The Basics: an Introduction to the Major Credit Card Players

 

Credit cards have had a short but vital life in the US (and world) economic landscape. Not until 1958, with Bank of America’s Bankamericard, was a revolving credit financial system issued by a third-party bank finally established (to later become VISA in 1976). Things really took off from there. MasterCards’ early ancestor, Master Charge, popped up in 1966. Then Discover was introduced by Sears in 1986. And American Express introduced their first credit card in 1987 (after many years of being a charge card issuer where balances have to be paid in full every month). While I’m probably skipping over various important points in credit card history (which you’re not here for), here’s where the industry currently stands:

Credit Card Associations

VISA Logo. Image Credit: courtesy of VISA; Wikipedia via fma12 (Public Domain).
Visa Inc., or VISA

The company does not directly issue credit cards, but provides VISA-branded payment products to financial institutions that, in turn, issue credit cards.

VISA ranks 1st by purchase volume and U.S. card circulation.

 

mastercard Logo. Image Credit: courtesy of mastercard; Wikipedia via Ragilnih (Public Domain).
Mastercard Incorporated, or mastercard

The company does not directly issue credit cards, but provides mastercard-branded payment products to financial institutions that, in turn, issue credit cards.

mastercard ranks 3rd by purchase volume and 2nd by U.S. card circulation.

 

 

American Express Logo. Image Credit: courtesy of American Express; Wikipedia via CoolKid1993 (Public Domain)
American Express Company, or Amex

The company issues charge and credit cards directly to consumers and businesses.

Amex ranks 2nd by purchase volume and 4th by U.S. card circulation (not including charge cards).

 

 

 

 

Discover Card Logo. Image Credit: courtesy of Discover Bank; Wikipedia via Amitie (Public Domain).
Discover

The company issues credit cards directly to consumers and businesses.

Discover Card ranks 4th by purchase volume and 3rd by U.S. card circulation.

Discover has also partnered with several other card companies to utilize its network in the U.S., including JCB (Japan), UnionPay (China), BCcard (Korea), and RUPay (India), DinaCard (Europe), and Diners Club International.

 

Major Credit Card Issuers 

American Express Logo. Image Credit: courtesy of American Express; Wikipedia via CoolKid1993 (Public Domain).
American Express Company, or Amex

Major branded partnerships: Delta, Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG), Hilton, Mercedes-Benz, Charles Schwab, Plenti.

In addition to spending rewards awarded in the form of cash or loyalty program points/miles, Amex has its own flexible, transferrable program called American Express Membership Rewards (MR). The awarded points can be redeemed for credits, merchandise, gift cards, travel booked through the Amex travel portal, and transferred to the following loyalty programs (unless otherwise noted, at a 1:1 ratio):

Aeromexico (1:1.6), Aeroplan, Air France KLM, Alitalia, All Nippon Airways, Asia Miles, British Airways (1:0.8), Delta Air Lines, El Al Israel Airlines (1:0.02), Emirates, Etihad, Hawaiian Airlines, Iberia Plus (1:0.8), JetBlue (1:0.8), Singapore Airlines, Virgin America (2:1), Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, Choice, Hilton (1:1.5), Starwood (1:0.33), Plenti.

Amex’s branded partner, Starwood Hotels and Resorts, has its own flexible, transferrable program called Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG). The awarded points can be redeemed for travel booked through the SPG travel portal, and transferred to the following loyalty programs (unless otherwise noted, at a 1:1 ratio): Aegean Airlines, AeroMexico, Aeroplan, Air Berlin, Air China, Air New Zealand (65:1), Alaska Airlines, Alitalia, All Nippon Airways, American Airlines, Asia Miles, Asiana Airlines, British Airways, China Eastern, China Southern, Delta Air Lines, Emirates, Etihad, Air France KLM, GOL Airlines (2:1), Hainan Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, Japan Airlines, Jet Airways, Korean Air, LATAM Airlines (1:1.5), Avianca, Miles and More, Qatar, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways, United Airlines (2:1), Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Australia. Because of a recent merger, SPG points also have a reciprocal transfer benefit with Marriott and The Ritz-Carlton.

Chase Logo. Image Credit: courtesy of JPMorgan Chase Bank; Wikipedia via Sreejithk2000 (Public Domain).
JPMorgan Chase Bank, or Chase

Major branded partnerships: United Airlines, Southwest Airlines, British Airways, The Ritz-Carlton, Marriott, IHG, Hyatt, Amazon, AARP.

In addition to spending rewards awarded in the form of cash or loyalty program points/miles, Chase has its own flexible, transferrable program called Chase Ultimate Rewards (UR). The awarded points can be redeemed for cash or credits, gift cards, merchandise, travel booked through the Chase travel portal, and transferred to the following loyalty programs (at a 1:1 ratio):

British Airways, Air France KLM, Korean Air, Singapore Airlines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, Hyatt, IHG, Marriott, The Ritz-Carlton.

Bank of America Logo. Image Credit: courtesy of Bank of America; Wikipedia via EEIM (Public Domain).
Bank of America, or BofA

Major branded partnerships: Alaska Airlines, Spirit Airlines, Allegiant, Asiana, Virgin Atlantic, Amtrak, Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises, Major League Baseball.

 

 

Citibank Logo. Image Credit: courtesy of Citibank; Wikipedia via Kashmiri (Public Domain).
Citibank, or Citi

Major branded partnerships: American Airlines, Expedia, Costco, Hilton, AT&T.

In addition to spending rewards awarded in the form of cash or loyalty program points/miles, Citi has its own flexible, transferrable program called Citi ThankYou Rewards (TY). The awarded points can be redeemed for cash or credits, gift cards, merchandise, travel booked through the Citi travel portal, and transferred to the following loyalty programs (unless otherwise noted, at a 1:1 ratio):

Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, JetBlue (1:0.5), Asia Miles, Etihad, EVA Air, Air France KLM, Garuda Indonesia, Malaysia Airlines, Qantas, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways, Virgin America, Hilton (1:1.5), Sears Shop Your Way (1:12).

Capital One Logo. Image Credit: courtesy of Capital One; Wikipedia via Belugaperson (Fair Use).
Capital One

The company has no branded partnerships at this time.

 

 

 

 

Discover Card Logo. Image Credit: courtesy of Discover Bank; Wikipedia via Amitie (Public Domain).
Discover

Major branded partnerships: National Hockey League.

 

 

 

Wells Fargo Logo. Image Credit: courtesy of Wells Fargo; Wikipedia via Henry W. Schmitt (Public Domain).
Wells Fargo

The company has no branded partnerships at this time.

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. Bank Logo. Image Credit: courtesy of U.S. Bank (Fair Use).
U.S. Bank

Major branded partnerships: AeroMexico, Korean Air, LATAM Airlines, Fidelity, multiple retail cards.

 

 

barclaycard Logo. Image Credit: courtesy of Barclays and barclaycard; Wikipedia via Cloudbound (Fair Use).
Barclaycard (a division of Barclays), or barclaycard

Major branded partnerships: JetBlue, Hawaiian Airlines, Frontier, American Airlines, Wyndham, Choice, RCI, Diamond Resorts International, Holland America, Princess Cruises, Carnival, National Football League, Priceline, Upromise.

 

 


Other posts in the series, The Basics:

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