Visa and Mastercard make up the vast majority of credit card options in Canada, and for the most part, the two types of credit cards are almost indistinguishable from each other. They are both widely accepted at most retailers, and you’ll find a complete spectrum of rewards credit cards, cash back credit cards, and low interest credit cards with either the Visa or Mastercard badge.
That said, whether to choose Visa or Mastercard is still one of the most common questions asked when selecting a new credit card. The truth is that there are some subtle differences that, depending on your unique spending patterns, may influence whether you should choose a Visa or Mastercard credit card.
Here are the facts you need to know about Visa versus Mastercard to make your decision.
Mastercard vs. Visa: they’re virtually identical
First of all, both Mastercard and Visa are not credit card issuers. You can’t get a credit card directly from either of these companies. Neither Mastercard or Visa set credit card terms like interest rates or rewards schemes, and they don’t process credit card applications or play a role in whether or not you are approved for a credit card.
The company that manages the credit card is called an “issuer,” and issuers tend to be banks or credit unions. These organizations administer the credit card, their rewards, and points, and are responsible for the debt you take on when using your credit card. When you make your monthly payment, borrow money, or owe interest, you’re doing so through your bank or credit union – not Visa or Mastercard.
Instead, Visa and Mastercard are processing networks and perform more of the background work that’s out of sight of everyday cardholders. Both earn revenue by partnering with card issuers, acting as the middlemen between financial institutions and merchants, and handle the intricacies of processing digital transactions while ensuring you can use your credit card at a huge network of places – both online and offline. For instance, every time you swipe your credit card to make a payment at a retailer, Mastercard or Visa collects a fee.
Mastercard vs. Visa: the very subtle differences
While Mastercard and Visa are incredibly similar in their offerings (the more significant differences lie with the credit cards offered by the issuers), there are some differences that you should keep in mind.
Acceptance at retailers
Visa and Mastercard are both widely accepted by North American merchants, with 28 million merchants taking Visa and 30 million accepting Mastercard. Some notable merchants do not accept Visa, including Costco, No Frills, and up until recently, Walmart (though that’s now changed). If there are individual retailers that you regularly shop at, it’s a good idea to double-check that they accept the credit card of your choice. Alternatively, you can maintain a second backup credit card to cover all of your bases.
The second significant difference relates to your credit card perks and benefits. While the issuer determines many of the benefits offered by rewards and cash back credit cards, there are a few Visa and Mastercard perks that are specific to these companies. For instance, a Mastercard credit card with airport lounge access will provide you with a membership to Mastercard Airport Experiences. Like the name implies, Mastercard Airport Experiences is a Mastercard exclusive option. When Visa offers airport lounge memberships, they tend to do so through Priority Pass.
Other under-the-radar differences between the two credit card companies include the fact several World and World Elite Mastercards come with a free Boingo Wi-Fi membership, and how Mastercard has a unique partnership with Cirque du Soleil (offering discounts on tickets). Mastercard also offers cardholders access to Priceless Cities, an entertainment perk that offers deals and tickets to live events and culinary experiences. Visa meanwhile offers Visa Infinite perks on its more premium card offerings, providing a rotating roster of travel and lifestyle deals like complimentary wine tastings at select wineries and a free fourth-night when staying at a participating hotel.
Some additional minor differences in perks could include types of insurance available and virtually negligible differences in concierge services. If you have a specific set of perks you are looking for, you may find that either Visa or Mastercard does a better job at meeting your needs. In our opinion though, the differences in these side perks are inconsequential and shouldn’t be the sole factor swaying you to choose one credit card company over the other.
Infinite vs. World Elite
Finally, there is a difference between the premium tier Visa and Mastercards. You’ll be able to spot these premium tier credit cards because they’ll have a specific moniker. For Visa, the premium tier cards are “Infinite” cards (for example, the TD Cashback Visa Infinite). For Mastercard, the premium tier cards are “World Elite” cards (like the BMO World Elite Mastercard).
Here’s a summary of the benefits you’ll receive from each premium tier:
- 24/7 concierge
- Up to 12 types of insurance coverage
- Visa Infinite Dining Series
- Visa Infinite Wine Country Program
- Visa Infinite Luxury Hotel Collection
- 24/7 concierge
- Up to 15 types of insurance coverage
- Mastercard Priceless Cities
- Cirque du Soleil
- Complimentary Boingo wi-fi membership
While your overall eligibility is determined by the bank or credit union issuing the card, minimum income requirements do vary by Mastercard and Visa credit cards – at least, in terms of each company’s more premium offerings. Visa Infinite Cards, for instance, require a minimum annual income of at least $60,000 (or $100,000 as a household), while World Elite Mastercards demand an income of $80,000 (or $150,000 as a household).
Depending on your annual income, Visa Infinite cards may be more within your reach.
Some of the best Visa and Mastercards in Canada
Best Visa cards
BMO eclipse Visa Infinite* Card
Welcome offer; Get up to 40,000 points and the $120 annual fee waived in the first year*
- $120 annual fee (wavied for the first year)
- Earn 5 BMO points per dollar on gas, groceries, restaurants, and daily transit (including public transit, taxis, and rideshares)
- Earn 1 BMO point on all other purchases
- Get up to 40,000 bonus points in your first year
- Recieve a $50 annual lifestyle credit every January
- 1 BMO Point = 0.7% in travel rewards or 0.5% in statement credits
- Annual income required: $60,000 personal or $100,000 household
CIBC Dividend® Visa Infinite* Card
- Annual fee: $99 (rebated for the first year)
- 4% cash back on gas and groceries
- 1% on everything else
- Annual income required: $60,000 (personal) or $100,000 (household)
Tangerine Money-Back Credit Card
Earn 2% Money-Back Rewards on purchases in two 2% Money-Back Categories of your choice, and 0.50% Money-Back Rewards on all other purchases.
- No annual fee
- Earn 2% cash back on purchases in up to three categories of your choice, and 0.5% cash back on all other purchases
- Income required: $12,000
Earn 4 points†† for every $1 spent on eligible restaurant, grocery, digital media, membership and household utility purchases during the first 90 days
- No annual fee
- Earn 4 points†† for every $1 spent on eligible restaurant, grocery, digital media, membership and household utility purchases during the first 90 days , and 2 points‡ for every $1 spent on eligible purchases in those categories thereafter – in both cases, these earn rates apply until $10,000 is spent annually in the applicable category. 1 point‡ for every $1 spent on all other eligible purchases
- Welcome offer: Get up to 10,000 bonus points
- 5,000 bonus points†† ($25 in cash back value) after you make $500 or more in eligible purchases within the first 90 days of your account opening
- 5,000 bonus points††($25 in cash back value) once enrolled for paperless e-statements within the first 90 days of account opening
- Income required: No specific amount
- This offer is not available for residents of Quebec. For residents of Quebec, please click here.
PC Financial® World Elite Mastercard®
- No annual fee
- 45 PC Optimum Points per $1 spent at Shoppers Drug Mart
- 30 PC Optimum Points per $1 spent where President’s Choice products are sold
- 10 PC Optimum Points per $1 spent on all other purchases
- 10,000 points = $1% in store credit
- Income required: $80,000 ($150,000 household)
The final word
Bottom line: your choice for a new credit card should not be made solely on whether it’s a Visa or Mastercard.
There’s a wide variety of other criteria to take into consideration, like interest rate, monthly fees, rewards, and perks. These criteria will have a much more significant impact on the utility of your credit card choice than whether it is a Visa or Mastercard. That said if you are comparing two credit cards that are virtually identical in stats, whether they are a Visa or Mastercard could tip the scales in your final decision.