What’s the Difference Between Visa and AMEX?

Co-author:TJ Ryan 
Do you need a Visa or an AMEX card for that? Canstar examines the Visa vs AMEX pros and cons.

While Visa and AMEX (American Express) might both be credit card providers, they are quite different in what they offer and how they operate.

What’s the difference between Visa and AMEX?

Visa is a payment processing system only; it does not issue any cards directly to the consumer but allows financial institutions to brand their cards as “Visa” and use these cards on the Visa payment processing system. They make money from the interchange fees they charge banks to use their system.

Meanwhile, AMEX is not only a payment system. They also issue cards directly to the consumer, finance payments, and process the transfers. They make most of their money from interest charges and fees.

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How many Visa and AMEX cards are there?

Visa as a company is simply huge. According to the Nilson Report, in 2016 they had a 16% market share worldwide. There are 3.3 billion Visa-branded cards floating around the world in more than 200 countries as of December 2017.

In contrast, AMEX has a much smaller market share worldwide. As of December 2017 they have 112.8 million cards in force worldwide.

Where are Visa vs AMEX cards accepted?

Visa is estimated to be accepted in 44 million locations worldwide and has approximately 2.6 million ATMs around the world.

AMEX is accepted at tens of thousands of merchants across New Zealand. Although they don’t publish their worldwide figures, they are reported to be accepted at around 15 million merchants around the world. They also do not publish how many ATMs they have, although they have an online ATM locator.

Does Visa or AMEX have a better rewards program?

Visa offers Platinum cardholders concierge services, emergency assistance services, discounts on dining, and exclusive tickets to major concerts and sporting events.

AMEX cardholders receive concierge services, fine dining deals, and exclusive tickets to concerts and sporting events. The points earn rate is generous, with some cards earning up to 3 points per $1 spent.

Bear in mind that credit card rewards programs are constantly changing as providers compete with each other. You can keep track of how to get the most rewards for your dollar by checking our credit card rewards star ratings.

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Do Visa and AMEX charge credit card surcharges?

Visa and AMEX both charge interchange fees to the banks that use their payment systems, so users face surcharges for both of these cards.

However, AMEX has largely overcome having such high surcharges by having a MasterCard or Visa companion card in addition to the higher-earning American Express card. This is useful for more than just avoiding the surcharge – as we mentioned above, AMEX is accepted at fewer merchants Visa. But it is worth remembering that these companion cards do not have the same high earn rates for rewards points.

How did the Visa vs AMEX race begin?

Visa was founded in 1958, as the Americard by Bank of America. It was the first credit card available for middle-class consumers, small businesses, and medium-sized merchants in the USA. It was renamed to “Visa” in 1976 because the company had been expanding internationally, and “Visa” is the only word that sounds the same in most languages around the world.

VisaNet became the world’s first electronic system for processing card payments, and today it remains the world’s largest electronic payments network.

American Express was founded even earlier, in 1850, as an express mail business. In 1882, American Express expanded by launching a money order business to compete with the US Post Office.

Moving towards what would become their crowning achievement as the world’s largest issuer of credit cards and charge cards, in 1891 they launched the American Express Traveler’s Cheque in four denominations ($10, $20, $50, and $100). In 1958, following the success of Diners Club, American Express created its own charge card, issuing 250,000 cards even before the launch date.

Source: American Express

Should you choose Visa or AMEX?

Hopefully the above pros and cons of Visa and AMEX have helped you along in your journey to find which provider’s card could work best in your situation. For the vast majority of consumers, the right card depends on how you use your card. Visa is accepted in more places, so it may be ideal for those who choose a credit card for convenience; but those who chase rewards points may need to consider the pros and cons of the Visa vs AMEX rewards programs.

Of course, with AMEX offering Visa as a companion card, you may not have to choose at all. You may be able to have both cards in your wallet with one shared credit limit, so that if a merchant doesn’t accept one, you have the other as a back-up.

Don’t forget the other things you need to check when choosing a credit card – the interest rate and fees on the card, the balance transfer deals available, or the rewards program on offer.

If you need a credit card, use Canstar’s credit card selector to compare credit cards using our expert star ratings. You can filter your search to choose a credit card based on interest rates, card features, rewards programs, and value for money.

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