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Amex and Discover accepted in as many places as Visa, Mastercard in the US

Sept. 19, 2021
5 min read
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with new information. This page includes information about Discover cards that is not currently available on The Points Guy and may be out of date.


At the end of 2019, American Express reported “virtual parity” in acceptance rates in the U.S. alongside Visa and Mastercard, which have long been the top two payment networks domestically. Likewise, Discover makes the same claim as one of the newer issuers on the market.

A February 2020 Nilson Report corroborates this with the claim that 10.6 million U.S. merchants (or approximately 99% of total credit card-accepting merchants) now accept Amex and Discover cards.

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Let's see what this means for cardholders domestically and internationally.

How this affects cardholders

Acceptability is a major factor to consider when applying for a new credit card. If you’re going to maximize a card’s rewards structure and benefits, you have to be able to actually use it on purchases. It doesn’t matter if you have the best credit card on the planet if there isn't a merchant that will let you use it to pay.

Amex and Discover are now on par with Visa and Mastercard, at least in the U.S. For Amex, that's a nice selling point as it attempts to establish dominance in an incredibly competitive credit card market, making its products more attractive for U.S. consumers and small-business owners.

Photo courtesy of Blake Wisz / Unsplash
The more widely accepted Amex cards become, the more valuable they become to cardholders. (Photo by Blake Wisz/Unsplash)

While Discover is smaller, it offers a solid lineup of student credit cards and secured cards for those who are having a hard time finding approval from other issuers. Meanwhile, Amex has quite a few cards on TPG’s lists of top travel credit cards and cash-back cards. Having either an Amex or Discover card in your wallet has become even more valuable.

How Amex and Discover hit 99% acceptance in the US

Historically, Amex hasn’t always been widely accepted, either domestically or internationally. The issuer and payment network has long had a reputation for charging merchants swipe fees, which hindered the company’s ability to attract small businesses. Over the years, this has shifted.

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There is now little cost difference between Amex and other card networks — Nilson reports only a .04% difference between Amex and Visa and Mastercard (2.3% versus 2.26% respectively).

Related: How small businesses can start accepting credit cards

(Photo by Hero Images / Getty Images)
Amex’s OptBlue program helped the issuer reach its goal of U.S. acceptance on par with Visa and Mastercard. (Photo by Hero Images/Getty Images)

Amex attributes this shift in part to its OptBlue program. This initiative began in 2014 and provides a way for small businesses to accept Amex cards through a third-party processor (so long as that processor is partnered with Amex). These processors set the swipe fee rates for businesses, which evens the playing field for Amex cards from a cost perspective and makes it easier for business owners to start accepting Amex with existing processing systems. It makes sense that the easier it is for a business to accept Amex, the more likely they are to do it.

Furthermore, Amex also made strides in its support of small businesses through its Shop Small and Small Business Saturday campaigns.

On the other hand, Discover encourages cardholders to call customer service if they come across a merchant that doesn't accept Discover cards. The issuer will try every attempt to add them into the network and close the gap between their competitors.

What about international acceptance?

Unfortunately, there is still work to be done when it comes to Amex's international acceptance. However, Discover is part of Discover Global Network, which expands acceptance in certain countries where Diners Club and JCB cards are also accepted. You can check Discover's acceptance map to see if a country you're traveling to will accept Discover cards.

While American Express cards are accepted in more than 100 countries worldwide, Amex is still lagging behind Discover, Visa and Mastercard. It’s easier to find merchants that accept Amex cards in certain countries (Australia and Canada, as two examples), but across Europe and Asia, it’s still a toss-up whether or not a specific merchant will accept American Express cards. At this point, the safest bet when traveling abroad is to have a Visa or Mastercard just in case.

Related: Best no-annual-fee credit cards to use internationally

Bottom line

Expanding international coverage is a priority for Amex moving forward, so hopefully, we will start to see this change in the coming years. Personally, I’d love to be able to use my American Express® Gold Card at more restaurants when I’m traveling, since it earns the best rate on dining at restaurants out of all of my cards.

So, here’s to (hopefully) never having to hear the phrase, “Sorry, we don’t take American Express or Discover” ever again — at least in the U.S.

Additional reporting by Stella Shon and Katherine Fan.

Featured image by Getty Images/Hero Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Our points-obsessed staff uses a plethora of credit cards on a daily basis. If anyone on our team wouldn’t recommend it to a friend or a family member, we wouldn’t recommend it on The Points Guy either. Our opinions are our own, and have not been reviewed, approved, or endorsed by our advertising partners.
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TPG featured card

Best premium travel card for value
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

1 - 10X points
10xEarn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
3xEarn 3x points on other travel and dining.
1xEarn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases

Intro offer

80,000 bonus points
Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

Annual Fee

$550

Recommended Credit

740-850
Excellent
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more
Best premium travel card for value
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10xEarn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
3xEarn 3x points on other travel and dining.
1xEarn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

    80,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $550
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more