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Why Isn’t American Express Accepted Everywhere?

Why Isn’t American Express Accepted Everywhere?

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This article was last updated Sep 11, 2018, but some terms and conditions may have changed or are no longer available. For the most accurate and up to date information please consult the terms and conditions found on the issuer website.

If you have an American Express credit card, you may have been in the awkward situation where you go to use your card to pay but the merchant said it couldn’t accept it. While that may not happen regularly, it can create issues if an Amex card is the only form of payment you typically carry.

Here’s a look at why Amex isn’t accepted everywhere, as well as which cards from different networks have wider acceptance.

Why don’t some merchants accept Amex cards?

It’s a pretty simple answer: to save money. Amex cards charge the highest merchant processing fees of any network at an average of 2.33% per transaction. Since the fees are higher, merchants (especially small businesses) may shy away from accepting Amex cards because the high fees cut into their profits.

To put Amex’s merchant processing fees in perspective, here’s a comparison of how it stacked up to other issuers such as Visa, Mastercard and Discover in 2017:

Network Average Merchant Fee
American Express 2.33%
Visa/Mastercard 2.17%
Discover 2.09%

Source: 2018 The Nilson Report

Last year, the average merchant processing fees totaled 2.20% for American Express, Visa, Mastercard and Discover. Amex came in with the highest fee at 2.33%. For businesses, the higher fees Amex charges can add up and cut into profits.

What are merchant processing fees?

Merchant processing fees (aka swipe fees, merchant fees or interchange fees) are the costs merchants incur when you use a credit card to make a purchase. Each time your card is swiped, inserted, tapped or manually inputted, the merchant is charged a fee that is a percentage of your total purchase.

This fee is set by the networks — American Express, Visa, Mastercard and Discover — and often varies by merchant because of several factors, including industry, transaction type and what type of card you hold.

For example, Visa charges different fees for its different types of cards — Visa Signature®, Visa Infinite® and Traditional Rewards, as well as whether the transaction was “retail key entry,” “card not present” or “e-commerce,” among other reasons.

Why are Amex’s merchant processing fees so high?

The reason Amex charges high merchant fees can be linked to the enhanced benefit cardholders receive from its cards. Amex is known for offering premium rewards and value, and Amex cardholders tend to spend more money as a result.

Specifically, an Amex representative stated that its cardholders tend to spend an average of more than three times the amount of non-Amex cardholders. Therefore, transactions made with Amex cards can be more profitable for merchants, compared to transactions from other cards.

It’s also key to note that Amex’s merchant processing fees have declined over the years. This can be attributed to various strategic efforts, including reaching parity in the U.S., a representative stated.

Several years ago, Amex mentioned a goal of reaching equal merchant acceptance with Visa and Mastercard in the U.S. by 2019, and it is making good progress on that goal. Nilson Report data showed Amex has expanded the number of merchant locations from 6.4 million in 2013 to 9 million in 2017. And Amex data showed that within the last 12 months, it added 1.5 million new U.S. locations accepting its cards.

A wider merchant acceptance can help both consumers and merchants. Consumers will be able to use their Amex cards at more U.S. locations, and merchants can benefit from lower merchant processing fees.

Keep alternative payment options handy

Since Amex cards aren’t accepted everywhere, it’s a good idea to keep a card backed by another network, such as Visa or Mastercard, in your wallet. We don’t recommend carrying a Discover card as your backup since it also has limited acceptance.

Here are some cards you can carry as a backup:

Flat-rate cash back:

  • Earn 2% cash back on purchases: 1% when you buy plus 1% as you pay

  • 0% for 18 months on Balance Transfers*

  • 15.49% - 25.49%* (Variable)

Highlights
  • Earn 2% cash back on purchases: 1% when you buy plus 1% as you pay
  • Balance Transfers do not earn cash back
  • 0% Intro APR on Balance Transfers for 18 months. After that, the variable APR will be 15.49% - 25.49% based on your creditworthiness*
  • No categories to track, no caps on cash back, no annual fee*

See additional details for Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer

More Info

Travel rewards:

  • Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

  • 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. $0 foreign transaction fees.

  • $300 Annual Travel Credit, Airport Lounge Access, and Flexible Redemption Options

Highlights
  • Earn 50K bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Named 'Best Premium Travel Credit Card' for 2018 by MONEY® Magazine
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. $0 foreign transaction fees.
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,000+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select
  • Up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®

See additional details for Chase Sapphire Reserve®

More Info

Small-business owners:

  • 2% Cash Back on every purchase, every day

  • Earn up to $2,000. Earn a $500 cash bonus when you spend $5,000 in the first 3 months of opening your account. Plus, earn $1,500 when you spend $50,000 in the first 6 months. Limited Time Offer

  • Redeem cash back for any amount at any time

Highlights
  • Earning unlimited 2% cash back could mean thousands of dollars each year going back into your business
  • Earn up to $2,000. Earn a $500 cash bonus when you spend $5,000 in the first 3 months of opening your account
  • Plus, earn $1,500 when you spend $50,000 in the first 6 months. Limited Time Offer
  • Use Spark Cash across all your business spend, with no categories to limit your purchasing
  • $0 intro annual fee for the first year; $95 after that
  • Rewards won't expire for the life of the account, and you can redeem your cash back for any amount
  • Get employee cards at no additional cost, and earn rewards from their business spend

See additional details for Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business

More Info

If you don’t have an Amex card and are considering opening one, here are our top picks for various categories:

Rewards and balance transfers:

The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express

The information related to The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express has been collected by CompareCards and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.

Luxury and travel rewards:

  • 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.*

  • Up to $200 per calendar year in baggage fees & more at one qualifying airline*

  • No foreign transaction fees & exclusive airport lounge access*

Highlights
  • Earn 60,000 Membership Rewards® points after you use your new Card to make $5,000 in purchases in your first 3 months.
  • Enjoy Uber VIP status and free rides in the U.S. up to $15 each month, plus a bonus $20 in December. That can be up to $200 in annual Uber savings.
  • 5X Membership Rewards® points on flights booked directly with airlines or with American Express Travel.
  • 5X Membership Rewards points on prepaid hotels booked on amextravel.com.
  • Enjoy access to the Global Lounge Collection, the only credit card airport lounge access program that includes proprietary lounge locations around the world.
  • Receive complimentary benefits with an average total value of $550 with Fine Hotels & Resorts. Learn More.
  • $200 Airline Fee Credit, up to $200 per calendar year in baggage fees and more at one qualifying airline.
  • Get up to $100 in statement credits annually for purchases at Saks Fifth Avenue on your Platinum Card®. Enrollment required.
  • $550 annual fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees

See additional details for The Platinum Card® from American Express

More Info

Small-business owners:

  • 0% for 15 Months, then 13.24% - 21.24% Variable

  • Earn 2X points on everyday business purchases up to the annual cap

  • Enjoy the flexibility to put more purchases on the Card

Highlights
  • Get rewarded for business as usual. Earn 2X points on everyday business purchases such as office supplies or client dinners.
  • 2X applies to the first $50,000 in purchases per year, 1 point per dollar thereafter.
  • Enjoy the flexibility to put more purchases on the Card and earn rewards when you buy above your credit limit*.
  • More buying power for your business* means more opportunities to earn points. That’s everyday business with the new Blue Business Plus Card.
  • *The amount you can spend above your credit limit is not unlimited. It adjusts with your use of the Card, your payment history, credit record, financial resources known to us, and other factors.
  • 0.0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months, then a variable rate, currently 13.24%, 17.24% or 21.24%, based on your creditworthiness and other factors as determined at the time of account opening.
  • No Annual Fee
  • Terms Apply
  • See Rates & Fees

See additional details for The Blue Business℠ Plus Credit Card from American Express

More Info


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