Amex now accepted in as many places as Visa, Mastercard in US
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
Editor’s note: This post has been updated with additional information. It was originally published Jan. 25, 2020.
At the end of 2019, American Express reported “virtual parity” in acceptance rates in the U.S. alongside Visa and Mastercard, who have long been the top two payment networks domestically. A February 2020 Nilsen 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 cards.
Want more credit card news delivered to your inbox daily? Sign up for the TPG newsletter!
How does this affect credit 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 no merchant will let you use it to pay for anything.
The fact that Amex is now on par with Visa and Mastercard — at least in the U.S. — is a nice selling point as Amex continues its attempt to establish dominance in an incredibly competitive credit card market. It makes their credit cards more attractive for U.S. consumers and small business owners.
Amex has a solid lineup of credit cards available, including quite a few on TPG’s top travel credit cards and top cash back cards lists. Now that Amex can confidently say they are just as widely accepted as its Visa and Mastercard counterparts, having an Amex card in your wallet becomes even more valuable.
For those who already have Amex cards, this means a greater potential for earning rewards. If the vast majority of businesses now accept Amex credit cards alongside the other top payment networks, that’s more places you can earn rewards with your Amex card.
How did Amex hit 99% acceptance in the U.S.?
Historically, Amex hasn’t always been widely accepted, either domestically or internationally. The issuer and payment network has long had a reputation for charging swipe fees for merchants, which hindered the company’s ability to attract small businesses. Over the years, this has shifted.
There is now little cost difference between Amex and other card networks today — Nilson reports only a .04% difference between Amex and Visa and Mastercard (2.3% vs. 2.26% respectively).
Related reading: How small businesses can start accepting credit cards
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.
From a public relations standpoint, Amex also made strides in their support of small businesses through its Shop Small and Small Business Saturday campaigns.
What about international acceptance?
Unfortunately, there is still work to be done when it comes to Amex’s international acceptance. While American Express cards are accepted in more than 100 countries worldwide, it’s still lagging behind 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. I was just in Barcelona, Spain recently and only two of the restaurants and merchants I visited accepted my American Express card.
At this point, the safest bet when traveling abroad is to have a Visa or Mastercard just in case.
Related reading: Best no-annual-fee credit cards to use internationally
Continuing 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 out of all of my cards.
Amex has made serious strides in providing a better customer experience for cardholders, from revamping credit cards to expanding acceptance rates both at home and abroad. It’s exciting to see more places accepting Amex cards in the U.S., especially since many of the top rewards credit cards are Amex-issued.
So, here’s to (hopefully) never having to hear the phrase, “Sorry, we don’t take American Express” ever again (at least in the U.S.).
Related reading: Choosing the best Amex card for you
Additional reporting by Katherine Fan.
Featured photo by Getty Images.
WELCOME OFFER: 60,000 Points
TPG'S BONUS VALUATION*: $1,200
CARD HIGHLIGHTS: 2X points on all travel and dining, points transferrable to over a dozen travel partners
*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.
- Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
- Get 25% more value when you redeem for airfare, hotels, car rentals and cruises through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 60,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
- Get unlimited deliveries with a $0 delivery fee and reduced service fees on orders over $12 for a minimum of one year on qualifying food purchases with DashPass, DoorDash's subscription service. Activate by 12/31/21.
- Earn 5X points on Lyft rides through March 2022. That’s 3X points in addition to the 2X points you already earn on travel.