Both Visa and MasterCard continually reach out to new merchants to boost acceptance of their networks. The two have become the most widely accepted form of credit card payment in the world, and although their acceptance levels are largely similar, you'll find a few distinctions between the two brands. Users of both MasterCard and Visa products, however, will not find themselves shut out of many credit-card use opportunities worldwide.
Visa, as of 2009, reports acceptance by 30 million merchants in more than 170 countries, according to the 2009 Business Travel Survey published by Business Travel News. In addition, Visa reports that 1.4 million ATMs worldwide provide cash advances for Visa cardholders. This means Visa cardholders will either be able to use their cards or get cash advances in the vast majority of countries open to travel. Additionally, a November 2005 survey by Internet Retailer showed that the vast majority of online retailers that accept credit cards include Visa in their acceptance.
MasterCard's acceptance numbers are similar to Visa's. It reports acceptance with 28 million merchants in 210 countries and territories, according to Business Travel News' survey. About 1.5 million ATMs allow MasterCard users to procure cash advances. The Internet Retailer survey also reported that, like Visa, most online merchants who accept any form of credit card payment will accept a MasterCard.
Both Visa and MasterCard boast a higher level of acceptance than competing networks. American Express does not release merchant acceptance numbers and reports that it is accepted in nearly all countries, but card analysts place its acceptance level below both Visa and MasterCard, according to Business Travel News. The Internet Retailer survey indicates that almost 18 percent of online retailers accept MasterCard and Visa but not American Express. Discover, meanwhile, has little acceptance outside of the United States, although that is changing since the network's 2008 acquisition of the Diner's Club network.
A few major merchants are notable in that they specifically do not accept either Visa or MasterCard products. Deep discount retailer Dollar General Corp. will accept Visa and Discover cards, but it will not accept MasterCard. Warehouse-style discount retailer Sam's Club, meanwhile, accepts MasterCard but not Visa credit cards. It does, however, accept Visa debit cards for payment. Discount retailer Costco, meanwhile, does not allow either MasterCard or Visa credit cards in favor of American Express, although it accepts debit cards from both networks.
So, which card should you choose? When it comes to acceptance, you'll find few distinguishing factors between Visa and MasterCard. Visa has a slightly higher number of merchants, and MasterCard a slightly higher number of ATMs, but neither is likely to make much difference to most casual cardholders. Both Visa and MasterCard are issued through individual banks that set some of their own rules, such as foreign exchange transaction fees, so finding a reliable issuer should be a bigger consideration than acceptance when choosing between Visa and MasterCard.
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