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I'm travelling to Wales (Snowdonia) and England (Cotswolds) this year and have no other credit card than an AMEX.

I know that for example in eastern europe, the AMEX is not widely accepted.

How about UK? Will I have problems using the AMEX there for everyday use compared to other credit cards?

  • 2
    @eckes: Even in some of the major cities in the US I quite often run into places that don't take American Express (probably 10-20% of the places I go to). So I'm confused why you're expecting GB to be any better. Are you wondering whether you will always be able to find alternative shops where you can pay for a similar thing using AmEx, or are you wondering whether you are likely to encounter any shops that don't take AmEx? These are not the same question. – Mehrdad Jan 29 '17 at 22:38
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    Worth mentioning if it's a chip and pin, or contactless card. – Brian Drummond Jan 29 '17 at 23:39
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    It's not a regional thing, at least not specifically. American Express charges a higher merchant fee than other credit cards. Any business operating with thin profit margins will be motivated to refuse it because they may not be left with any profit on a given transaction. Alternatively, they may choose to add a surcharge (not sure how well that goes over with either consumers or AMEX) to build some profit back into the transaction. A wise idea might be to get another card from one of the other majors as a back-up. – Anthony X Jan 30 '17 at 0:32
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    @AnthonyX Amex don't allow surcharges over the cash price. If you complain to Amex they'll refund it. – Calchas Jan 30 '17 at 1:29
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    @alephzero Amex isn't a credit card, it's a charge card. You're expected to pay off the full balance every month. It's a convenient means of payment, not of borrowing money. But note that Amex also do Amex-branded credit cards these days. – Mike Scott Jan 30 '17 at 11:52
30

Whether you have problems or not depends on where you are and what kind of shops you like to go to.

In central London where I live and work, there is no problem, it is accepted as widely as any other card. I think only my barber and butcher do not take Amex, but they both prefer cash anyway. In my daily routine of the pubs, supermarkets, restaurants, coffee shops, and the local yoga club that I frequent, I find they are all very happy to accept Amex.

When I visit my parents who live in a village by the sea, one restaurant and one pub (a chain) accepts Amex, the other shops, pubs and restaurants do not. The chain supermarkets nationwide do accept Amex, except for the "discounters" like Aldi and Lidl.

When I lived in York, a city in the north of England, it was essentially only restaurants who accepted amex, except for chain stores.

Outside of major city centres, you tend to find that Amex acceptance is reserved to either relatively high affluence shops and restaurants or to nationwide chains who have significant bargaining power.

I would advise you to bring some cash if you have no access to a Visa card or a MasterCard.

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    Being bought drinks by an American colleague in a UK pub, the barmaid had to literally blow the dust off the mag-stripe card machine as a card without a chip is very rare. Some merchants may not even have one. – Stop Harming Monica Jan 30 '17 at 11:04
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    I have less luck with Amex in London when I go there for work. Many restaurants do NOT take AMEX and you often see "no AMEX" on the restaurant door. A hotel recently charged my a 3% surcharge for using AMEX (instead of VISA or MC). The only reason why I still try to use it, is that it's a corporate card, but I do end up with a fair bit of charges on my personal MC – Hilmar Jan 30 '17 at 11:43
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    @OrangeDog My Amex is chip and pin with contactless (it is a UK-issued card, not US-issued; but Amex US will issue a chip & signature card if you ask). Most POS terminals should support magstripe in order to serve disabled customers who cannot use chip & pin as well as foreign customers. – Calchas Jan 30 '17 at 11:56
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    @Calchas this is for OP's (and other Americans's) benefit, who are more likely to not have chipped cards. – Stop Harming Monica Jan 30 '17 at 11:58
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    @OrangeDog Most American cards are chip cards these days. – reirab Jan 30 '17 at 20:52
16

I live in the UK and have both Amex and Visa cards. I prefer to use the Amex, because I get BA Avios with the card, so if I can use the card, I will. I'd looked for some concrete statistics for the country as a whole, but like pnuts, I found them hard to come by; it's possible they're considered commercially confidential. So I looked back over my budget book for the past two years, where essentially each purchase has a line item on the credit cards page.

In the same period, I have made 147 purchases on my Visa card, and 395 purchases on my Amex card. That suggests that 70-75% of the places I make card purchases accepted Amex.

This should be taken with a grain of salt for various reasons. It's just one person's data, and I live in Cambridge, which is a fairly affluent and touristy area; if I lived in somewhere less so, I would expect Amex acceptance rates to fall off. But two years of hard spending data (that's hard data on spending, not data on hard spending; I'm fairly tight-fisted) suggest that the traditional picture, that nearly noone in the UK takes Amex, is no longer true.

I would add one further caveat, which is that I have found that contactless acceptance of Amex is very poor; less than half the terminals I try (at retailers who take Amex) will process the card. But you can always get round that by going chip-and-PIN.

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    Amex contactless uses its own system which the POS manufacturer has to implement. That's why some places will accept Amex and contactless but not both together. – Calchas Jan 29 '17 at 22:27
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    @pnuts I don't use any card for food shopping; our budget scheme uses cash for that, so I can dismiss that as a possibility. Feel free to suggest other confounding factors - as I said, this is just one person's data, and should be taken with a pinch of salt. But at least it is data. – MadHatter supports Monica Jan 29 '17 at 22:27
  • @Calchas thank you for that. I have long suspected something of the kind, but had no hard information. – MadHatter supports Monica Jan 29 '17 at 22:30
  • @MadHatter There's PayWave (Visa), PayPass (MasterCard) and ExpressPay (Amex), all slightly different. – Calchas Jan 29 '17 at 22:40
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Of all the cards I have, AmEx is the least accepted - many shops just will not touch it. Those that do usually make an extra charge. Ten years ago it was a minor nuisance, but now up and down the country it is actually accepted in less of the places I would go to (shops, pubs, small hotels etc)

Larger hotel chains do tend to accept it, as do many restaurants, but Visa or MasterCard are a much safer bet. And London is slightly better than the rest of the country, but not much.

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    Exception to the hotels chains, discovered the other day: Accor (Ibis, Mercure etc.) inthe UK don't take Amex online (I don't know if they do at the desk) – Chris H Jan 30 '17 at 9:12
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    @ChrisH Some do, it seems to vary from hotel to hotel if they accept it online or not. (One Mercure I visit quite often does, but many others I try don't) – Gagravarr Jan 30 '17 at 10:13
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In Wales!

Cash is king.

Amex will be pointless. (It's not even ubiquitously accepted in London amongst smaller retailers). I'd even be hesitant to recommend MasterCard.

Even if places do take Amex, they'll hate you for it (because of the costs). If a place is running on 6% margins, then that's half their profit eaten away. Tip more generously if you use Amex.

(You'll be expected to tip better if you have an american accent, anyway -- especially with the GBP so weak against the USD right now).

And -- don't even bother embarrassing yourself if you haven't got a chip and PIN version.

  • Last time I was in Wales, card acceptable seemed to be ubiquitous. Although I wasn't using Amex. – Robin Salih Dec 7 at 21:09
-1

I find Amex the least accepted card outside major stores.To be comfortable I would suggest you get yourself a Visa or Mastercard,both of which Are widely accepted.

  • In Cambridge, it's not well accepted among restaurants – Dr_Hope May 26 at 10:19

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