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American Express vs. Mastercard is a debate typically reserved for people with good or excellent credit. That’s because American Express, the largest U.S. credit card company by purchase volume, only issues credit cards to people in the top tiers of the credit score scale. Mastercard credit cards, on the other hand, are available to people of all credit levels. But that’s not even the most important distinction between the two companies. What really sets them apart is the fact that Mastercards are issued by lots of different banks and credit unions, while American Express credit cards are largely issued by Amex itself. Both American Express and Mastercard are credit card networks, you see, but only Amex is a credit card issuer, too.
So while Mastercard handles transactions and determines where its cards can be used, it has no hand in setting the rates and rewards on individual cards. American Express does have that freedom, though.
American Express vs. Mastercard – Key Points:
- Network/Issuer: American Express does both, while Mastercard is a network only.
- Credit Cards in Circulation (U.S.): 47.5 million Amex; 199.8 million Mastercard.
- U.S. acceptance locations: 10.7 million for Mastercard; 8.5 for American Express.
- International Acceptance: 160+ countries and territories take American Express cards, while a Mastercard works in 210+.
- Major Issuers with cards on network: Cards on the Amex network are issued by American Express, USAA, PenFed, First National Bank of Omaha and Department Stores National Bank, among a few others. Nine of the 15 largest U.S. credit card issuers, along with scores of smaller banks and credit unions, offer cards on the Mastercard network. They include Chase, Bank of America, Citi, Capital One and U.S. Bank. Some of these institutions issue cards on both networks.
- Types of Cards: The American Express network has regular credit cards, charge cards, debit cards, gift cards and prepaid cards. Mastercard offers all but charge cards.
- Network benefits: American Express and Mastercard both have many benefits including extended warranties, purchase protection, price protection, rental car insurance and travel insurance, among others.
Surprisingly, American Express and Mastercard have similar purchase volume within the U.S., despite far more merchants accepting Mastercard. That’s due, at least in part, to Amex catering to wealthy high-spenders with cards that often emphasize rewards over financing.
Despite their differences, both American Express and Mastercard have some great credit card choices, and they each take the top spot in different categories.
Here are some of the top American Express and Mastercard credit cards:
- Travel Rewards: Lufthansa Credit Card
- Cash Back: Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer
- Gas & Groceries: Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express
- Premium Perks: Citi Premier® Card
- Business: American Express Blue Business Cash™ Card
- Student: BankAmericard® credit card for Students
- Limited Credit: Capital One Platinum Credit Card
- Bad Credit: Capital One Platinum Secured Credit Card
That’s just a taste of the best American Express cards and the best Mastercard credit cards. And now that you know the differences between the two networks, you’ll be able to make a more informed choice about which card to get. But don’t forget that there are two other networks, too: Discover and Visa.
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