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Whether you’re deciding which credit card to apply for, or choosing between several credit cards when making a purchase, you may wonder if there’s a difference when it comes to Visa versus Mastercard.
The two brands are almost ubiquitous to most consumers. Both operate in over 200 countries and territories. And many merchants will accept either option, even if they don’t accept American Express or Discover cards.
In many cases, picking a Visa versus a Mastercard credit card may not actually matter that much. However, there are some differences that you should consider when choosing a card.
What are Visa and Mastercard?
Visa and Mastercard build and operate payment processing networks that help securely connect the different parties — the cardholder, merchant, payment processors, and banks — every time you use one of their cards to make a purchase.
Unlike American Express and Discover, which run networks and issue cards, Visa and Mastercard operate differently.
Neither Visa nor Mastercard issue cards directly to consumers.
If you want a Visa or Mastercard credit card, you’ll need to apply with an issuer, such as Chase, Bank of America, or Citibank. The issuer decides whether or not you get the card, and your interest rate, credit limit, and the fees. Issuers also run the cards’ rewards programs.
Therefore, if you’re looking for the best travel credit card or rewards credit card, you may want to compare a variety of options from different issuers rather than focusing on whether the card is a Visa or Mastercard.
However, there is a difference between Visa and Mastercard when it comes to some cardholder benefits.
Comparing Credit Card Benefits
Even with Visa or Mastercard-backed benefits, the perks you receive may depend on your credit card’s issuer. You can review your cardholder agreement and guide to benefits to see details about each of the benefits or rewards.
You may also notice that whether the benefit is provided by your issuer or the card network, the actual claim process may be handled by a third party.
The Basic Benefits of Most Visa and Mastercard Credit Cards
Both Visa and Mastercard each have three tiers of benefits. Both networks offer the following perks on cards at the most basic tier.
- No liability for unauthorized purchases: You won’t be liable for any unauthorized purchases if your card or information gets stolen
- 24/7 cardholder assistance: Whether you lost your card, or simply have a question, you can contact the card network and quickly get an answer, quickly mail you a replacement card, or help you get a cash advance at nearby ATM or bank.
Each network also offers additional benefits on its basic-tier cards, as well as more valuable perks on their higher-tier cards.
What Are the Benefits of Visa Credit Cards?
Visa’s three tiers are Visa Traditional, Visa Signature, and Visa Infinite cards — the tier of the card you qualify for will depend on your creditworthiness.
For example, to get a Visa Signature card, you may have to qualify for a $5,000 credit limit. If you don’t qualify (which you may not know until after you apply), you could get approved for the traditional-tier version of the same card.
Here are a few of the noteworthy perks at each tier. Visa credit cards may offer additional benefits, such as return protection, trip cancellation insurance, and price protections, depending on the card and the card issuer. But these aren’t listed as core card benefits at any of the tiers.
Visa Traditional Benefits
In addition to the basic perks listed above, you may receive:
- An auto rental collision damage waiver (CDW) when you use your Visa card to rent a car and decline the rental agency’s CDW. The waiver only covers damage to, and theft of, the rental car, not liability protection for damage or injuries to other people, vehicles, or property. In some cases, the coverage may also be secondary, meaning you’ll have to use your auto insurance policy before the credit card benefit
- Roadside referrals in case you need a tow, fuel delivery, or other help with your vehicle. The benefit is only for a referral; you’ll still need to pay for the service
Visa Signature Benefits
- Travel and emergency assistance is available on all Visa Signature cards and may be available on some Visa Traditional cards. The service can help you prepare for a trip, find lost luggage, and refer you to local medical or legal professionals while you’re away from home. Signature events are available to cardholders who want to experience and pay for, exclusive culinary, sporting, and cultural experiences.
- Signature events are available to cardholders who want to experience, and pay for, exclusive culinary, sporting, and cultural experiences
- Concierge services that are available 24/7 to help you book travel, buy event tickets or gifts, and recommend local events and activities
- Extended warranties on products you purchase with your card that have a manufacturer’s warranty of three years or less. Your warranty will be extended for up to one additional year. This perk is available on some Visa Traditional cards as well
- Visa Signature Deals and Offers could save you money next time you travel or shop. For example, you may receive a free third night when you book a three-or-more night stay at select hotels.
Access to the Luxury Hotel Collection, which offers cardholders extra perks, such as room upgrades, free Wi-Fi, and complimentary breakfast when they book a stay at select luxury properties using the Luxury Hotel Collection website.
Visa Infinite Benefits
There are only a few Visa Infinite cards available in the U.S., including the Chase Sapphire ReserveSM, The Ritz-Carlton Rewards(R) Credit Card, and the U.S. Bank Altitude™ Reserve Visa Infinite(R) Card (currently only available to existing U.S. Bank customers).
Visa doesn’t currently have a website that lists the Visa Infinite benefits in the U.S. But the cards that have come out tend to offer a reimbursement for the TSA Precheck or Global Entry application fee, complimentary airport lounge access through Priority Pass™, and extra benefits when renting a car at select car rental agencies.
The Visa Infinite cards may also offer higher benefit limits or additional protections with some perks. For example, the Chase Sapphire Preferred(R) card, a Visa Signature card, has a CDW that covers up to the cash value of the rental car if it’s stolen or there’s collision damage. However, the Visa Infinite Chase Sapphire ReserveSM covers up to $75,000 regardless of the car’s cash value.
What Are the Benefits of Mastercard Credit Cards?
Like Visa, there are three tiers of Mastercard credit cards with varying benefits.
Standard Mastercard Benefits
- Bonus rewards in the Fuel Rewards® Network program when you use a Mastercard credit card at participating grocery stores. You can redeem your rewards for discounted gas at Shell stations
- Price Protection, which reimburses you if an item you buy with your Mastercard drops in price within 60 days
- Extended warranties on eligible purchases, which doubles the original warranty or service contract if the original warranty is for 12 months or less
- Identity theft resolution services, alerts, and assistance with replacing the contents of your wallet if it’s stolen
- Return an item and get a refund worth up to $250 within 60 days of your purchase, even if the retailer won’t accept the return.
World Mastercard Benefits
- Free ShopRunner membership, which gives you free two-day shipping on eligible products at over 140 online stores
- The Mastercard luxury hotels and resorts program, which offers travelers free upgrades, breakfast, and other perks when booking a stay at eligible properties
- A dining program to help you find open reservations and receive extra perks, such as a free dessert or drink with your meal, at select restaurants
- A free concierge service you can use while shopping, traveling, or when looking for recommendations
- Priceless Golf, which includes daily membership to Tournament Players Club (TPC) Network golf courses.
World Elite Mastercard Benefits
- The Nightlife Program, which can get you line-skipping reservations at nightclubs and lounges
- Trip cancellation insurance that could reimburse you if you have to cancel a trip due to weather, illness or another covered cause.
Which Card Network Should You Choose?
If you’re looking for a new credit card, comparing benefits and features is important. The card network may be one of the things you consider, but it likely won’t be the most important.
There are some exceptions. For instance, Costco only accepts Visa credit cards, and if you travel overseas frequently, you may find that American Express or Discover cards aren’t as widely accepted as Visa or Mastercard.
However, in general, the difference in benefits between Visa and Mastercard are minimal. And sometimes even when the network benefits don’t match up, a specific card’s perks or the issuer-backed benefits more than make up for the discrepancy.
Start with why you want a credit card — perhaps you want a card with a 0% interest rate offer, you want to earn rewards, or you want to build credit with a secured or student card.
Then compare credit cards that match your wish-list of features. From there, pick the best card based on its overall features and your likelihood of getting approved, not just the network.
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