It’s easy to flick through the cards in your wallet and think all credit cards are alike. Apart from being a different colour they all looks similar and can be used to buy goods and services. However, there is much more too it than this and the card you choose can make a big difference in terms of how much it costs you, where you can use it and what you get back as reward.
Bank cards are owned by banks, and each one has its own set of terms and conditions. To facilitate payments and broaden its use in more places, the bank usually joins a credit-card interchange network either Visa or MasterCard or, in many cases, both networks. By joining these networks a bank’s card can enjoy countrywide and worldwide acceptance.
Therefore often see cards bearing both the Visa (or MasterCard) logo along with the issuing bank’s logo. Visa cards do not come directly from Visa; only the Visa-member bank issues the Visa credit cards directly to consumers.
Travel and entertainment cards are issued directly by the card providers, such as American Express and Diners Club, but may be distributed through banks. The issuer, American Express, for example, is the credit provider not the bank.
Visa cards provide revolving credit you can choose to pay the bill outright before the due date each month or a lower amount that meets the minimum due. Due to the revolving credit facility, a Visa credit card comes with a pre-set spending limit.
Unlike Visa credit cards, American Express cards do not have a pre-set spending limit. American Express cards are charge cards and do not provide a revolving credit. Normally you are required to pay in full the amount owing each month.
The biggest issuer by far of travel and entertainment cards is American Express. But despite its size, its numbers are minuscule compared to number of Visa cards in circulation American Express cards are only about 15% of the total outstanding Visa credit cards (and about 14% of all outstanding MasterCard cards).
There are at least 21,000 member banks in Visa, which has helped gain wide acceptance for Visa credit cards across the globe. Over twenty secen million merchants throughout the world accept Visa credit cards. While many places will accept AMEX cards the number of retailers is far less.
Travel and entertainment cards were originally designed for frequent travellers. They used to be accepted mainly in travel- and entertainment-related establishments (hotels, restaurants, airlines), but now they are present in all other types of businesses (department stores, drugstores, gas stations, etc.).
Rewards credit card programs
The original travel and entertainment concept of American Express led it to develop a full array of services, including frequent flyer miles, generous travel insurance cover, luggage insurance, etc. American Express has also created some of the most accessible rewards credit card schemes.
Whilst the basic American Express rewards credit card gives 1 point for every dollar spent, which is the same as Visa credit cards, the premium American Express reward credit cards earn 2 or more points for each dollar. Points earned on American Express rewards credit cards will never expire and are not subject to any cap which means you don’t have to spend money for the sake of it to make sure you have enough points to use before they expire.
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