Visa vs. Mastercard: What’s the Difference and Which Is Better?

Caracas, Venezuela - July 22, 2011: Visa and Mastercard logos on platinum and golden credit cards.
fcafotodigital / iStock.com

More likely than not, readers here will almost certainly have a credit card or debit card tied to either Visa or Mastercard. Although Discover and American Express both have their own cards in the U.S. too, Visa and Mastercard are the true kingpins on an international scale. As the dominant forces of the global payment industry, there are several important similarities and differences between the two.

What Do Visa and Mastercard Do?

Visa and Mastercard operate digital payment networks for global economies. The pair processed a combined $7.4 trillion worth of payments in 2021, bringing the total number of cards in circulation to several billion, according to the Nilson Report. They are integrated with millions of merchants across the globe and process billions of transactions each year.

Contrary to popular belief, Visa and Mastercard are not card issuers; they merely facilitate payments on their networks. Both companies partner with major institutions such as banks, credit unions, governments and companies that issue cards fit for consumer purchases. These are what’s known as co-branded cards.

What’s the Difference Between Visa and Mastercard?

Consumers may believe there are major differences between Visa and Mastercard — however, the opposite is true. In actuality, the pair are very similar. As illustrated in the table below, both Visa and Mastercard offer near-identical services with few exceptions.

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Features Visa Mastercard
Availability 200 countries and territories 210 countries and territories
ATM services 2 million worldwide 2 million worldwide
Credit cards Yes Yes
Debit cards Yes Yes
Prepaid cards Yes Yes
Gift cards Yes Yes
Contactless payments Yes Yes
Online payments Yes Yes
Click To Pay (saved details for online purchases) Yes Yes
Tokenization (security for payments) Yes Yes
“Buy now, pay later” installments Yes Yes

In spite of this, there are some minor differences in credit card offerings between Visa and Mastercard, which are discussed next.

Visa vs. Mastercard: How Do Their Credit Card Benefits Compare?

Both Visa and Mastercard have three credit card offerings:

Visa Card Type Mastercard Card Type Tier
Visa Traditional Standard Mastercard Basic
Visa Signature World Mastercard Premium
Visa Infinite World Elite Mastercard Premium

Here’s a breakdown of what is generally offered by each with their basic and premium offerings.

What Do You Get With a Basic Credit Card From Visa or Mastercard?

Visa’s basic credit card is Visa Traditional, and Mastercard’s alternative is the standard Mastercard. The following benefits are provided with each:

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Visa Traditional Benefits Standard Mastercard Benefits
  • Zero liability protection — coverage for unauthorized payments
  • 24/7 roadside assistance
  • Emergency card replacement
  • Lost and stolen card services
  • Discounts and rewards for online shopping and travel purchases
  • Emergency cash reimbursements
  • Zero liability protection
  • 24/7 emergency assistance
  • ID theft protection
  • What Do You Get With Premium Credit Cards From Visa and Mastercard?

    Visa’s premium credit cards are the Visa Signature and the Visa Infinite. Mastercard’s premium offerings are the World Mastercard and the World Elite Mastercard. Here are the perks of each:

    Visa Premium Credit Card Benefits Mastercard Premium Credit Card Benefits
  • Extended warranty protection
  • Auto rental coverage
  • Lost luggage coverage
  • Delayed trip coverage
  • Travel rebates
  • Trip cancellation coverage
  • Travel accident coverage
  • VIP lounge access
  • Baggage delay reimbursements
  • Luxury hotel and dining discounts
  • Hotel theft protection
  • Cellphone protection
  • Emergency medical and dental coverage
  • Price protection guarantees
  • Emergency evacuation
  • Returns protection
  • Purchase coverage for items bought in the last 90 days
  • Concierge services
  • Professional travel services
  • Lowest hotel rate guarantee
  • Hotel stay guarantee
  • Luxury hotel discounts
  • Travel booking discounts
  • Upgrades on car rentals
  • Airport concierge
  • VIP services and discounts for entertainment, sports, travel, shopping and dining
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    Should You Choose Visa or Mastercard?

    Despite the benefits advertised on Visa’s and Mastercard’s websites, this doesn’t provide a full picture of the perks that come with each card. Visa and Mastercard do not issue cards themselves; they simply partner with card issuers. As such, each individual card will have its own unique advantages. 

    Consumers should shop around to find the best deals on credit cards from a bank, credit union or other institution that meets their needs. Fees, insurance protection, cash back, discounts and other perks should be considered when choosing a debit card or credit card.

    Is Mastercard More Accepted Than Visa?

    Mastercard claims on its website that “no card is more accepted around the world.” This appears to be true, to at least some extent, as it operates in 210 countries and territories compared to 200 for Visa. However, Visa has disclosed that it is integrated with more than 70 million merchants globally, whereas figures have not been provided by Mastercard.

    Both Visa and Mastercard have extremely high acceptance rates among U.S. merchants — close to 100%. Both offer access to two million ATMs available for use internationally, as well.

    Which Is Better, Visa or Mastercard?

    Despite Visa possibly edging ahead on some credit card benefits here and there, it’s probably not worth changing financial institutions for. There are few corners of the earth where either one will not be accepted, and the perks are generally the same with both. 

    To find the best overall package, consumers should instead research perks and benefits that a bank or other institution offers on cards. Account fees, surcharges at ATMs and interest rates are all worthy factors to consider on top of traditional card benefits offered by Visa or Mastercard.

    Information is accurate as of Aug. 12, 2022.

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    About the Author

    David is a qualified financial advisor in the Republic of Ireland. He has a bachelor's degree in business and entrepreneurship, as well as over five years of investing experience.
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