Visa vs Mastercard vs American Express vs Diners Club: is there any difference?

An evaluation of the four major card networks in Australia and the differences between them.

If you pick any of the 190+ credit card products in Australia, it is almost guaranteed to be networked with one of either Visa, Mastercard, American Express or Diners Club. According to the RBA’s September 2018 Credit and Charge Card Statistics, Visa and Mastercard account for 91.3% of credit and charge card purchases, while American Express and Diners Club make up the remaining 8.7%.

Depending on which comparison you make, there may not actually be much of a difference between card networks. But that doesn’t mean there are none. We’ve compiled the key differences and similarities between the four brands below to help guide your next credit card decision.

Visa vs Mastercard

The most important thing to know about Visa and Mastercard is that they do not offer credit cards themselves. Instead, they are a payment network, processing the payments between banks and merchants and leaving the creation and distribution of the credit cards up to the individual credit card providers.

It’s the providers who set the interest rates, fees and features of each specific card, not Visa or Mastercard, and it is this reason why you shouldn’t really put too much stock into picking one or the other.

Both Visa and Mastercard are near-universally accepted, with the exception of maybe a few stores and locations that might have an exclusive deal with one or the other. According to Visa’s website, it has 40 million accepted merchants and 2.5 million ATMs globally as at 2016 – this number has likely increased since. Mastercard is a little more secretive with this information which makes a direct comparison hard, but it is estimated that it is accepted at around 37 million merchants.

Either way, you’re looking at at least 30 million plus, so you can use either pretty much anywhere. There will still be some countries not included in the 200+ that each claims to be available in, so you should still check this before you jet off.

Both networks also offer global security and fraud protection for each individual card.

Visa vs Mastercard: rewards

A minor point of difference between the two is the perks and exclusive rewards they offer. We’re not talking about your standard credit card rewards here. Each network offers cardholders some nice discounts, deals and coupons simply for using one of their cards – you might just have to go online to activate them:

These deals can include anything from cheaper rental car hire and cheaper tickets to free meals and drinks at selected restaurants.

Visa vs Mastercard: exchange rates

There’s not much of a difference between each network’s exchange rates – the bigger cost will be the international usage fees your specific card carries. But in some currencies, there might be a tiny difference.

Visa tends to outperform Mastercard by a small margin in most major currencies. This can actually end up making a noticeable difference once you start spending large amounts overseas.

The following table looks at the minuscule differences between what Visa and Mastercard give for $1 AUD at the time of writing (13 November 2018). These calculations don’t include the currency conversion fee the credit card provider might charge. 

Visa Mastercard
USD 0.7272 0.7236
GBP 0.5584 0.5609
EUR 0.6394 0.6404
NZD 1.0766 1.0739
SGD 1.0006 0.9974
CNY 5.0514 5.0379

You’ll find that these exchange rates are pretty close to the mid-market exchange rate.

Which brands use Visa and Mastercard?

Here is a shortlist of some of Australia’s major credit card providers that use either the Visa or Mastercard network. You can see that most use one of either, but there are some brands that use both.

Not all credit card providers have been included in this list.

Visa  Mastercard
ANZ Yes No
Auswide Bank No Yes
Bank Australia Yes No
Bank of Melbourne Yes No
BankSA Yes No
BankVic Yes No
Bankwest No Yes
BCU Yes No
Bendigo Bank No Yes
BOQ Yes No
Citi Yes Yes
Coles No Yes
Commonwealth Bank No Yes
CUA No Yes
First Option Credit Union Yes No
Heritage Bank Yes No
HSBC Yes Yes
Hume Bank Yes No
imb No Yes
ING Yes No
Jetstar No Yes
Latitude Financial Services Yes Yes
Macquarie Yes Yes
ME Bank No Yes
Myer Yes No
NAB Yes Yes
Nexus Mutual Yes No
Qantas No Yes
RACQ No Yes
St.George No Yes
Summerland Yes No
Suncorp Yes Yes
Teachers Mutual Bank Yes No
Virgin Money Yes No
Westpac Yes Yes
Woolworths Yes No
Information sourced from various comparison sites as well as each network’s website. 

American Express vs Diners Club

Like Visa and Mastercard, American Express (also known as Amex) and Diners Club are payment systems, BUT they also provide their own cards, predominately targeting the higher end of the card market. So while Visa and Mastercard offer their services to dozens of individual card providers, Amex and Diners Club only offer their own branded cards (although American Express does have partnerships with other banks and providers, such as Westpac).

Many people find that these cards offer excellent value for rewards and frequent flyers – you can earn up to three points per dollar spent, which can be redeemed at shops, airlines, restaurants and more. Some of the most popular and recommended cards among ‘points’ nerds will come from American Express and Diners Club.

Both Diners Club and American Express charge higher merchant fees than Visa and Mastercard – these are the fees paid by merchants to the financial institution or card network for allowing customers to use their cards to make purchases and are one of the biggest sources of revenue for card providers and networks.

Some stores pass this higher cost onto customers or absorb it themselves. Either way, there are plenty of stores nationwide and worldwide that refuse to take Amex or Diners Club branded cards.

Merchant fees

It costs merchants more to take payments from these two cards than it does to accept Visa and Mastercard, hence the latter’s global acceptance..

About American Express

Amex has a range of credit cards available, ranging from low rate cards to rewards and premium cards. Amex definitely places a greater emphasis on the latter two – many of its cards offer high rewards points, lucrative features like lounge access and travel insurance.

American Express was initially a freight forwarding company back in the 1850s but didn’t offer its first charge card until 100 years later in the 1950s. It’s now one of the world’s premier credit and charge card providers, generating $33 billion a year in revenue and with 112 active cards out there.

American Express doesn’t publish figures on its acceptance at merchants here or overseas, although it claims that 120,000 new merchants in Australia have joined the American Express network since January 2017. You’ve no doubt seen plenty of stores that say ‘No Amex’ so your options are more limited than other networks, but there are still tens of thousands across the country. American Express Australia does list popular stores and services that accept its cards here.

About Diners Club

The history of Diners Club is an interesting one. It all started in 1950, when a man named Frank McNamara forgot his wallet when eating at a restaurant. His wife ended up paying the bill, which left good old Frank very embarrassed, and he vowed to create a new payment option known as the charge card (bit of a drastic reaction there don’t you think Frank?). Just a few years later it had been recognised in the UK, Canada and Mexico, making it the first internationally recognised charge card.

Citi acquired Diners Club in 1981, and by 1984 it started the industry’s first rewards program: club rewards. Diners Club also partnered with Mastercard to eliminate the issues of accessibility worldwide, as cardholders can take out a separate World Mastercard but still earn the same rewards. Diners Club users have access to over 800,000 ATMs and cash access location in more than 180 countries worldwide. With a World Mastercard added to their account, Diners Club users can have access to 1.9 million more ATMs and cash access locations.

Finally, it’s important to remember that Diners Club doesn’t actually offer a credit card product. It instead offers charge cards, which don’t charge interest but do require you to pay off the full balance every month.

Savings.com.au’s two cents

If you’re looking to compare Mastercard or Visa-branded cards, don’t – there really isn’t much of a difference between them besides the logo, name and colour scheme. If a merchant in Australi accepts one of these cards then they’re likely to accept them both, and you should instead compare the merits of each individual card based on:

  • The interest rate
  • The fees (mainly the annual fee)
  • The features the card has
  • Whether the card has a rewards program that suits you
  • How easily you can apply for and cancel the card

You might have to make a decision when it comes to travel, but again, both networks provide similar exchange rates and are accepted in most countries. It might come down to the perks offered between Visa and Mastercard.

Diners Club and American Express are again very similar – they both tend to be more ‘lucrative’ networks with higher interest rates (on Amex) and fees in exchange for rewards and special features. But with their higher merchant fees, there’s a bigger chance that cards on these networks won’t be accepted by some stores. Even if the store does accept them, they may have a surcharge on those making purchases with such cards. If you’re using these cards for most of your everyday spend, these surcharges can really add up.

While a card’s network should form part of your consideration, you should primarily compare credit and charge cards on the core factors listed above.

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