kcm7 wrote:what's American card acceptance like in the places you've visited?
In large cities like Beijing, Visa/MasterCard (and many occasions American Express) issued outside of China can be used in large supermarkets, bookstores, department stores, medium-high end restaurants, hotels etc. Locations with strong non-Chinese people presence usually accept Visa/MasterCard.
A lot of places accept credit/debit cards but usually only accept UnionPay cards, if attempt foreign issued Visa/MasterCard the transaction cannot go through. This typically happens in some restaurants, bookstores, etc. that are not as high end. Under this occasion you can always use a Discover card to let the transaction go through, as long as the merchant agrees to swipe the card. Discover cards can be used on UnionPay network.
More often, the merchant accepts cash only. Many fast food restaurants including KFC and McDonald's fall into this category.
Generally, foreign issued cards (except Discover cards) can rarely be used, but indeed can be used in a few locations.
kcm7 wrote:I mostly do cash-only when I travel out of the US (except for stays at major hotels)
I would understand doing so usually avoids foreign transaction fees.