Looking for the right credit card to add to your wallet?
For most of us, it boils down to choosing between the two big credit card networks: Visa or Mastercard.
Together, these two payment networks process 85% of all debit and credit card transactions on the planet.
So which one is better?
That's a question I've been asked more times than I can count over the last 15 years I've been in the credit and personal finance space here at CreditLoan.
The thing is, most resources on the web will tell you that the answer sort of depends on how you define "better," or that there's really not much difference between the two.
Though I would admit, the average cardholder wouldn't notice the difference between using a Mastercard or a Visa in their day-to-day life, but the question still begs a definitive answer.
The good news is we have an answer.
That's because we pride ourselves on providing the most valuable, detailed content online for financial consumers.
We've compared the pros and cons of Visa and Mastercard below, to help give some insight into the differences for each and answer the question of which card is better.
Mastercard offers premium perks that outshine Visa's
When it comes to entry-level perks and global acceptance, Visa and Mastercard are neck and neck.
Both credit card networks are accepted at most stores worldwide, and each offers similar levels of fraud protection.
That includes the all-important zero liability on unauthorized purchases if your card is reported lost or stolen.
However, if you're a big spender who plans to apply for a top-tier credit card to boost rewards points, you'll want to make sure it's a Mastercard.
That's because Mastercard's top-tier—World Elite—offers luxe perks like SPG Gold status, free lounge access at more than 600 airports worldwide, and a 24/7 global concierge.
You'll also get price protection benefits, which Visa recently removed from many of its cards.
And if you book a hotel included in the Mastercard Luxury Hotels & Resorts program, you'll qualify for free room upgrades, complimentary breakfast, and late check-out.
Mastercard simply stacks up well against the competition, and a closer look at why might help make deciding which card to sign up for that much easier.
Who Are They?
You should consider these cards for everyday use and travel
It's important to understand that both Visa and Mastercard are payment networks that provide the back-end technology for many popular credit cards.
They themselves are not credit card issuers.
In actuality, Visa and Mastercard partner with banks like Chase and Capital One, which then issue the credit cards to consumers and determine sign-up bonuses, cash back, interest rates, rewards, and other key details.
So you'll want to review the fine print on the specific credit cards you are interested in before applying.
That said, the Visa and Mastercard networks offer many perks, like rental car insurance, travel benefits, and protection against unauthorized charges.
Plus, both Visa and Mastercard are accepted by most merchants around the globe.
Mastercard offers better travel benefits for big spenders
To determine whether a Mastercard credit card is right for you, answer the following questions:
- Do you have a credit score greater than 650?
- Do you spend a lot on travel, hotels, and airport lounges?
- Do you like to stay at hotels within the Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) network and would benefit from room upgrades, late checkout, and complimentary breakfast?
If you answered yes to these questions, then a Mastercard may be the better choice for your wallet.
What's good to know is that Mastercard offers three tiers of benefits depending on your credit-worthiness and which Mastercard credit card you choose.
Standard Mastercard Benefits
These consist of most of the usuals you've come to expect from a credit card issuer and then some—including some perks Visa no longer offers.
Pump and save. When you use any Mastercard at participating grocery stores, you can earn bonus rewards in the Fuel Rewards Network program.
(You'll have to sign up for a free account and link your Mastercard first.)
Redeem the Fuel Rewards points for discounted gas at Shell stations.
Price drop protection. If you purchase an item with your Mastercard and the price drops within 60 days, you can qualify for a reimbursement.
Visa cardholders are no longer afforded similar protection since they recently dropped this service.
Warranties for years. Mastercard's extended warranties double the original warranty or service contract on items you purchase with the card (up to two years in total).
ID safeguards. Mastercard provides identity theft resolution services, alerts, and assistance if your credit card is stolen or used fraudulently.
Returns guaranteed—even if the merchant refuses. Receive a refund of up to $250 within 60 days of your purchase.
World Mastercard Benefits
More premium Mastercard credit cards offer all of the Mastercard basic benefits plus World perks.
Free two-day shipping at hundreds of online retailers. World Mastercard cardholders get a complimentary ShopRunner membership, one of the internet's largest online shopping networks.
That can save you big bucks on shipping costs when shopping online!
Get upgraded on your next hotel stay. The Mastercard Luxury Hotels & Resorts program offers travelers free room upgrades, breakfast, and other perks when booking a stay at eligible properties.
Dine for less. Mastercard's dining program helps you make reservations at trendy eateries and receive perks like a free dessert or drink with your meal at certain participating restaurants.
Free 24/7 concierge. The concierge can assist you with shopping, booking travel, or recommend outings and service providers.
Love to tee it up? The Priceless Golf benefit includes daily membership to Tournament Players Club (TPC) Network golf courses.
World Elite Mastercard Benefits
The top Mastercard benefits tier, World Elite, gives you access to the following premium perks.
Skip the lines. With the Nightlife Program, you can score ultra hard-to-get reservations at popular nightclubs and lounges.
Peace of mind. Mastercard's trip cancellation insurance will reimburse you if you have to cancel a trip due to weather, illness, or another covered cause.
Visa offers exclusive payment at Costco
While Mastercard is the obvious choice for frequent travelers who appreciate specific tier-leveled perks, Visa offers certain benefits that may make it a better choice for you or are at least worth considering.
Answer these questions to find out:
- Do you shop frequently at Costco, where only Visa credit cards are accepted?
- Are you a loyal Hilton hotels aficionado?
- Do you frequently rent cars using Avis and wish to take advantage of the 35% discount for Visa cardholders?
If so, you may be better off choosing a Visa card.
Also, some popular cash back credit cards are only issued as Visa cards, such as the Chase Freedom and Freedom Unlimited card.
So if you want to sign up for those, you'll have to choose Visa.
Understand Visa's three tiers of credit cards
Like Mastercard, Visa also offers three different levels of benefits.
To score the ultimate perks, you'll need a stellar credit score and will have to sign up for a premium Visa credit card.
Visa's Traditional Benefits
All Visa cards come with 0% fraud liability and the following Visa basic benefits.
Save on car rental insurance. Visa cards come with an auto rental collision damage waiver (CDW) when you use your Visa card to rent a car.
So you can decline the rental agency's CDW (and its added costs!).
The waiver doesn't cover liability protection for damage or injuries to people, vehicles, or property aside from the rental car itself, though.
And in some cases, the coverage may be secondary, meaning you'll have to use your own auto insurance before claiming this benefit.
Visa Signature Benefits
Higher-end Visa cards offer all of the basic benefits listed above along with these sweet Visa Signature perks.
In a bind while traveling? Visa can help! Visa Signature cards can help you find lost luggage and locate medical or legal help while traveling.
Gain access to exclusive events. Visa's Signature events are open to cardholders who want the privilege of securing tickets (at a cost) for exclusive sporting events and other cultural and culinary outings.
24/7 concierge at your service. The complimentary concierge can help you purchase event tickets and gifts, book restaurant reservations, and even plan an itinerary.
Extended warranties, at no extra cost. Visa will extend the warranty on many items purchased with your Visa card for an additional year.
Visa Infinite Benefits
Visa Infinite cards—including the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card and the Ritz-Carlton Rewards Card—offer reimbursement for TSA Precheck or Global Entry application fees.
They also come with complimentary access to airport lounges, among other perks.
People love Mastercard because its World Elite tier credit cards offer SPG Gold status
If you frequently stay at Starwood hotel properties while traveling, you'll want to choose a Mastercard World Elite card.
Luxe travel perks. The Mastercard World Elite card grants automatic gold status within the SPG program.
This will earn you free room upgrades, complimentary breakfast, and even late checkout.
The biggest customer complaint about Mastercard is that it doesn't offer the same exclusive partnership cards as Visa
Some popular cards, including the Chase Freedom and Freedom Unlimited, are exclusively Visa cards—so you can't get a Mastercard version.
Points off for no more price protection. Signing up for those types of Visa cards means giving up certain Mastercard benefits, including price protection.
People love Visa because it's the only credit card accepted at Costco—and most places worldwide
When you use a Visa, you rarely have to worry about your credit card not being accepted.
The exclusive credit card at Costco. In 2016, Costco ended its longtime exclusive partnership with American Express, and currently, Visa is the only type of credit card it will accept as payment.
Those who shop often at the big box retailer will prefer signing up for a Visa card because knowing they can use it to pay for their Costco purchases.
Retailers like Visa. Visa cards are the most globally accepted credit cards worldwide, making them a smart choice for credit cards when traveling overseas (just check to make sure there are no foreign transaction fees.)
The biggest customer complaint about Visa is the lack of price and purchase protection
Chase made waves recently by quietly dropping its price and purchase protection benefits on many of its Visa credit cards.
Price dropped for an item you recently bought? You're out of luck. No longer can you request a refund if you find an item you purchased for cheaper within a few months.
And forget about extra protection. And if your item stops working soon after buying it, you won't be able to benefit from purchase protection.
Across the board, Mastercard is more generous with its price and purchase protection benefits.
How Mastercard compares to its top competitor
|How high of credit score do you need?||>650||>650|
|Number of worldwide transactions||24 billion||37 billion|
|Global acceptance||33 million merchants across more than 210 countries||44 million merchants across 200+ countries|
|Online shopping security features||Mastercard SecureCode creates a private code for your account to use when shopping online||Verified by Visa may ask you to provide additional information when using a new device or making an especially large purchase|
|Credit card tiers offered||Standard, World Mastercard, World Elite Mastercard||Traditional, Visa Signature, Visa Infinite|
|Offers lost or stolen credit reporting and protection||yes||yes|
|Emergency card replacement and emergency cash dispersal||yes||yes|
|Travel protection||Trip cancellation insurance for World Elite cardholders; complimentary concierge for World and World Elite||Travel accident insurance, trip cancellation coverage, and lost luggage reimbursement for Visa Infinite cardholders only|
|Price protection||Yes, for all Mastercard cardholders||No|
Let's Talk About the Fine Print
Here are some things to consider about the ins and outs of each card:
Costs and Fees
Since Visa and Mastercard are merely credit card networks—and not card issuers—you'll need to review the fine print on the specific card for which you are signing up to verify its annual fee.
Look for other fees, including late fees, interest charges, and foreign transaction fees.
Both credit card networks offer good customer service
Both Mastercard and Visa offer strong customer service, especially when it comes to lost or stolen credit cards.
Generally, however, your best bet is to call the customer service line of your specific card issuer, such as Chase or Capital One as they're better equipped to assist you than Visa or Mastercard.
You can find the number for the card issuer on the back of your credit card.
You can reach Visa's customer service representatives by dialing the number on the back of your credit card or dialing 800-847-2911.
Mastercard customer service is available at 800-307-7309.
Key Digital Services
Check out quickly with digital payment offerings by both Mastercard and Visa.
The Masterpass digital wallet helps you pay quicker—and safer
Masterpass works on any device, both in-store and online.
Shop online safely and conveniently. Store your credit cards and shipping information so you can easily shop from one account.
And use it in store, too. No more long checkout forms or scrambling for your wallet.
Simply register on Masterpass.com or through your bank and load your Mastercard credit or debit card.
Visa Checkout offers featured deals and easy online payments
In addition to providing added security and convenience, Visa Checkout also offers exclusive discounts and deals for consumers who pay with the service.
For example, customers who use Visa Checkout on Shutterfly.com will get a code for $25 off a future order!
- How do I get started with Mastercard?
To explore various Mastercard credit cards, visit Mastercard's website.
You'll be able to choose from rewards cards, cash back cards, travel cards, 0% APR cards, and cards that offer balance transfer deals.
- How do I get started with Visa?
- How can I cancel my Mastercard?
To cancel your Mastercard, call the number on the back of your credit card or dial 800-307-7309.
Make sure you have paid off the balance and that you will not forfeit any remaining rewards points.
- How can I cancel my Visa credit card?
Your best bet is to dial the number on the back of your credit card because you'll get a customer service agent who works primarily with your specific credit card.
Accepted everywhere you want to be
Almost every merchant in the country that accepts credit cards will take both Mastercard and Visa.
That's also the case when you're travelling internationally, where you might encounter problems pulling out an American Express or Discover card, but probably not with a Visa or Mastercard.
Perhaps the only exception to this nigh on universal acceptance is when a store chooses to ink an exclusive deal with only one payment network—like with Costco wholesale clubs which accept only Visa cards.
There's no other logical reason a business would choose to accept only Visa and not Mastercard, or vice versa.
For avid travelers who like luxe perks and everything else, there's Mastercard
Complimentary airport lounge access, SPG gold status, and trip cancellation insurance make Mastercards a more coveted credit card than Visa alternatives—especially if you travel frequently.
Add in the price protection benefits, and Mastercard just narrowly edges out Visa for the win.
But note that not all Mastercard credit cards are the same.
Each Mastercard credit card has different annual fees, interest rates, and sign-up bonuses—so you'll want to focus on the fine print of the specific credit card you are signing up for.
When choosing a card—whether it's a Visa or—it's always a good idea to pay more attention to what the issuing bank is offering rather than what you get from the payment processor.
Do you have a Mastercard? A Visa? Both?
Do you personally prefer one over the other?
Any insights about the two card networks you'd like to share with the rest of us?
Let us know in the comments below!