Visa, Mastercard, American Express, CB: What Are the Differences?

To the point Which company offers the best bank cards: Visa, Mastercard, American Express or CB? Milesopedia helps you sort it all out.

In the complex arena of global financial transactions, a silent but fierce match is being played out between four major players: Visa, Mastercard, American Express and CB. But what are the secrets behind these ever-present symbols in our wallets? And what are the main differences? At first glance, it may seem that Visa and Mastercard are vying for the crown, but American Express, with its distinctive character, is an active contender in this competition. And let’s not forget CB, well established in France yet often underestimated. To help shed some clarity, we’re going to take you through the intricacies of the electronic payment industry.

Introducing the Institutions

The main distinction between American Express, Visa, and Mastercard lies in the fees charged to merchants. Because American Express charges a slightly higher commission, some merchants have long refused to accept American Express cards. This trend is changing, however, with more and more merchants worldwide accepting American Express cards.

This higher commission allows American Express to reward cardholders with Membership Rewards points and outstanding customer service. Indeed, American Express cardholders traditionally benefit from high-quality, rapid customer service in the event of a problem, as well as an excellent concierge service.

By comparison, CB is ten times more affordable than Visa and Mastercard for merchants. The French group enables French consumers to pay at local merchants using bank-to-bank transactions rather than the Visa or Mastercard transactions generally used for payments abroad. That’s why most cards are “co-branded,” displaying both the CB logo and that of Visa or Mastercard.


Visa was born in 1958 when Bank of America launched BenkAmericard, the first consumer credit card program in the United States. It was only a few years later, in 1976, that BenkAmericard became Visa. This name, which is pronounced the same in all languages, was intended to give the company a better foothold on the international market. Today, Visa operates in over 200 countries and territories worldwide.

Carte Visa


The American Mastercard company was launched in 1966 by the Interbank Card Association (ICA), a group of banks aiming to compete with Bank of America. Under the leadership of this banking conglomerate, the association expanded its influence internationally in the 1970s. Its first alliances were formed in 1968 in Mexico, Japan, and with Eurocard in Europe.

Carte Mastercard


Created in 1984, Groupement des Cartes Bancaires (CB Bank card Group, or simply CB) is an economic interest group that defines the operating procedures for bankcard payment systems, whether physical or virtual. In France, it is the banking market leader, with over 65% of everyday purchases paid for with a CB card. However, this percentage is falling a little more every year, to the benefit of its American competitors.

The CB logo can only be found on cards issued by French banks, as it designates the national interbank network. However, the national CB interbank network works in cooperation with the Visa and Mastercard networks to ensure the acceptance of cards abroad, hence the presence of two logos on most French cards.

In a bid to reverse this trend, the group recently launched the “Payer avec CB, c’est payer Made in France” campaign to emphasize that it is the biggest French player on the market. But despite these major efforts, there are fewer and fewer cards “co-branded” with the CB logo and Mastercard or Visa. For example, BoursoBank, a Société Générale-owned neobank with over five million customers in France, works exclusively with Visa.


American Express

Ranked third worldwide after Visa and Mastercard, American Express, commonly known as Amex, is an internationally renowned financial company.

Founded in the United States in 1850, it has established itself as one of the leading companies specializing in financial services, particularly payment card distribution. Renowned for its prestige and reliability, American Express offers a wide range of credit cards for both individuals and businesses.

One of American Express’ key strengths lies in its ability to offer exclusive benefits to its cardholders. Such as the ability to earn Membership Rewards points, its excellent concierge services, and a comprehensive range of insurance products.

Membership Rewards is the American Express loyalty program that rewards all purchases made by earning points. Each transaction brings us closer to the rewards that travellers appreciate, whether it’s business-class flights or hotel accommodations.

Thanks to its collaboration with partners such as Apple Pay, American Express is positioned at the forefront of technology, facilitating contactless transactions and offering convenient and secure payment solutions.

Carte Gold American Express


Each bank card company issues different types of card. Here’s an overview:

Card type Visa Mastercard American Express
Systematic authorization Electron Maestro
Classic CB Visa (or Visa Classic) CB Mastercard Green American Express and Air France KLM American Express Silver
Premium Visa Premier Mastercard Gold Gold American Express and Air France KLM American Express Gold
Luxury Visa Infinite World Elite Mastercard Platinum American Express and Air France KLM American Express Platinum


Bank card prices vary not only according to the issuer but also according to the type of card, in particular whether it’s a classic, high-end, or luxury.

Card type Visa, Mastercard and CB American Express
Classic From 0 to €40 /year From 0 to €96 /year
Premium From 0 to €135 /year €180 /year
Luxury > €300 /year > €600 /year

Visa and Mastercard

The price difference between Visa and Mastercard is so close that it is nearly insignificant. The cost of the card depends on the issuing bank.

If, in your search for the ideal card, affordability takes precedence, you’ll need to focus on your chosen bank rather than the card’s description. Traditional banks generally charge higher rates. Conversely, neobanks such as BoursoBank and Revolut are emerging as the standard-bearers of affordability, offering similar cards but with no user fees.


A CB card can only be purchased through a financial institution. As with Visa and Mastercard, rates depend on the issuing bank. As mentioned above, all CB cards are generally co-branded with Mastercard or Visa.

American Express

American Express cards are generally more expensive than Visa or Mastercard. The entry-level Green American Express card is available from 96 euros a month, while the classic Visa and Mastercard cards are available from 40 euros a year, or even free of charge.

The American Express Platinum card, the most prestigious bank card on the market, is offered at 660 euros a year, a much higher price than the luxury cards from Visa and Mastercard.

Acceptance Rate

Visa and Mastercard

For most consumers, the priority is to have a card that works everywhere, both locally and internationally. Fortunately, Visa and Mastercard meet this criterion. They are widely accepted, whether in regional stores or when traveling abroad. These two companies provide unrivalled access to a global financial network. So whether you opt for Visa or Mastercard, they’re effective payment tools wherever you are in the world.


As the CB bankcard has been widely accepted in all French shops for many years, it remains the preferred means of payment for consumers and retailers in France.

American Express

American Express cards are not as widespread as Visa and Mastercard. However, unless you are shopping with a small retailer, it is rare to encounter problems when paying with an American Express card. As the popularity of American Express continues to grow, more and more merchants in France and around the world are accepting the high-end American Express cards.

American Express cards can be used to pay for purchases in France at supermarkets, petrol stations, furniture stores, boutiques and online. Almost all airlines, hotels, and travel agencies accept American Express cards. Even abroad, more and more merchants are accepting American Express card payments. In the USA, American Express cards are almost as widely accepted as Visa and Mastercard.


Visa and Mastercard

The additional services available to bank cardholders are not provided by Visa or Mastercard but by the card-issuing bank. In France, all cards are issued by partner banks. So it’s the banks that decide what services will be offered to cardholders; they also set the fees and annual dues.

Visa and Mastercard insurances are similar. Classic cards generally include death or disability insurance, while elite cards generally include the following types of insurance:

Luxury cards, such as Visa Infinite and World Elite Mastercard, normally offer the same insurance coverage but with higher deductibles. Sometimes they also provide insurance coverage for purchases and personal effects, like the BoursoBank Metal Offer Visa card.


Like Visa and Mastercard, CB cards do not come with a specific range of insurance products. The insurance offered varies according to the issuing bank.

American Express

All American Express cards come with a plethora of insurance for travel and everyday life. Nevertheless, the American Express Platinum card, the Air France KLM American Express Platinum card, and the co-branded American Express and Air France card undeniably offer the best insurance on the market.

Green American Express Yes Yes Yes
Gold American Express Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Platinum American Express Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Air France KLM American Express Silver Yes Yes
Air France KLM American Express Gold Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Air France KLM American Express Platinum Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes

Best Bank Cards



In France, the best Mastercard cards are CB Gold Mastercard Fortuneo Banque, World Elite CB Fortuneo Banque, Revolut Premium and N26 You.

American Express

Bottom Line

A detailed analysis of Visa and Mastercard cards highlights an important fact: the choice between these two providers is hard to define. What really sets them apart is the pricing policy and additional services offered by the issuing bank. The BoursoBank online bank offers free elite cards with no income requirements and no additional charges for payments in foreign currencies.

American Express, however, stands out from Visa, Mastercard, and CB thanks to its additional services. Its generous range of insurance, excellent concierge service, and the possibility of accumulating Membership Rewards points to redeem for hotel nights and award flights make the company one of the most exclusive on the market. Although these cards are generally more expensive than Visa and Mastercard, their benefits have a far greater monetary value than the maintenance fees.

Frequently Asked Questions

Visa vs Mastercard: what are the differences?

There are very few differences between Visa and Mastercard. In fact, both companies are accepted in shops and ATMs in many countries around the world and offer cards with similar rates and similar ranges of insurance.

It should be emphasized that the choice of financial institution is often much more important than the name on the bank card.

What are the advantages of Mastercard cards in France?

Mastercard cards in France offer a range of benefits, such as travel insurance, medical assistance abroad, guarantees against delays in transport or luggage, as well as guarantees for winter sports and car rentals. The World Elite card, the highest-end card in the Mastercard network, also offers a comprehensive concierge service. Prices vary according to card type and issuing bank.

Is Mastercard a bank?

No, Mastercard is not a bank. It is a global payment network offering credit and debit card payment processing services. Mastercard cards are issued by partner banks.

Which card to choose: Visa Premier or Mastercard Gold?

The choice between Visa Premier and Mastercard Gold depends on your personal preferences, as both offer similar benefits. You should compare offers from different issuing banks to make an informed decision.

In our opinion, the best offers come from online banks BforBank and Fortuneo Banque, which offer free Visa Premier and CB Gold Mastercard cards.

What to choose: Visa or CB payment card?

In France, CB payment cards are almost always associated with Visa or Mastercard. The national CB interbank network works in cooperation with the Visa and Mastercard networks to ensure the acceptance of cards abroad, hence the presence of two logos on most French cards.

What's the best card to travel with?

The best bank cards for travel are those of online banks BoursoBank and Revolut: the BoursoBank Ultim visa card and the Revolut Standard Mastercard. Both cards are free of charge and can be used to pay in a variety of currencies and to make withdrawals abroad free of charge.

Come to discuss that topic in our Facebook Group!
4.5 Milesopedia Rating

Suggested Reading