I prefer to use Amex for air miles… there are quite a few places that don’t take that, so if I’m out of luck with that then I use MC. However, I was once at a store that only accepted Visa, so I had to use that (I normally use that only in parking meters)
The strange thing is that Visa doesn’t really seem to see MasterCard as a competitor, at least in their advertising. Either that, or more places “don’t take American Express” than don’t take MasterCard…
I’ve never seen any establishments that take either Visa or MasterCard but not both… they must be rare. I think Visa and MC use the same processing system, which is why Visa+MC is more commonly accepted than Visa+Discover or MC+AmEx.
Are there any real differences between the two cards? When I applied for a credit card at my bank, they basically said “it doesn’t matter, just pick one.”
I work at a Visa/Mastercard issuer. There are really no major differences, other than all Visa numbers begin with a 4 and Mastercards begin with a 5.
Visa is the more popular of the two. My bank issues approximately two Visas to each Mastercard.
In the U.S., the merchant terminals usually don’t ask what kind of card is being used. At merchants who accept debit cards and allow cash back with purchase, it usually prompts the cashier to select between credit card or debit card.
As Mr2001 stated, V/M use the same processing systems. As for Amex, part of the reason some merchants do not accept them is Amex charges higher fees to the merchants. All credit cards charge the merchant a fee to accept the cards. With Amex, the higher fee plus the fact there are less Amex accounts versus V/M accounts makes it not worth it from a financial perspective to accept the cards.
No, it’s not automatic. But any trader who wishes to accept credit card business knows that these are the two most common, and so it makes sense to accept both. Plus they both charge the same commission, so the trader may as well accept either.
Cecil answers the question What is the difference between MasterCard and Visa on page 175 of Return of the Straight Dope, which can be purchased for a pittance from your friendly neighborhood bookseller.
I learned last year in Greece that Visa and Mastercard are not equally accepted, much to my chagrin. Most all places off of the beaten path in Athens and its surroundings seemed to take Visa, but not Mastercard (or Amex, for that matter).
Most of the points have already been covered but I’ll add the point that the Visa and Mastercard companies do not actually issue the cards themselves. The individual cards are actually issued by banks or other organizations and simply contract with Visa or Mastercard in order to use their name/logo/processing network.
American Express actually issues its on cards.
So, as for the question as to why Visa targets American Express in their advertising but not Mastercard, since many banks issue both Visa and Mastercard they would in a sense be advertising the banks against themselves.