How to Choose between Visa, Mastercard, Amex or Discover?

Deciding which credit card network to use can be confusing with so many options out there. The four major payment processors – Visa, Mastercard, American Express (Amex), and Discover all have unique features, benefits, and acceptance that are important to understand when applying for a new credit card.

How to Choose between Visa, Mastercard, Amex or Discover?

This post will compare Visa vs Mastercard vs Amex vs Discover networks to help you select the right card for your needs and budget.

An Overview

When signing up for a new credit card, most people focus only on the rewards or perks offered by the issuing bank. But it’s also crucial to consider which payment network will be behind your card – Visa, Mastercard, Amex or Discover. While these four networks have a global acceptance, there are some key differences between them that impact where and how you can use your card.

This post will cover everything you need to know when weighing Visa vs Mastercard vs Amex vs Discover, including acceptance, fees, rewards, card benefits, and security.

Acceptance comparison

The most important factor when selecting a new credit card is making sure it will be widely accepted wherever you plan to use it. Here’s an overview of how Visa, Mastercard, Amex, and Discover acceptance compares globally and domestically:

Global Acceptance

  • Visa – Accepted at over 200 million merchant locations in over 200 countries globally. Has the widest international acceptance.
  • Mastercard – Accepted at over 210 million merchant locations in over 210 countries globally. Slightly higher worldwide acceptance than Visa.
  • Amex – Accepted at millions of merchants globally in over 130 currencies. Not as widely accepted abroad as Visa or Mastercard.
  • Discover – Primarily focused on domestic US acceptance, but also supported abroad in 185 countries. Lacks global acceptance compared to other major networks.

Domestic US acceptance

  • Visa – Nearly ubiquitous acceptance at millions of merchants big and small across the USA.
  • Mastercard – similarly has near universal merchant acceptance across the United States.
  • Amex – Traditionally not accepted at all small businesses. Has excellent acceptance among large retailers, airlines, hotels, and restaurants.
  • Discover – Acceptance continues to expand and is now welcomed by over 99% of vendors that take credit cards in the US.

So, while Visa and Mastercard have a clear edge globally, domestically you’ll have little issue using any major network card for purchases. But Amex and Discover cards may still encounter the occasional retailer that does not accept them.


When shopping for a new credit card, you’ll also want to compare the annual, foreign transaction, balance transfer, and cash advance fees charged. Here is how the four major payment processors compare on credit card fees:

Annual fees

Annual fees vary widely depending on the card issuer and product. But here are some guidelines:

  • Visa – No annual fee on most regular consumer cards, but $95-550 on premium/travel rewards cards.
  • Mastercard – Typically no annual fee on consumer cards, up to $99 on World cards with travel perks.
  • Amex – Known for high annual fees of $250-550 on cards like Gold, Platinum, and Delta SkyMiles products. Offers some no-annual fee options too.
  • Discover – None of Discover’s cash back or miles cards charge an annual fee.

Foreign transaction fees

  • Visa – Foreign transaction fees vary by card issuer, ranging from 0% on travel rewards cards to 3% on everyday cards.
  • Mastercard – No foreign transaction fees are assessed by Mastercard on any standard or rewards consumer credit card.
  • Amex – Charges 2.7% foreign transaction fee on all cards, except for International Airline Program credit cards.
  • Discover – No foreign transaction fees on any Discover consumer credit card products.

Balance transfer and cash advance fees

Balance transfer fees tend to range from 3-5% across Visa, Mastercard and Discover cards when moving debt from another issuer. Amex cards do not offer balance transfers. Cash advance fees are typically 5% across all four networks.


If earning cash back, points or airline miles on your spending is a priority, compare how rewards stack up across payment processors:

Cash back rewards

  • Visa – 1-5% cash back is common on Visa signature cards on categories like gas, groceries, and dining out.
  • Mastercard – World card products offer 2% cashback on everyday purchases or 5% back in rotating categories.
  • Amex – Blue Cash cards provide 3-6% back at US supermarkets, streaming services, and transit.
  • Discover – 5% cash back bonuses each quarter at places like grocery stores, gas stations,, and more up to the quarterly maximum.

Travel miles

  • Visa – Cards can earn 1-3 airline or hotel points per $1 on travel and dining purchases.
  • Mastercard – 2X miles is the typical earning rate on travel, dining, and transit purchases.
  • Amex – Membership Rewards points transfer 1:1 to many airline and hotel partners. High-end cards offer 5X points on flights.
  • Discover – 1.5X Miles Cards allow transferring miles to loyalty programs with no transfer fees or blackout dates.

So while program differences matter most, Amex, Discover, and premium Visa/Mastercards tend to offer higher rewards earnings rates across categories.

Card benefits

When you swipe your credit card, benefits like purchase protection, extended warranties, and rental car insurance can end up making a big difference. Here’s an overview of extra perks offered:

Purchase protection

  • Visa – Extends manufacturer’s warranty on eligible products up to 1 year. Provides damage/theft coverage for 120 days.
  • Mastercard – Doubles US manufacturer warranties up to 1 year if the item cost is $10,000 or less.
  • Amex – Return Protection and Purchase Protection covers accidental damage or theft for 90 days on items under $10,000.
  • Discover – Offers a free Extended Product Warranty and Purchase Protection against damage and theft for 120 days.

Travel Insurance

  • Visa – Features a Visa Travel and Emergency Assistance Services program for travel accident insurance and emergency services while traveling 100+ miles from home.
  • Mastercard – Mastercard Travel Services provides basic travel insurance coverage and global assistance helpline to all cardholders.
  • Amex – Premium rental car, trip delay and baggage insurance with the American Express Global Assist hotline for travelers.
  • Discover – Includes auto rental collision damage waiver, travel accident insurance, roadside dispatch, and an emergency cash disbursement service.

Rental Car Insurance

  • Visa – When renting a vehicle for 15-31 days, Visa’s Collision/Loss Damage Insurance steps in to cover theft and collision damage.
  • Mastercard – Offers secondary collision damage waiver insurance when renting a car for up to 31 consecutive days on most cards.
  • Amex – As a premium travel card, provides primary rental car insurance with no deductible, relieving you of all liability.
  • Discover – Will pay for covered damages on car rentals charged to Discover cards that are 31 days or less in the US and Canada.

So while each payment network provides basic protections, Amex and premium Visa/Mastercards tend to offer more robust travel, purchase, and rental protections.

Security technology

With credit card fraud still impacting millions annually, security matters when selecting your payment network and credit card issuer. Here is how Visa vs Mastercard vs Amex vs Discover compare:

  • Visa – Uses EMV chip technology, tokenization, biometric authentication like fingerprint ID scanning, and Visa Advanced Authorization data analytics to combat fraud.
  • Mastercard – Expert at monitoring transactions worldwide for unusual patterns indicative of fraud through artificial intelligence and machine learning systems. Supports in-store EMV chip and contactless payments.
  • Amex – Uses robust identity verification at signup, EMV chips & PIN verification, real-time transaction monitoring, and email/text alerts if suspicious charges are noticed on your account.
  • Discover – Has implemented $0 fraud liability protection, 256-bit encryption when paying, EMV chip technology, private bank-level networks, and 24/7 monitoring to identify any potential unauthorized activity.

While cases of credit card number theft still occur, all four major payment networks invest heavily in advanced security solutions to protect your information, detect unauthorized transactions quicker than ever, and limit fraud liability costs.

Tips for picking the best credit card network

When weighing Visa vs Mastercard vs Amex vs Discover, keep these tips in mind as you compare card products:

  • Analyze your monthly spending categories and volumes to select a card with rewards bonuses or high-earning rates best suited to your habits
  • Consider which card benefits like travel insurance, extended warranty or purchase protection would be most valuable
  • Assess where you shop frequently or plan to use the card when traveling to ensure sufficient local and international acceptance
  • Review foreign transaction fees if you’ll be making purchases internationally while living/traveling abroad
  • Compare annual fees and determine if the perks offset the card’s costs based on your usage
  • Check the credit card’s security capabilities and fraud liability coverage for peace of mind

While one network may look better on paper, selecting the right credit card is ultimately based on your financial situation. With an understanding of how Visa, Mastercard, Amex, and Discover compare – you can now apply for the card with the optimal blend of acceptance, rewards, and protections tailored just for you.


Choosing a new credit card ultimately requires comparing the Visa vs Mastercard vs Amex vs Discover networks. While all four are globally recognized names in payments, there are some important differences between them – namely acceptance policies, foreign transaction fees, rewards programs, card benefits packages, annual fees, and security infrastructure.

Weigh your priorities like rewards earnings, purchase protections, annual fees, and international acceptance against your spending habits and travel plans. This will determine whether a Visa, Mastercard, American Express or Discover-backed card is the right fit for your wallet.

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