Saturday, December 27, 2008

Exposed – Credit Card “Rating” Websites

We’ve previously discussed websites that supposedly “rate” credit cards, especially reward credit cards. These sites purport to review cards, and pretend to tell you about the best card offers for cash rebates, frequent flyer miles, or other rewards. We’ve almost always felt that these were self-serving affiliate marketing sites first, and unbiased review sites a far-distant second.

For those unfamiliar with affiliate marketing, it means that every time you click on a link or ad to ABC credit card on the XYZ card review site, XYZ gets a commission for a successful transaction. (Many blogs also participate in affiliate marketing programs, yet most blogs still seem to be fairly unbiased. We do not participate in any affiliate program on this blog. Thus, we have no incentive to recommend one card – or other product – over another.) That said, in many cases affiliate marketing is a legitimate revenue source for many blogs and websites. But it has never seemed appropriate to us with the “card-rating” websites.

The reason for this post is that it now appears (according to CreditMattersBlog) that Chase, Citibank, HSBC (and possibly American Express) have pulled some or all of their card products from the affiliate marketing channels. Guess what? All of a sudden nearly all of the so-called “unbiased” card-rating sites no longer display any United Airlines credit cards (Chase), American Airlines cards (Citi), HSBC cards, and many others.

If you find a rating site that no longer shows these and similar cards, you can be assured they do NOT have YOUR best interests at heart in ANY of their recommendations. Our least-favorite, self-serving “review” site no longer even lists Chase or HSBC on their credit-card-issuer’s page – you’d think that those companies no longer issue cards. The good news is that this can be a “canary-in-the-coal-mine” test for card review sites. If a card review site still lists a full range of Chase, Citi, and HSBC cards, it may pass the unbiased test. Unfortunately, in our recent tests, NONE have passed.

We are really saddened that several sites which we had previously considered relatively unbiased have suddenly stopped listing certain cards. For example, the Chase Freedom Visa, which we have recommended several times, has disappeared from most card-rating websites. Its 3% cash rebate is still one of the absolute best returns we’ve seen, but since the affiliate-dependent sites no longer get a commission for recommending it, the card has disappeared from their reviews.

What you have, then, is another “Buyer Beware” moment. If you want unbiased credit card reviews, you have to do your homework. As of now, we have NOT FOUND A SINGLE SITE which hasn’t changed its “recommendations” since Citi, Chase, and HSBC pulled out of the affiliate channels. Therefore, there isn’t a single comparison site for reward credit cards that we can recommend. When (or if) we find a comprehensive, truly unbiased card review site, we’ll rush to post that information.

[UPDATE: 12/31/2008. The buzz over on CreditMattersBlog seems to indicate that more card issuers are pulling out of the affiliate market. According to CMB, those include most Advanta credit cards, all Bank of America cards, and Discover business cards. Already, several of those so-called unbiased credit-card “rating” websites have pulled those cards from their sites. Which obviously confirms our opinion that they do NOT have any real interest in presenting objective reviews.]