Visa and Mastercard are the world’s two largest credit card networks, each operating in more than 200 countries. As card networks, Visa and Mastercard work with banks and financial institutions to process debit and credit card payments, but do not issue the cards themselves.
The benefits that cardholders care about the most, such as rewards, rates and fees, do not depend on whether you use a Visa or Mastercard card. Most of these benefits are provided by the card issuers themselves, such as Chase, Capital One, Citi and others.
If you’re comparing credit card offers, don’t worry too much about choosing Visa or Mastercard. Instead, focus primarily on the features that matter most to you.
What are the main differences between Visa and Mastercard?
Visa and Mastercard are similar in many ways, but with one notable difference. Because Visa and Mastercard are proprietary networks, you cannot use your Visa card to purchase goods or services from merchants that only accept Mastercard cards, and vice versa.
For example, Costco only accepts Visa cards, so you can’t use Mastercard there. But Costco is an exception because you can usually use Visa or Mastercard just about anywhere credit card payments are accepted.
Since Visa and Mastercard don’t actually issue credit cards, the most significant differences between the two will come from the credit issuers themselves. Keep in mind that not every card issuer will have the benefits of card networks.
For example, Visa’s network benefits include emergency services, but the card issuer may not include this benefit on one of their cards. Conversely, Mastercard does not offer car rental insurance, but some card issuers choose to provide it to cardholders.
The most important features of a credit card—interest rates, fees, and most rewards—are set by card issuers such as Chase, Citi, Wells Fargo (or your credit union or public bank). Fees, terms and rewards vary greatly among card issuers and may even differ from card to card in each provider’s card portfolio.
So, if you’re comparing credit cards, choosing between Visa or Mastercard card networks won’t matter as much as getting the best annual percentage rate (APR) and rewards program that suits your lifestyle and needs.
For example, if you travel a lot, you might want to consider a credit card with the best travel rewards. Or, if you’re just looking to save money, getting a reliable cashback credit card might make more sense.
What is the difference between the benefits of Visa and Mastercard?
Both Visa and Mastercard have their own benefits programs available for some credit cards. The Visa program offers three levels of privilege: Traditional, Subscription and Endless. Mastercard has three such levels: Standard, World and World Elite.
Traditional Visa card versus standard Mastercard
At the level of basic benefits, Visa offers a bit more bang for your buck. Visa Traditional benefits include features such as:
- Cardholder Help Services
- Urgent cash withdrawal
- Urgent card replacement
- Card Lost or Stolen Report
- Roadside dispatch
- Zero liability protection
At the Standard level, Mastercard provides only:
- Access to global Mastercard services
- Mastercard ID Theft Protection
- Zero liability protection
Visa Signature and Mastercard World
Visa Signature and Mastercard World offer the same benefits for their traditional and standard lines, respectively, with a few added benefits.
The Visa Signature Benefit Level adds features such as:
- Car Rental Damage Disclaimer
- Mobile phone protection
- Extended Protection Warranty
- Price Protection
- Discounts or memberships on Skillshare, Shipt, Sofar Sounds and Norton LifeLock
Similarly, Mastercard World adds the following benefits in addition to the standard tier perks:
- Exclusive access to golf events and activities in your city or travel destinations
- Concierge access
- Hotel stay guarantee
- Additional discounts and promotions at popular merchants such as DoorDash, HelloFresh, Lyft and ShopRunner.
- Access to Mastercard Travel and Lifestyle services
Visa Infinite vs. Mastercard World Elite
Visa Infinite benefits include all Signature tier benefits plus purchase protection and travel benefits such as:
- $100 Global Entry Application Fee Credit
- Airport Lounge Access
- Discounts and bonuses for car rental
- Concierge service
- Lost baggage reimbursement
- Return Protection
- Travel accident insurance
- Trip cancellation and interruption insurance
- Automatic hotel room upgrades and elite status benefits when booking through Visa Infinite Luxury Hotel Collection
Similarly, Mastercard World Elite adds perks to its World package benefits such as:
Generally, the benefits offered by Visa and Mastercard under their three-tier programs fall into the same categories. However, in general, Visa offers significantly more benefits than Mastercard, especially in the area of benefits and travel protection. However, some card issuers may make up the difference and add these perks to their Mastercard credit card offerings.
So, what is the difference between Visa and Mastercard? Not much, as the two payment networks are more similar than different. Both networks are recognized worldwide and both offer valuable benefits.
If you’re looking to sign up for a new credit card, you probably don’t need to weigh the benefits of Visa over Mastercard too carefully. The features that affect you the most, such as APRs, fees and rewards, are set by the card issuer, not by Visa or Mastercard. Comparing credit card offers to find the one that best suits your needs and goals is always your best bet.