Lessons learned from being a Hotels Combined Affiliate. Read my Hotels Combined Affiliate Program review below.
The review below is based on my own experience of using the Hotels Combined Affiliate Program for around 3 months.
I own a small blog in the Travel niche. The blog gets around 500 unique users a day and is focused on one small seaside tourist destination in the UK. The traffic is extremely targetted and mainly comes from organic search. I previously used Booking.com as my main affiliate partner so I already had data on booking numbers and conversion rates.
My Hotels Combined affiliate program review
Hotels Combined claim they offer a “pay per lead” affiliate program. This is different to Booking.com who use a “pay per booking” system. I wanted to split test the two affiliate platforms to see which made me more money. Pay per lead really appealed to me as an affiliate. I knew the traffic numbers on the blog were very good for a very small niche site that was focused on one small geographic area.
Hotels Combined claim that most affiliates get between $0.50 and $2 per lead. This essentially means that every time somebody uses the affiliate search box on my blog, I would be paid a small commission within that price range.
I was keen to test the system out. You can quickly signup for the program online without any pre-approval. I was soon up and running and within 10 minutes, I had replaced the Booking.com search widgets on my blog with the Hotels Combined “pay per lead” widgets.
The Hotels Combined affiliate back-office is very well designed, very simple to use and they offer a number of simple integration options. You can easily customise the hotel search widgets to match the colour of your own website. The reporting feature is simple and clear to understand and you can create tracking URL’s for different search boxes and URL’s, this makes tracking and reporting very simple.
How did the Hotels Combined affiliate program perform?
The first full day after I installed the search widget I made $7.06 in commission. A positive start. I only added the search widget to one location on my blog. After the first day, I thought I could easily make at least $10 a day consistently ($300 a month) from the Hotels Combined affiliate program. This was more than I was making with the Booking.com affiliate program and a nice supplement to the Google Adsense income this small blog was generating.
However, I was cautious. Before I joined the Hotels Combined affiliate program I had done some research online for feedback on their program. Many affiliates had reported that they were kicked out of the program just before they hit the minimum payment threshold of $100. In the affiliate small print it states that although the system is “pay per lead”, they expect some of the leads to turn into bookings.
If your sending low quality leads that don’t convert, they will kick you out of the program. This is fair enough, but the main problem is that their affiliate reporting doesn’t state how many of your leads have converted to bookings, so you have no way of knowing how well your website is performing. I knew my website was converting with the Booking.com affiliate program so I knew my leads were good. My blog is very “niche” so I knew I was sending high quality, targetted visitors to their website.
I was nervous as my account balance approached the $100 payment threshold. I shouldn’t have worried, my account balance went over $100 within a few weeks and I got an email at the end of the month saying that my affiliate payment was been processed via PayPal. Sure enough, within a few days, I had been paid.
So far, so good for the Hotels Combined affiliate program.
In that first month, I was paid (as promised) between $0.50 and $2.00 for each lead generated through the search widgets on my blog. I had been paid, and I was earning more than I was from Booking.com.
In the first month of running the program, I had made over $100, sent over 500 visitors to their website which generated 147 leads at an average cost per lead of $0.70. I was slightly disappointed that the cost per lead was at the low end of the $0.50 – $2 range. I knew I was sending very highly targetted traffic but had no way of knowing how many of my leads had converted into bookings. I guess the more conversions you have then the higher cost per lead you are paid. Without knowing how many leads are converting this is all guesswork.
How the program performed after a few months
I was fairly happy with the stats from my first month in the program. My traffic is seasonal and the main summer season was approaching. More of those leads should be converting into bookings as people start to book their summer holidays. My blog traffic was steady so I expected a better second month. Then I noticed something odd. After my first payment, I noticed the cost per lead was dropping. How could this be? I knew my leads were converting as I had been paid in the first month, I knew from my time as an affiliate with Booking.com that bookings were expected to increase during May and June. Surely my cost per lead could only go up? Well, it didn’t work that way for me.
In May, my cost per lead was down to just $0.40. So far, in June, my cost per lead is just $0.25. Significantly lower than the $0.70 I had been paid in the first month.
The number of leads that I was generating was consistent but the cost per lead was dropping dramatically. I’m guessing this has something to do with the number of those leads that were converting into bookings. Without any data from Hotels Combined regarding lead to booking conversion ratio then you have no way of knowing. This is my main complaint with this affiliate program, it would be nice to know how many of your leads are converting into bookings. This would allow me to tweak my search widget placements so they only showed on blog posts which converted.
I started to research into the Hotels Combined affiliate program a little more and found plenty of other affiliates with the same complaint. They either got kicked out of the program before they hit the $100 threshold (without being paid what they had generated) or the cost per lead significantly dropped after their first payment.
I can understand if your sending poor quality leads and had no conversions, but It would be nice to have more data in their affiliate back office to work with. I’ve had no communication from the Hotels Combined affiliate team as to why my cost per lead was now a third of what I had been paid in the first month, although I’m sure this will have something to do with lead to conversion ratios.
My overall Hotels Combined affiliate program review
I was in love with this affiliate program for the first month. The “pay per lead” model was perfect for my niche travel blog. Unfortunately, as time went on, they reduced my “cost per lead” significantly without any data showing me how many of my leads had converted. Without any feedback or conversion data, you cannot run an effective affiliate program, which is a real shame as I really like the platform. I now only use this affiliate program on a few really targetted “accommodation” pages on my blog, this should hopefully keep my conversion rates higher and allow my “cost per lead” values to increase again.
If you have a targetted website, with good traffic, then give the Hotels Combined affiliate program a try. I’m still using the program and tweaking the search widget placements to try and get it to work consistently for me.
Overall, I like it. The interface is user-friendly and the search widgets look great on my blog. If you have a large accommodation type blog or website then you could do very well from the Hotels Combined affiliate program.
If you have your own Hotels Combined affiliate program review or would like to share your experience as an affiliate of this program, please comment below.