Visa vs. MasterCard–Which One Is Better For Me?

September 8, 2015, Written By Jason Steele
Estonia - September 24, 2014. Visa and Mastercard credit cards with the leather wallet on the background. Mastercard and Visa are the biggest credit card companies in the world.

The world is filled with near duopolies, two companies that dominate a market–from Burger King and McDonald’s to Boeing and Airbus. And when talking about the credit card industry, it can be difficult not to mention Visa and MasterCard in the same breath. Although these two giants occasionally cede some ground to competitors such as American Express and Discover, most credit card applicants want to know which one to pick when faced with a choice between Visa and MasterCard.

What are Visa and MasterCard?

These two companies represent the largest payment networks in the world, however they do not issue credit cards. Instead, these companies work with merchants to process cardholder transactions, and they work with credit card issuers to provide customers with a range of standard credit card benefits such as purchase protection, travel insurance, and concierge services.

When card issuers, such as banks and credit unions, create a new product, they must choose which payment network that product will belong. That choice is based on the benefits offered to cardholders and the cost of the services that are passed on to the card issuer.

How this matters to cardholders

To many cardholders, it really doesn’t matter which of these two payment networks their card belongs. Both have networks that include tens of millions of merchants, and more than two million ATM locations in over 200 countries around the world. In fact, it’s highly unlikely that you will one day find a merchant that accepts Visa, but not MasterCard, or the other way around. And if so, the chance of having a card that is part of the wrong network is about 50-50, so there is little point in trying to choose based on network size, unless you regularly need to make charges at a merchant that you know in advance only accepts one of the two.

But that’s not to say there are some differences when it comes to the benefits offered by Visa and MasterCard, especially for their premium cards. The Visa Signature program is an option on some cards, which offers a range of benefits and discount programs. For instance, eligible cardholders can book rooms at properties in the Visa Signature Luxury Hotel Collection, which offer benefits such as free in-room Internet, room upgrades and complimentary continental breakfast. The Visa Signature program also offers a range of discounts on travel and shopping, as well as access to Visa Signature events.

Similarly, MasterCard offers a range of discounts and benefits to holders of cards that are part of its World and World Elite MasterCard programs, such as its Luxury Hotels & Resorts program where guests who book through MasterCard’s travel agency can enjoy perks such as a welcome gift, complimentary Internet service, early check-in/late check-out (subject to availability), free breakfast and more. Other benefits include discounts on air travel, as well as shopping and dining discounts as part of MasterCard’s Priceless Cities program. For example, World Elite MasterCard cardholders can receive elite status with Avis, Sixt, and National Car Rental, which offers discounts, car upgrades, and the ability to bypass the counter.

In addition, both the Visa Signature and the World and World Elite MasterCard programs offer a 24/7 concierge service that can help you with dining reservations, travel purchases, and even with shopping, all over the phone. These concierge services can also assist you in accessing the benefits offered by either program.

And for business credit card users, Visa and MasterCard offer business discount programs. The Visa Savings Edge program offers savings on frequent business purchases such as travel, electronics and business solutions. The MasterCard Easy Savings program also offers savings for business cardholders on shipping, office supplies and travel.

Which one is better for you

Unless your card is part of the Visa Signature or the World and World Elite MasterCard programs, you are unlikely to notice any significant difference between your Visa or MasterCard labelled cards. In these cases, it’s far more important that you examine the specific terms, rates, and benefits offered by the card issuer, rather than focus on which payment network the card is a part of.

But for those who are considering applying for a high end rewards credit card, it might be worth looking into the Visa Signature and the World and World Elite MasterCard programs, to see which one might offer the better benefits for your needs.

Another strategy worth considering is having at least one card from both the Visa and the MasterCard payment networks. This will allow you to enjoy the benefits of both programs as needed, while ensuring that you always have the ability to make a purchase when a merchant is not part of both payment networks.

By considering the benefits of both Visa and MasterCard, you can choose a card in the best payment network for your needs, or decide if it really even matters to you.

The information contained within this article was accurate as of September 8, 2015. For up-to-date
information on any of the terms, cards or offers mentioned above, visit the issuer's website.