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This article was last updated Sep 11, 2018. Terms and conditions may have changed. For the most accurate information, please consult 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|
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: Citi® Double Cash Card – 18 month BT offer
- Travel rewards: Chase Sapphire Reserve®
- Small-business owners: Capital One Spark Cash for Business
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
- Luxury and travel rewards: The Platinum Card® from American Express
- Small-business owners: The Blue Business® Plus Credit Card from American Express
The information related to The Amex EveryDay® Credit Card from American Express has been independently collected by CompareCards and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication. Terms apply to American Express credit card offers. See americanexpress.com for more information.