: As this is a post about affiliate marketing it includes affiliate links. More on that here.
What are airline affiliate programs and flight referral programs?
- An airline affiliate program is one that is specific to a particular airline. For example, you might want to promote British Airways, American Airlines, or Virgin Atlantic by writing about their seat options, service, or aircraft fleets, or just by the destinations to which they each fly.
- A travel affiliate network is and affiliate network that curates affiliate schemes from airlines, accommodation booking companies, travel companies, car hire, experiences, etc.
- A flight referral program is a perk offered by airlines to anyone who refers family, friends, or colleagues who make bookings themeslves, earning the referrer cash rewards or flight discounts.
Airlines and travel search engines offer both types of programs in order to market themselves through the abundance of travel blogs, holiday portals, and review sites all over the web. Once you become a member of any one of these programs, you will receive commissions on any bookings and ticket purchases made through them.
Travel, holiday, and flight affiliate marketing is a big business and some of the top earners generate a huge amount of income from their selection of travel affiliate programs. The sites that have learned over the years how to create the content, optimise their sites, and build mailing lists do very well out of it, but there’s still room for those who are just starting out and want to try it for themselves at a smaller scale.
These programs are usually free to join, although some do insist on a minimal level of traffic to your blog or site before they’ll accept you onto their scheme, so don’t be surprised if sometimes your applications are declined on the first try.
Best Airline Affiliate Programs
The airlines in this list will pay commission for ticket sales and booking supplements.
- Delta Air Lines
- Southwest Airlines
- JetBlue Airways
- Virgin America
- Alaska Airlines
- Hawaiian Airlines
- British Airways
- Qatar Airways
- United Airlines
Is my website ready for affiliate marketing?
As I mentioned in the previous post about aviation affiliate programs, high volumes of traffic are needed and it has to be the right type of traffic. For example, you may have a popular travel blog read by people who are interested in your journeys to and from particular destinations. For some it may be a kind of vicarious interest, but for others they may be inspired by your writing and reviews to make the same trip, so you use the post to refer particular airlines that fly to the nearest airport.
As well as being popular and attracting sufficient numbers of visitors, your site should be fast loading, easy to read on mobile devices, and secure. It should have the padlock symbol in the address bar, created using an SSL certificate. See your hosting company for details.
How can you join these programs?
Joining is easy; simply search online for the airline and put ‘affiliate’ next to the airline name. For example, “virgin atlantic affiliate program” or simply “virgin atlantic affiliate“. You will be able to submit your application through the airline’s website itself or by registering to use and affiliate network that hosts that particular program and many others.
All affiliate program dashboards contain the same information even if they’re designed and laid out differently. The dashboard will contain some or all of the following:
- Your unique referral link
- A link generator for creating links to a specific page
- Images and banners for use on your site
- Statistics and analytics
- Your profile and payment settings
What are the benefits of joining an airline affiliate program?
Joining an airline or flight booking affiliate program offers a variety of advantages for savvy travel bloggers who produce results. Making some extra money is the most obvious benefit but it doesn’t have to end there. Those who impress the marketing departments within airlines can expect other rewards.
For example, as a top-performing affiliate, you can expect higher commissions and exlusive access to promotions that will boost your commission rate even further. Once you’ve developed a strong relationship with the airline’s marketing team you might be asked to review a new seat design or cabin service, and this can lead to discounted or even free flights. Imagine being the influencer who is invited to fly, for free, from Heathrow to Doha, Business Class, in return for 2,000 words written on your travel site?
A example of a top performing site in this niches is thepointsguy.com which ranks in the top three search results for over 42,000 airline and travel related keywords. The traffic volumes are about 2.8M and that’s valued at $6.8M, according to Ahrefs, and virtually all of that is organic traffic i.e. no advertising is done. It’s a goldmine! Although it does take a team of people to run it. Nevertheless, it’s an example of the value and potential of affiliate marketing in the aviation and airline niche.
Another travel blog that features reviews about all aspects of air travel; from the seating, cabins, meals, services, and destinations, is turningleftforless.com. Although it doesn’t generate the amout of traffic that thepointsguy.com does, it’s still a great example of a medium sized travel blog that earns the owner a comfortable living form affiliate commissions and discounted air travel which can be the subject of the next review article.
These are the sorts of perks that attract people to this type of affiliate marketing. Obviously it takes some time to reach this level and only a small elite ever do, but aim high and it could be you.
How can you maximize your earnings by promoting these programs effectively?
Promoting these programs can be an effective way of monetising your blog, but you will have to learn about some other subjects in order to maximise your chances of success. You may be a great writer who is well travelled but there are some other subjects that you’ll need to become familiar with, if this idea is to work for you. The key to success is understanding how to properly target the right people who are most likely to click on your unique affiliate links and make a purchase or booking.
There are all kinds of tools that you can use to help you with this, some free and some that cost a few dollars in subscriptions per month.
- Google Trends
- Google Analytics
- Google Search Console
- YouTube (and any other free to use video hosting platform)
- Other Social Media
Tools that require a subscription
- Ahrefs.com – great for analysis of sites, keyword performance, backlinks, etc
- Jasper.ai – AI content writer for those days when you need inspiration or get writer’s block
- SurferSEO.com – SEO tool for researching keywords and auditing & improving individual posts
- Datafeedr.com – Pulls datafeeds of products and displays them on a website
Each of the above would require a guidebook to explain how to use them and the benefits they bring, so if your own research is required, but each in their own way help bridge the gap between your readers and the program you’re promoting, leading to more effective results and better returns on investment. I use all of them, so if you need any explanations in plain English then please get in touch.
Using these tools gives you more control to track the performance of your campaigns, allowing you to adjust accordingly and optimise results in real time. With a well-executed promotional strategy and an eye towards optimisation, you have all of the tools necessary to significantly increase revenue through marketing programs online.
Are there any drawbacks to joining an airline or flight booking affiliate program?
Although joining a flight or airline booking affiliate program has the potential to be a lucrative experience, there are some drawbacks to be aware of before signing up. The first is the fact that people have high expectations but don’t put in the work to improve their websites sufficiently and don’t generate content on a consistent basis, leading to disappointment when the expected commissions from sales don’t materialise. Their sites don’t generate enough traffic, they don’t nurture them over time, and they give up too easily.
Another negative is that, having got used to seeing some money coming in, commissions may not always be consistent. Airlines set their own level of commission and can change them without warning. It’s also important to keep in mind that customers must travel before your commission will be awarded – cancellations or inadequate amounts of travelers can mean reduced or non-existent payments. Furthermore, if an airline goes bankrupt or out of business, you won’t get paid at all, so don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Spread your marketing efforts so that, even if one company goes belly-up, you still have others sending you that monthly payment.
If you’re a travel blogger or destination reviewer whose website attracts a healthy amount visitors, then this is a way to earn some extra income. These programs are relatively easy to join and can provide you with some significant earnings potential if you promote them effectively. Of course, there are also a few things to keep in mind before signing up for an affiliate program, such as the potential drawbacks of joining one. overall, though, these programs can be a great way to boost your earnings – so long as you put in the effort required to promote them successfully.