Visa and MasterCard are accepted by millions of merchants around the world, making it easy for customers to avoid carrying cash. In addition, both offer protection in case they’re lost or stolen. And both are available in a variety of credit cards, which offer different benefits.
Despite their similarities, there are differences between Visa and MasterCard. Whether you’re getting a Visa or MasterCard through your bank, your employer or another company such as a hotel or airline, learn what these credit card providers offer.
How Visa and MasterCard Work
To determine which is better for you, it’s important to understand how the Visa credit card and MasterCard credit card work. They represent major credit card companies in the industry, outpacing American Express and Discover in the U.S.
Visa and MasterCard use a four-party model, meaning they provide cards to financial institutions that brand them and offer them to consumers. Neither Visa nor MasterCard establishes the interest rates or the associated card fees. Instead, the financial institutions issuing the credit cards set them.
Visa and MasterCard make money by charging merchants credit card processing fees in exchange for providing their customers with a convenient way to pay. For instance, MasterCard charges airlines 2.3 percent of the ticket’s value plus 10 cents, hotels and rental car companies 1.58 percent plus 10 cents, and charities 2 percent plus 10 cents.
The rates each card charges range from a few pennies to thousands of dollars. For example, Visa charges 1.8 percent on transportation bills that exceed $500,000, which can add up.
“Merchants on average pay about 2 percent to 2.25 percent to Visa or MasterCard companies,” said Tim Sloan, vice president of payments innovation for market researcher Mercator Advisory Group and an expert on the two companies. The fees are higher for online transactions because there is more fraud associated with those, Sloan said.
Visa vs. MasterCard Services
Visa and MasterCard do differ in some ways. “Some differences aren’t visible to the average consumer,” said Sloan. For instance, Visa is more widely accepted outside the U.S. and MasterCard is almost always accepted in the U.S., said Sloan.
A regular Visa card provides an auto rental collision damage waiver, roadside dispatch and zero liability in case of fraud. A regular MasterCard card also provides zero liability for fraud, in addition to rewards for buying gasoline at Shell stations, price protection if you find a lower price for a new item within 60 days, and an extended warranty that doubles the original manufacturers’ warranty.
The Visa Signature Card comes with perks like travel and emergency travel assistance services, warranty manager service, and discounts rates on hotels, cruises and car rentals. You’ll also get access to Visa Signature Concierge service, which provides 24/7 help with researching travel, booking tickets to a show or buying presents for a loved one.
Related: Choose the Right Credit Card for You
The World Elite MasterCard provides a 24/7 concierge service that “acts like a relentless personal assistant,” according to the website. The World Elite card, however, also comes with discounts on airline tickets and hotel upgrades — and reimburses you for nonrefundable cancellations or fees to change flights. In addition, you can get a personal meet-and-greet agent to escort you through almost any airport in the world.
Which Credit Card Company Will You Choose?
The bottom line is that although both cards are quite similar — and merchants that accept credit cards typically can process both — they do have some subtle differences. If you rent cars often, the regular Visa saves you money by providing rental car insurance. And you’ll also get roadside dispatch and zero liability in case of fraud. The Visa Signature card upgrades perks to travel and emergency travel assistance services, warranty manager service and more.
If you want to be rewarded for buying gas, get a price guarantee or obtain a product warranty, however, a regular MasterCard might be for you. Remember, too, that the World Elite MasterCard offers trip cancellation insurance for nonrefundable fees and tickets, something you might worry about when buying plane tickets.