The airline miles game has changed. Here’s what you need to know.
This article originally appeared on Money.
If you think frequent-flier programs are too complicated to figure out, you’re not alone. A study in June by the U.S. Department of Transportation found the programs so byzantine that even its own analysts had trouble evaluating them.
And recent changes haven’t exactly helped travelers. In August, American Airlines joined fellow “legacy” carriers United and Delta in rewarding passengers for dollars spent, not miles flown; Southwest and JetBlue have similar systems.
The shift makes it much harder for casual fliers to rack up miles. Take a JFK–LAX roundtrip: Until recently, it would have earned a non-elite flier 4,950 miles. Under the new rules, on a typical $500 fare, including $60 in taxes, you’ll get only 2,200 miles for the same trip.
Scoring freebies now takes more strategic thinking, both in accumulating mileage and cashing in. Use these tips to get the best payoff.