Q: Discover Card often runs commercials advertising that they offer 5% cash back on certain purchases each quarter. I am interested in this but am concerned about merchant acceptance. How does Discover Card’s merchant acceptance compare to Visa, MasterCard and American Express?
A: If you haven’t used Discover and aren’t very familiar with this card brand you may be surprised to learn these facts about their credit cards:
- Discover Card was launched in 1986
- In 2016 Discover Card is accepted at well over 90 percent (i.e. virtually all) of stores/merchants in the United States that accept credit cards.
- Even though they joined the credit card network game later than the other big three card processing networks (American Express, Visa, MasterCard), Discover Card acceptance has gone nearly global. You can pretty much use your Discover card anywhere abroad, even though total card acceptance footprint may be a bit more limited compared to the other three, especially outside of North America (with a few notable Asian exceptions). If you’re traveling to certain locales, though, you may be in luck. For example, in China and Japan, Discover is widely accepted, thanks to its partnership with China Union Pay and Japan’s JCB. They’re acceptance covers North America, South America, much of Europe, Scandinavia and Russia. Much of Africa, the middle east and India is not within their global merchant network as of 2015, however.
So, you live in the United States, Discover card is accepted virtually everywhere (90 plus percent of merchants) so using it shouldn’t ever be a an issue. If you’re traveling a broad, check out Discover’s global acceptance map before you leave. During your travels, look for any of the following Discover partner icons when you shop:
If you see one of these logos you can rest assured your Discover card is welcome. Of course, there’s no telling exactly how many merchants in the countries mentioned on their coverage map accept Discover, so it can be a good insurance policy for the savvy traveler to have another form of payment as a backup in your wallet – either local currency or better yet a Visa, MasterCard or American Express card.
Here are some other interesting tidbits about Discover:
- There are approximately 64 million Discover Cards in circulation (50 million issued by Discover and another 14 million issued by third party banks)
- Discover is similar to American Express in that they are both the card processing network and the card issuer. By contrast Visa and MasterCard are only card networks and don’t issue cards directly to the public, relying on member banks to do so.
- Unlike most other card issuers, Discover only uses American-based customer call centers.
- Discover is considered to be the pioneer in offering no-annual-fee cards and rewards. They turned the industry upside down when they began offering them in 1986, first announced during a Superbowl ad that year.
Is Discover Card accepted absolutely everywhere? It’s certainly accepted at virtually every merchant that accepts credit cards within the United States, Canada and in Mexico (unless you’re trying to shop someplace like Neiman Marcus, which surprisingly only accepts American Express). Abroad, acceptance is less than universal (so if you’re traveling beyond Canada and Mexico check on Discover’s website to see if they take the card in the country/countries you’ll be visiting. However, their acceptance in Japan and the far east in general has been growing in recent years. If it’s not accepted in the country or countries to which you’ll be traveling then simply plan on another payment source – most importantly one that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees). The good news is that you’ll probably still find merchants all over the world in almost every country that accept Discover Card. With no annual fee and high cash back, it deserves a spot in your wallet regardless of where you live or travel.
This post was written or last updated January 13, 2016