Credit Cards

QIs Mastercard Better Than Visa Or Vice Versa? What About American Express, Diners Club, Etc?
AIn the U.S., almost any establishment that takes MasterCard takes Visa, and vice versa. If you're going to be doing all your spending in the U.S., you may not want (or need) both cards. In Europe, things are a bit different. In some countries, the Visa and MasterCard networks have been merged and ALL merchants who take one take the other. This is notably the case in France. (But sometimes the merchant isn't aware of this until you point out the M-C logo on his sticker in the window.) On the other hand, the cash advance networks have NOT been merged. Again, in France, almost any bank or cash machine (if you have a 4-digit PIN) can give you a cash advance on Visa (Carte Bleue), but only a few banks (Credit Agricole, Credit Mutuel, and all Post Offices) and cash machines can give you a M-C cash advance. Also, for various reasons, a given card may not work on the day you most need it. And in many countries (e.g. Italy), the networks have not merged. Thus, it is most prudent to have both. American Express, Diners Club, and their kin were originally aimed at the more upscale "travel and entertainment" market. They are accepted at many places, though not as many as Visa and MC. Some places don't take MC and Visa but do take American Express or Diners Club. In Europe, there are increasingly few places that take only Diners Club. There are a very few that take American Express exclusively. Note that credit card usage and acceptance varies widely across Europe. In France, you can use it at MORE places than in the US. In Italy, less in general, except for tourist-oriented shops. In Germany and England, about the same. In Greece, only in tourist-oriented shops. The American Express card used to be very handy for traveling in Europe. Among other things, it would let you cash personal checks drawn on your U.S. bank at any of their many offices. Nowadays, however, with your Visa or MasterCard, you can get cash advances at local banks at a better exchange rate. AMEX also holds mail for their customers at their offices so if you don't know where you'll be staying in Istanbul, you can have mail sent to the AMEX office. (It's enough to have one $10 AMEX traveler's check to be considered a "customer".) I don't have an AMEX card, but someone who does posted a list of the benefits he had actually received in a year and concluded that the card was worth more money to him than the annual fee. He cited student and non-student discounts for air travel, extra frequent-flyer miles for a variety of airlines, and "twofers" at some big-city restaurants. Your benefits may or may not outweigh the cost of the annual fee depending on your usage patterns. The best card for you is the one that is accepted where you shop and charges you the least amount of money for the services you actually use. For example, if you always pay off your balance each month, it is important to get a card with a grace period; the interest rate doesn't matter much.