How to find the right airline frequent flier program to join

I recently received several (read: nine) separate invitations in the mail for Capital One’s VentureOne card. It got me thinking again about frequent flier programs again. While I’m currently really happy with the cash rewards cards I have now, I couldn’t help looking into this to see which travel benefits plan might be right for me. Below I’ve included a few resources I’ve found online for differentiating the benefits that each program offers. Obviously, the right card depends on which airline one flies most, one’s shopping vs. traveling activities, and what one values most in benefits.

UPDATE: I was just informed that Northwest and Continental are respectively defunct and in the process of being defunct, as they are being merged with, again respectively, Delta and United. Ignore them below.

In USA Today Travel‘s comparison tool for frequent flier and travel programs, Continental OnePass, American AAdvantage and Northwest WorldPerks had the highest overall scores. While the reviews are interesting, they represent only the views of individual people. This comparison tool also doesn’t include programs offered by Virgin Airlines or JetBlue.

TravelTerminal.com breaks down the details in their matrix of frequent flier programs. They outline how long it takes to reach each level of elite status, list of airline hubs and more. Note that it only includes American, Continental, Delta, United and US Airways.

In Reuters’ Business Traveller section, they list their top 10 frequent flier programs with a reference grid from FindtheBest.com. Here is the comparison matrix:

The most convenient aspect about this grid is that it differentiates the value of a mile during peak and off-peak times. There’s little more demoralizing than seeing a ton of hypothetical miles translate only to a few hundred actual miles.

Finally, CreditCards.com lists their top frequent flier credit card programs, with their Expert’s Choice being Capital One’s VentureSM Rewards card. Most notably, it clearly notes the annual fees and interest rates associated with each card.

Do you have a favorite program or card? Please let me know in the comments below.