A guide to Visa credit cards
You likely think little about the labyrinthine system of payments and reimbursements that go into buying that Starbucks latte you grab every morning. See that little Visa logo on the front of your credit card? With it comes a contract that protects you every time you use the card. Depending on the benefits tier you have on your Visa card, you can enjoy everything from an auto rental collision damage waiver to various travel insurance offers and extended warranties. Whether you are trying to figure out which card network offers the best benefits or you want to know what to look for when picking out a Visa card, we can help. Here, we look at:
Whether you are trying to figure out which card network offers the best benefits or you want to know what to look for when picking out a Visa card, we can help.
Editor’s picks: Visa credit card details
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card: Best for routine Southwest flyers
Why we picked it: This is a solid airline credit card, offering frequent Southwest flyers a generous sign-up bonus, a decent anniversary bonus, baggage fee waivers and bonus points on Southwest flights and purchases with the airline’s car rental and hotel partners.
Pros: You can earn points (1X) on non-airline purchases, and you redeem rewards for a variety of options, including airfare, gift cards, merchandise, car rentals, cruises and hotel stays.
Cons: Unlike many travel or airline credit cards, this card charges a 3% foreign transaction fee, so it’s not suited for international travel. Southwest, in general, has limited options for international travel. You can only book rewards flights on Southwest; the airline does not have airline partners.
Who should apply? If you’re looking for a Southwest rewards credit card, but don’t want to shoulder a high annual fee, this card is your best bet as it charges the lowest annual fee ($69) in the Rapid Rewards line-up.
Who should skip? This is a card for Southwest flyers, so if you don’t fly with the carrier, consider a different airline or general purpose travel card. If you fly Southwest more frequently, you might be better served by the Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Credit Card, which charges a higher annual fee in exchange for more generous benefits. Learn how to determine the right Southwest credit card for you.
Read our Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card review.
Credit One Bank® Platinum Rewards Visa with No Annual Fee: Best for building credit
Why we picked it: With the Credit One Bank Platinum Rewards Visa, you can track your credit score online with a free Experian credit report each month and have your account regularly reviewed for a credit limit increase. Also, there’s no penalty APR for a late payment and some lucrative rewards available.
Pros: Enjoy 2% cash back on eligible purchases at grocery stores and gas stations, as well as cellphone, internet, and cable and satellite television services. Plus, through Credit One’s More Rewards program, the value of these rewards can be boosted by as much as 10% from participating merchants. Potential cardholders can also check for pre-qualification ahead of time to see if they’ll have access to things like zero fraud liability and a flexible payment schedule.
Cons: Although the $300 credit limit is meant to help new cardholders, this short limit could hurt your credit score through your utilization. Prioritizing good credit habits will give you the ability to increase your limit and help salvage your score in the long-term. Also, the card’s 23.99% (variable) APR is high, so it’s in cardholders’ best interest to avoid carrying a balance month to month.
Who should apply: Thanks to its well-rounded rewards and no annual fee, this is a great everyday-use card for anyone interested in earning cash back as you grow your credit. Check to prequalify ahead of time to avoid any harm on your credit score.
Read our Credit One Bank® Platinum Rewards Visa with No Annual Fee review.
Credit One Bank® Platinum Rewards Visa: Best credit-building + rewards
Why we picked it: This Visa credit card carries a competitive cash back rewards program, particularly for people with fair credit. Cardholders receive 5% cash back on eligible gas, groceries, cell phone services, internet, and cable or satellite TV service purchases (on first $5,000 in spending per year, then 1%). They also get 1% cash back on general purchases.
Pros: You can check if you pre-qualify online. Cardholders get access to free monthly online credit score monitoring. You may qualify for a higher credit limit with consistent responsible use.
Cons: Your initial credit limit will be low: $500 minus the annual fee. The card carries a $95 annual fee, which can eat into rewards earnings. It also touts a high APR (variable 23.99%), no matter your credit history.
Who should apply? This card is an option if you’re looking for rewards, but can’t yet qualify for a top-tier rewards credit card. It’s also an option if you have fair credit and are looking for an unsecured (vs. secured) credit card.
Read our Credit One Bank Platinum Rewards Visa review.
OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card: Best for low-interest + secured credit
Why we picked it: This Visa credit card offers a low interest rate (variable 17.39%), particularly for a secured credit card, which requires a refundable, upfront security deposit that serves as your credit limit.
Pros: The card’s $35 annual fee is also reasonable for this category. There’s no credit check to apply and all approved applicants will receive the same APR and credit limit range ($200 to $3,000). As such, your credit limit could be up to $3,000, if you have that much money to put down upfront.
Cons: Secured credit cards are designed to help people with no or bad credit build or rebuild their credit scores, so if you have good or even fair credit, you can likely qualify for a non-secured credit card. Unlike some secured credit cards, the Open Sky Secured Visa Credit Card doesn’t offer a path to graduate to an unsecured credit card. There’s also a $10 monthly inactive account fee, so you’ll need to use the credit card until you’re ready to close it.
Who should apply? If you have bad credit and are concerned about carrying a balance from time-to-time, this low-interest secured credit card is an option. (Learn more about the best secured credit cards.)
Read our OpenSky Secured Visa Credit Card review.
Upgrade Visa® Card with Cash Rewards: Best for automatic installment plan seekers
Why we picked it: This unique Visa card combines elements of a credit card with elements of a personal loan. Cardholders make purchases which are automatically rolled into an installment plan with a fixed monthly payment. You’re expected to pay the full balance back within a 12- to 60-month period at an interest rate between 8.99% to 29.99% (depending on your terms). This structure could spare you from overspending or underpaying your balance each month.
Pros: The card actually has a rewards program: You earn 1.5% cash back on card purchases every time you make a payment. It also doesn’t charge an annual fee, penalty fees or foreign transaction fees.
Cons: While many cardholders will enjoy a low APR, some may not, given the high-end of the APR range is variable 29.99%. If you don’t have a hard time keeping balances under control, you’re likely better served by a traditional cash back credit card. (Learn more about the best rewards credit cards.)
Who should apply? If you’ve struggled to manage your balances and make monthly payments in the past, this personal loan/ credit card hybrid could help you learn responsible use and rebuild your credit. It’s also a good option for someone looking to finance a large purchase and minimize the amount of interest they’ll pay.
Read our Upgrade Visa Card with Cash Rewards review.
Credit One Bank® Platinum Visa® for Rebuilding Credit: Best for fast application
Why we picked it: Not only does this card come with the ability to check if you prequalify on Credit One’s website, it accepts a generous range of credit scores (300 to 670) and doesn’t require a security deposit.
Pros: While there’s no set schedule, your account will be automatically reviewed for credit line increases – an essential when rebuilding credit. Another essential, you’ll have access to a free Experian credit score and report summary every month. Cardholders can also earn 1% cash back on eligible gas, grocery and phone service purchases.
Cons: The card features an annual fee of $75 for the first year, then $99 annually. Also, the card’s initial credit limit is low at just $300 and if you were to carry a balance, you’d potentially face a high APR (23.99% variable). If you have good or better credit, you can likely be accepted for a more valuable card with better rewards.
Who should apply: With low requirements for approval, perks for credit building and cash back rewards, this is a good starter card for those trying to climb towards good or excellent credit.
Read our Credit One Bank® Platinum Visa® for Rebuilding Credit review.
Marriott Bonvoy Bold™ Credit Card: Best for hotels
Why we picked it: Fans of the world’s largest hotel network will want to check in with this card, offering 3X points on purchases at Marriott Bonvoy properties, 2X points on travel purchases and 1X points on all other purchases. Cardholders can redeem points for a variety of hotel rewards and will also access a fast track to Marriott silver elite status, all while avoiding an annual fee.
Pros: The Marriott Bonvoy Bold will welcome you with open arms: they’ll give you 30,000 points after spending just $1,000 in your first 3 months. Plus, points can be combined with cash to pay for hotel stays, so earnings won’t sit idly and you won’t have to worry about meeting a minimum before redeeming. Additionally, the range of travel is wide with this card, as Marriott has destinations all over the world. To take advantage, points are transferable to more than 40 airline partners.
Cons: The rewards offered by the card aren’t as valuable as some other travel card options. Also, if you frequent other hotels outside of Marriott, a generic travel card could be a more useful addition to your wallet. Despite an array of redemption options for your points, hotel stays are the only worthwhile choice from a value standpoint.
Who should apply? If you tend to stay with Marriott, this could be a great choice for you. There’s no annual fee and a slew of hotel perks.
Read our Marriott Bonvoy Bold review.
Comparing the best Visa credit cards
|Credit card:||Best for||Annual fee||Our rating|
|Southwest Rapid Rewards® Plus Credit Card||Best for routine Southwest flyers||$69||3.8 / 5|
|Credit One Bank® Platinum Rewards Visa with No Annual Fee||Building credit||$0||3.2 / 5|
|Credit One Bank® Platinum Rewards Visa||Credit-building + rewards||$95||3.7 / 5|
|OpenSky® Secured Visa® Credit Card||Low-interest + secured credit||$35||3.0 / 5|
|Upgrade Visa® Card with Cash Rewards||Automatic installment plan seekers||$0||3.0 / 5|
|Credit One Bank® Platinum Visa® for Rebuilding Credit||Fast application||$75 first year, then $99 annually||2.4 / 5|
|Marriott Bonvoy Bold™ Credit Card||Hotels||$0||3.5 / 5|
What is Visa?
Launched in 1958, Visa is rivaled only by Mastercard as the leading card payment network. Unlike networks Discover and American Express, which also issue cards, Visa and Mastercard serve primarily as networks that connect cardholders and issuers with merchants. Issuers such as Chase and Barclaycard partner with Visa and Mastercard, with the network connecting to merchants and the issuer granting the card.
Where are Visa cards accepted? Are there limitations?
Visa cards are accepted in more than 200 territories and countries worldwide at more than 44 million merchants. An issuer generally can’t block all transactions from a specific location or merchant type. However, there are countrywide prohibitions in countries such as Iran, Sudan and Syria due to U.S. sanctions and other laws. Otherwise, Visa cards are accepted at most places and can be used on almost any purchase, including when checking out at Costco – a luxury exclusive to Visa.
How big is Visa? How many Visa cards are there?
Visa dominates most of the world market as a payment network. Let’s look at how Visa fares in the market:
- 1.14 billion credit cards in circulation
- 200+ countries and territories
- 15,900 financial institutions
- $11 trillion total volume
- 160+ currencies
- 46+ million merchant locations
Visa vs. Mastercard benefits
Being two of the powerhouse credit card networks, both Visa and Mastercard offer their own unique tier-systems with plentiful benefits.
With Visa, your status can improve from Traditional to Signature and finally to Infinite. Mastercard’s echelons start from Basic to World and onto World Elite status.
When looking at Visa vs. Mastercard, there’s a lot to sort through. Here’s how the perks break down at each level:
Visa Traditional vs. Mastercard Basic
These tiers both feature:
- 24-hour service
- Lost or stolen card reporting
- Emergency card replacement
- Emergency cash disbursement
- Zero liability
With Visa you’ll also get an auto rental collision damage waiver and roadside dispatch, some things Mastercard is yet to offer. On the other hand, Mastercard Basic offers ID theft protection, fuel rewards, price protection and an extended warranty.
Visa Signature vs. Mastercard World
Here’s where the perks really start to get extensive. At this tier you’ll get all the network’s benefits at the lower level, plus some that get Visa up to speed and several new features that start to differentiate the two.
Visa Signature benefits
- Price protection
- Extended warranty
- Access to high-end rentals
- Year-end summary
- Travel and emergency assistance
- Return protection
- Purchase security
- Travel accident insurance
- Trip cancellation
- Trip delay
- Lost luggage
Mastercard World benefits
- Access to high-end rentals
- Free shipping
- Priceless® experiences
- 24/7 concierge
- Hotel rate/stay guarantee
- Travel deals
- Airport concierge
Visa Infinite vs. Mastercard World Elite
The benefits at the Infinite and World Elite tiers almost mirror each network’s previous tiers, with a few differences. With Visa Infinite you’ll now have access to 24/7 concierge service and travel deals, and the only additional perk offered at the World Elite status is Trip Cancellation.
In the end, there’s no clear winner, but the key differences at the mid-to-upper tiers may impact your decision depending on what you’re looking for. Visa’s laundry list of benefits are centered around trip protection; making sure everything is okay with luggage, rental cars and in case there were ever an emergency. Mastercard’s perks tend to lean towards improving your experience, such as their Priceless® offers, airport concierge and free shipping.
What to think about when picking out a Visa credit card
- Look at the benefits level. Visa cards basically come in 3 tiers: Basic, Signature or Infinite. Each has benefits that accumulate – so the Signature and Infinite cards have the Basic features and then some.
- Look at the card issuer’s benefits. For example, while you can’t get Lost Luggage Reimbursement a Visa Signature, you might be able to get them through the card’s issuer.
- Review the rewards. When looking at Visa cards, take a look at the rewards offered by the card issuer, such as sign-up bonuses and ongoing purchase rewards.
- Study the annual fee. The card issuer may impose an annual fee, but it might be worth your while, depending on which Visa tier it has and what rewards the issuer offers.