Discover cards aren't universally accepted, but they are still quite popular. Here's where Discover acceptance stands today.
If you carry a Discover card, chances are good that you've heard the dreaded "Sorry - we don't take Discover" line at least once or twice.
While it's true that Discover isn't as universally accepted as Visa or Mastercard, Discover's cards have a surprisingly high acceptance rate in the United States, and international acceptance is on the rise. Here's a rundown of why Discover isn't universally accepted, and where you should expect to be able to use your Discover credit card.
Why isn't Discover as widely accepted as Visa or Mastercard?
There are a few reasons. For example:
- Discover is a direct-to-consumer issuer, meaning that it doesn't partner with banks that help promote and distribute its products. There's about one-seventh the number of Discover cards as Visa cards, so merchants may not have as much of an incentive to accept them.
- Discover sometimes charges merchants more for card acceptance than either Visa or Mastercard.
- Discover hasn't pushed into international markets as aggressively as its rivals.
Discover card acceptance in the United States
Visa and Mastercard have virtually universal acceptance in the U.S. In other words, if a particular merchant accepts credit cards, there's close to a 100% chance that they'll take Visa and Mastercard cards. The biggest exception is Costco, which is a Visa-exclusive business.
While Discover doesn't have quite the universal acceptance rate as those rivals, it does have pretty widespread acceptance in the U.S. According to a 2014 study by the Nilson Report, Visa and Mastercard were accepted by 9.5 million U.S. merchants, while Discover was accepted by 9.3 million.
In other words, Discover is accepted in the vast majority of (but not all) places that accept card payments in the United States. In fact, it may surprise you to learn that Discover has a significantly higher acceptance rate than American Express.
If you have a Discover credit card, you should be able to use it just about everywhere you go, but it's not a bad idea to keep a Visa- or Mastercard-branded card in your wallet as well just in case you hear, "Sorry - we don't take Discover." Small businesses are where you're most likely to run into an acceptance issue with your Discover card.
Discover card acceptance outside of the United States
Unfortunately, Discover cards aren't widely accepted outside of the United States, so they may not be the best travel credit cards to take on your next trip. Visa and Mastercard are the most widely-used card payment networks abroad, while Discover and American Express are still very much U.S. oriented. Plus, card payments aren't widely used at all in many international markets.
Having said that, this doesn't mean your Discover card is necessarily useless for international travel. Discover has some degree of acceptance in 190 countries and territories around the world. According to the credit card acceptance tool on Discover's website, there are many markets where Discover cards are used. The company claims "moderate acceptance" in certain countries like the U.K., Canada, and Australia, while acceptance is admittedly low in other places such as Spain and France, just to name a few.
There are many places where Discover cards aren't accepted at all, such as most of Africa and the Middle East, and several countries in Asia, Europe, and South America. If you plan to travel to any of these places, I suggest checking Discover's website to see if the company has a presence there.
It's also worth noting that Discover cards can be used to get cash from ATMs in many foreign markets, even where merchant acceptance is quite low.
While I wouldn't suggest relying on your Discover credit card as your sole means for covering your expenses while traveling abroad, depending on where you're going, it could be quite useful. If you can find merchants that accept Discover, it's important to mention that Discover cards have no foreign transaction fees.
The bottom line if you carry a Discover card
There are some great reasons to carry a Discover credit card. Discover cards generally have cash back programs, generous 0% intro APR offers, and several other great perks with no annual fee. In fact, there are regularly Discover products on our best rewards credit cards list.
To be clear, the Discover credit card acceptance rate is more than enough to be able to use a Discover card as your primary credit card. However, it isn't universally accepted, so it's a good idea to have an excellent credit card from another payment processing network in your wallet as well.
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