RewardExpert.com is an independent website that is supported by advertising. RewardExpert.com may be compensated by credit card issuers whose offers appear on the site. Because we are paid by our advertising partners it may impact placement of products on the site, including the order in which they appear. Not all available credit card issuers or card offers are included on the site.

Visa vs. Mastercard? Amex vs. Visa? Which Credit Card is the Best?

icon-comments Comments
Visa vs. Mastercard? Amex vs. Visa? Which Credit Card is best?

It was September 1958 when Bank of America launched the first credit-card network with its BankAmericard. A month later, American Express launched the first worldwide credit-card network. Since then, consumers have seen a veritable arms race as credit card companies raced to build the biggest, most-reliable networks.

Today, so many credit card networks exist it begs a big question:

What credit card is the best?

That’s a tough question because there are so many ways to define “best.” Is it prestige? Domestic or worldwide acceptance of your card? Fringe benefits?
It all depends on what you want, personally, in a credit card.

That said, here are the differences to know about in choosing between American Express, Visa and Mastercard.

This article will cover

What’s the Difference Between a Credit-Card Network and a Credit-Card Issuer?

First thing to know is that when you’re dealing with Mastercard, Visa or American Express, you’re dealing with two different approaches to credit cards.

When you apply for an Amex card, you are dealing with a company that both issue cards and run the network on which those cards are accepted. Basically, you’re dealing with American Express from the point of application to the point of sale to bill payment and customer service.

What’s the Difference Between a Credit-Card Network and a Credit-Card Issuer?

Visa and Mastercard just run networks. The cards that bear their brands are issued by thousands of individual banks all over the world. So, you are applying to a bank (think: Citi, Chase, BankAmerica) that, in turn, issues a card in your name that can be used on the Visa or Mastercard networks. The upshot is that you never deal with Visa or Mastercard directly. Everything goes through whatever bank you choose.

Honestly, it’s a distinction lost on most people, and in practical terms it doesn’t mean a whole lot to how you use your credit card. I tell you this just so that you understand there is an operational difference.

Apply for a Travel Credit Card from Our Partner

INTRO APR on Purchases
0% (up to 14 months)
INTRO apr on Balance Transfer
0% (up to 14 months)
Regular APR
See Site
Annual Fee
$0
Bonuses & Rewards
  • Summer 2019: Best Travel Rewards and Air Miles Credit Cards
  • Clicking "Apply Now" will take you to the Credit-Land.com website to view card offers
  • Fly on Any Airline, Anytime
  • Offers Available for Excellent and Good Credit
Show More Details
Hide Details

What you rightly want to know are those practical differences between the different credit-card brands before you go apply for one.

Which Credit Card Company is Bigger? And is “Bigger” Better?

Let’s answer the second question first: To a certain degree, bigger is better, at least in terms of a bigger network since it means more merchants accept your card (more on that in a moment).

As to which credit card company is bigger, that depends on how we slice the data.

Visa is, by far, the biggest credit card network in terms of purchase volume, as you can see in this chart. Mastercard and Amex are running neck-and-neck for second place.

U.S. General Purpose Brands Market Share
U.S. General Purpose Brands Market Share
Data via nilsonreport.com

But in terms of purchase volume by credit card issuer, Amex is the Big Kahuna, followed closely by Chase’s parent, JPMorgan Chase. Citibank pulls into third place, with Bank of America and Capital One a good deal behind. (Chase, Citi, Bank of America and Capital One all issue both Visa and Mastercard credit cards.)

So, if size is an issue, then focus on American Express, or a Visa/Mastercard issued by Chase, Citi, Bank of America or Capital One.

What Credit Card is Most Widely Accepted?

Merchant acceptance of a credit card is probably the biggest issue for most people. I cannot tell you how often I’ve pulled a credit card from my wallet and been told, “Sorry, we don’t accept that card.”

Generally speaking, you want a card that’s accepted at as many places as possible.

 What Credit Card is Most Widely Accepted?

In global terms, Visa and Mastercard are, by a landslide, the most widely accepted cards on the planet with some 40 million merchants accepting each card. In the U.S. alone, nine million merchants accept Visa and Mastercard.

 Worldwide
(million merchants)
U.S.
(million merchants)
VISA40 M 9 M
MasterCard40 M 9 M
American Express25 M6M
Others42 M9 M
Data via valuepenguin.com

American Express lags behind in the number of merchants who accept an Amex card. Globally, the number is estimated at 25 million merchants, while it’s around six million in the U.S. Still, in the U.S. just about every major merchant accepts Amex, and those that don’t tend to be smaller, local retailers and restaurants, or chains that have tied themselves to a specific credit card, such as Costco’s deal to only accept Visa cards.

Apply for a No Foreign Fee Credit Card from Our Partner

INTRO APR on Purchases
0% (up to 14 months)
INTRO apr on Balance Transfer
0% (up to 14 months)
Regular APR
See Site
Annual Fee
$0
Bonuses & Rewards
  • The best credit cards with no foreign transaction fee: Summer 2019
  • View all of the current card offers on Credit-Land.com by clicking Apply Now
  • Earn miles and cash back, enjoy great travel benefits and skip the fees while making purchases abroad
  • Offers available for Excellent and Good credit
  • No Foreign Transaction Fee
Show More Details
Hide Details

Pro tip: When traveling abroad, always check a merchant’s website if you’re concerned about card acceptance. Many will display the cards they accept. And if they don’t (particularly with hotels, where you will have the largest charges typically) just send an email to the customer service team under that hotel’s “contact” link.

If you’re only going to have one credit card, then clearly the advice is to go with Visa or Mastercard, since they’re accepted at a far larger collection of merchants.

How Much Do Merchants Pay to Accept a Credit Card?

Every time you use your credit card, you’re not the only one paying. The merchant pays, too.

With each charge, the credit card network imposes a fee on the merchant to process the transaction. The size of the fee depends on the network.

How Much Do Merchants Pay to Accept a Credit Card?

Mastercard generally charges between 1.55% and 2.6% for each transaction. Visa charges similar fees of 1.43% to 2.4%. And American Express charges the most: 2.5% to 3.5%.

In terms of picking the best credit card, this really isn’t much of a consideration, since it’s all back-office stuff you never need to think about.

Best Credit Cards with Bonuses from our Partners

INTRO APR on Purchases
0% (up to 14 months)
INTRO apr on Balance Transfer
0% (up to 14 months)
Regular APR
SEE SITE
Annual Fee
$0
Bonuses & Rewards
  • April 2019: Best Credit Cards with Bonuses
  • Clicking "Apply Now" will take you to the Credit-Land.com website to view card offers
  • Earn Flexible Miles or Cash Back
  • Offers Available for Excellent and Good Credit
Show More Details
Hide Details

However, it does have some practical impact on you, regardless of the credit card you choose. It explains why some merchants, particularly smaller restaurants and retailers, require a minimum purchase. If they’re going pay a fee for your purchase, they want the purchase to be meaningful enough.

Is Credit Card Prestige a Factor?

That’s a personal determination, and some consumers really don’t care.

But, yes, there is a prestige factor with certain credit cards.

Is Credit Card Prestige a Factor?
American Express is widely perceived as a more prestigious credit card. That could be a function of the fact that Amex has its normal green card, but also offers gold and platinum cards to certain consumers with a certain credit and income history. And then there’s the Amex Centurion card – the infamous “Amex Black” – a heavy, black metal card that’s offered only by invitation to consumers. (There are no published rules for obtaining an Amex Black, but the general consensus is that you must be high-net worth, with a high credit score, and spend at least $250,000 a year on another Amex.)

Mastercard, Visa – really, any other credit card – don’t even come close in terms of prestige.

So, if prestige is a factor for you  then aim for Amex, and, in particular,  the Amex Platinum card (if you don’t mind the $550 annual fee). It’s the top of the heap until you qualify for Amex Black. The Amex Gold card is $250 a year.

Apply for a High Limit Credit Card from Our Partner

INTRO APR on Purchases
0% (up to 14 months)
INTRO apr on Balance Transfer
0% (up to 14 months)
Regular APR
See Terms
Annual Fee
$0
Bonuses & Rewards
  • The best high limit credit cards for Summer 2019
  • View the current offers on Credit-Land.com by clicking Apply Now
  • Get approved for a card with a high credit limit
  • Offers available for Excellent, Good, Fair and Bad credit
Show More Details
Hide Details

If you just want a metal credit card, which is what the Amex Platinum and Gold cards are made from, then there are others now besides Amex. But be warned: Most have high annual fees, often in the $200 to $500 per year range.

Two without annual fees are:

  • Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card: enjoy one-time bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $1,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $200 in travel and earn 1.25 miles for every dollar you spend every day.

What Fringe Benefits Apply to Each Credit Card Brand?

This depends entire only the card.

Just about every card at any level comes with some degree of fringe benefits, whether it’s credit monitoring or rental-car insurance or free checked baggage when flying. Benefits vary greatly, so read through the benefits pages that every credit card issuer publishes online.

Some examples of what’s out there:

  • Capital One Venture Card offers Travel Concierge Service, which is available 24/7 to make your wish a command, whether you have a travel emergency or want to find some last-minute tickets to a sold-out concert or basketball game.
  • Chase United MileagePlus Club Mastercard: Free annual membership to United Airlines and Star Alliance airport lounges worldwide, as well as priority check-in and security lane access.

The point is, Visa, Mastercard and Amex cards offer lots of fringe benefit possibilities, depending on which version of the cards you research. Determining which card is better, therefore, depends on what benefits appeal most to you.

What’s the Best Credit Cards for Each Network?

Totally impossible to say, since, as I’ve noted, “best” is entirely a function of personal desires, perceptions and needs in a credit card.

That said, here are a few of the best cards that I think exist in each network.

Best Visa Credit Cards

Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card

INTRO APR on Purchases
N/A
INTRO apr on Balance Transfer
N/A
Regular APR
18.24% To 25.24% VARIABLE
Annual Fee
$69
Rewards Program
Rapid Rewards®
Bonuses & Rewards
  • 2x Points on Southwest Purchases, Car Rental and Hotels
  • 1x Points on Dining
  • 1x Points on Gas
  • 1x Points on All Other Purchases
  • Earn 40,000 points after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months your account is open.
  • 3,000 bonus points after your Cardmember anniversary
  • 3% of each transaction in U.S. dollars
Show More Details
Hide Details

Capital One® Spark® Miles Select for Business

INTRO APR on Purchases
0% on purchases for 9 months
INTRO apr on Balance Transfer
N/A
Regular APR
14.74% - 22.74% (Variable)
Annual Fee
$0
Rewards Program
Venture® Rewards
ABOUT THIS CREDIT CARD:
  • Earn 1.5 miles per $1 on every purchase
  • Plus, a one-time bonus of 20,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
  • Miles won't expire for the life of the account, and there are no categories to limit where or what you buy
  • Save on interest with 0% intro APR on purchases for 9 months; 14.74% - 22.74% variable APR after that
  • Pay no annual fee or foreign transaction fees
  • Get online Quarterly and Year-End Summaries
  • There's no limit to the amount of miles you can earn
  • Fly on any airline, anytime, with no blackout dates or seat restrictions
Show More Details
Hide Details

Capital One® Venture® Rewards Credit Card

INTRO APR on Purchases
N/A
INTRO apr on Balance Transfer
N/A
Regular APR
17.49% - 24.74% (Variable)
Annual Fee
$0 intro for first year; $95 after that
Rewards Program
Venture® Rewards
ABOUT THIS CREDIT CARD:
  • Enjoy a one-time bonus of 50,000 miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within 3 months from account opening, equal to $500 in travel
  • Earn 2X miles on every purchase, every day. Plus earn 10X miles on thousands of hotels through January 2020; learn more at hotels.com/venture
  • Named ‘The Best Travel Card' by CNBC, 2018
  • Receive up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
  • Fly any airline, stay at any hotel, anytime; no blackout dates. Plus transfer your miles to over 12 leading travel loyalty programs
  • Miles won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how many you can earn
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • $0 intro annual fee for the first year; $95 after that
Show More Details
Hide Details

Best Mastercard Credit Cards

Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card

INTRO APR on Purchases
0% intro on purchases for 15 months
INTRO apr on Balance Transfer
0% intro on balance transfers for 15 months
Regular APR
15.74% - 25.74% (Variable)
Annual Fee
$0
Rewards Program
Capital One® Cash Back Rewards
ABOUT THIS CREDIT CARD:
  • One-time $150 cash bonus after you spend $500 on purchases within 3 months from account opening
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on every purchase, every day
  • No rotating categories or sign-ups needed to earn cash rewards; plus, cash back won't expire for the life of the account and there's no limit to how much you can earn
  • 0% intro APR on purchases for 15 months; 15.74% - 25.74% variable APR after that
  • 0% intro APR on balance transfers for 15 months; 15.74% - 25.74% variable APR after that; 3% fee on the amounts transferred within the first 15 months
  • Pay no annual fee or foreign transaction fees
Show More Details
Hide Details

Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®

Discover it® Miles Card
This offer is
expired
INTRO APR on Purchases
N/A
INTRO apr on Balance Transfer
0% (first 12 billing cycles following each balance transfer that posts to your account within 45 days of account opening)
Regular APR
18.24%, 22.24% or 25.24% variable based on your creditworthiness
Annual Fee
$89 (waived first year)
Rewards Program
Barclaycard Arrival Rewards
Bonuses & Rewards
  • + Earn unlimited 2X miles on every purchase
  • Enjoy 70,000 bonus miles after spending $5,000 on purchases in the first 90 days
  • Book travel your way—no airline, seat or hotel restrictions—and redeem your miles for travel statement credits
  • Get 5% miles back to use toward your next redemption, every time you redeem
  • International Chip and PIN for use at self-service chip terminals around the world
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • + Miles don’t expire as long as your account is open, active and in good standing
Show More Details
Hide Details

Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card

INTRO APR on Purchases
N/A
INTRO apr on Balance Transfer
N/A
Regular APR
16.24% - 25.24% (Variable)
Annual Fee
$0 intro for first year, $95 after that
Rewards Program
Capital One® Cash Back Rewards
ABOUT THIS CREDIT CARD:
  • Earn a one-time $300 cash bonus after you spend $3000 on purchases within the first 3 months from account opening
  • Earn unlimited 4% cash back on dining and entertainment, 2% at grocery stores and 1% on all other purchases. Plus, earn 8% cash back on tickets at Vivid Seats through May 2020.
  • Receive a monthly statement credit for a Postmates Unlimited monthly membership through Dec. 2019 with the Capital One Savor Card
  • No rotating categories or sign-ups needed to earn cash rewards; plus cash back won’t expire for the life of the account and there’s no limit to how much you can earn
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Capital One cardholders get access to premium experiences in dining, entertainment and more
  • $0 intro annual fee for the first year, $95 after that
Show More Details
Hide Details

HSBC Cash Rewards Mastercard® credit card

INTRO APR on Purchases
0% Intro APR for 12 months on purchases
INTRO apr on Balance Transfer
0% Intro APR for 12 months on balance transfers
Regular APR
Variable APR of 15.24%, 19.24% or 25.24%
Annual Fee
None
ABOUT THIS CREDIT CARD:
  • Earn unlimited 1.5% cash rewards on all purchases.
  • Earn an Introductory 3% Cash Back on all purchases in the first 12 months from Account opening, up to the first $10,000 in purchases.
  • 10% Anniversary Bonus on all Cash Rewards earned once a year.
  • No Annual Fee.
  • 0% Intro APR for 12 months on purchases and balance transfers, then a 15.24%, 19.24% or 25.24% variable APR.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $0 liability for unauthorized purchases.
  • Terms Apply.
Show More Details
Hide Details

Best American Express Credit Cards

American Express Gold Card

INTRO APR on Purchases
N/A
INTRO apr on Balance Transfer
N/A
Regular APR
N/A
Annual Fee
$250
Rewards Program
Membership Rewards®
Bonuses & Rewards
  • + Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at restaurants worldwide. Earn 4X Membership Rewards® points at U.S. supermarkets (on up to $25,000 per year in purchases, then 1X).
  • + Earn 3X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or on amextravel.com
  • Earn 35,000 Membership Rewards® Points after you spend $2,000 on eligible purchases with your new Card within the first 3 months.
  • Earn up to $10 in statement credits monthly when you pay with The Gold Card at Grubhub, Seamless, The Cheesecake Factory, participating Shake Shacks, and Ruth's Chris Steak House. This is an annual savings of up to $120. Enrollment required.
  • $100 Airline Fee Credit: up to $100 in statement credits per calendar year for incidental fees at one selected qualifying airline. Choose to carry a balance with interest on eligible charges of $100 or more.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fee
  • + Terms Apply
Show More Details
Hide Details

Amex EveryDay® Credit Card

INTRO APR on Purchases
0% introductory APR for the first 15 months
INTRO apr on Balance Transfer
0% introductory APR for the first 15 months on balance transfers requested within 60 days of account opening
Regular APR
14.74% to 25.74% Variable±
Annual Fee
$0
Rewards Program
Membership Rewards®
Bonuses & Rewards
  • 2x Points at Supermarkets
  • 1x Points on Dining
  • 1x Points on Gas
  • 1x Points on All Other Purchases
  • 10,000 bonus points after you spend $1,000 within the first 3 months
  • 20% more points if you use your card 20 or more times in a billing period
  • 2.7% of each transaction in U.S. dollar
Show More Details
Hide Details

The Wrap Up

At the end of the day, the question of, “What’s the best credit card” really has little to do with the issuer or the network. It has to do with your individual needs.

I happen to frequently fly American Airlines (and the oneworld Alliance), and United Airlines (and the Star Alliance). For me, then, cards tied to those frequent flyer programs mean something tangible to my experience as a traveling writer.

Likewise, I like the benefits (and, yes, some of the prestige) of my Amex Platinum card (and if I ever qualify for Amex Black, you can be sure I’m accepting that invitation!)

So, determine what matters most to your lifestyle and pick the card that best fits you. Or, do what lots of people do: Get the Amex you can afford, as well as a Visa or Mastercard that offers the perks, benefits and rewards the match your needs.

And we want to know: What do you think defines the best credit card?

Leave us a comment below!

Editorial Disclosure: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.

UGC Disclosure: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved, or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

travel_card_main_banner_9
travel_cards_main_banner_1 travel_card_main_banner_3 travel_card_main_banner_5 travel_card_main_banner_7