Virtual cards vs. physical credit cards: Which to use?

At Capital One, we are constantly innovating to make online shopping easier and more secure. Take virtual cards, for instance. Virtual cards can be a great way to shop online with added security and convenience. But there are times when using your actual credit card may make more sense. While there are plenty of benefits to virtual cards, you may find yourself wondering, “How do I know which to use? And when?” 

Learn when to use your actual card number and when to use a virtual card, along with the benefits of each. 

Key takeaways

  • A virtual card can be a convenient option for making online purchases quickly and easily.

  • Virtual cards come with unique numbers that are linked to your credit card account that allow you to keep your actual card number private online.

  • You may need to use your actual credit card number if you are purchasing something that will require your physical card as verification, like an airline ticket or hotel reservation.

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What’s the difference between a virtual card and a physical card?

The main difference between a virtual card and a physical card is that a virtual card is a randomly generated card linked to your credit card account but has no corresponding physical card. Virtual card numbers work much like your physical card number but may deliver added security and convenience when online shopping. 

For example, when you use a virtual card to pay online, you avoid sharing your physical card number with stores, adding an extra layer of security to your credit card account. Virtual cards also give you added control. You can lock and unlock your virtual cards with ease, without affecting your other spending. And you can use dedicated virtual cards for different online stores, allowing you to quickly autofill store-specific virtual card numbers for quicker and easier checkout.

How to get a virtual card for your Capital One credit card

You can access or generate virtual cards in a number of different ways: through the Capital One Mobile app, the Eno browser extension or when using Google Pay™ on Chrome or in Android apps. 

  • Capital One Mobile app. Your virtual card is available 24/7 in the Capital One Mobile app. Sign in to your account through the mobile app or online to access it.

  • Eno browser extension. If shopping on a desktop computer, you can download the Eno browser extension and Eno will generate virtual cards for stores online. You can create a virtual card number for each individual store, and Eno will automatically save it for the next time you shop at that store.  

  • Google Pay on Chrome or in Android apps. Customers using an eligible Capital One credit card with Google Pay on Chrome or in Android apps can use virtual cards. Simply choose a virtual card from the autofill dropdown menu at checkout to complete your purchase.

When to use virtual cards from Capital One

There are various scenarios when you may opt to use a virtual card instead of your actual credit card: 

  • When you want added security: When shopping at an online store you’re not familiar with, using a virtual card may grant you extra peace of mind, allowing you to use a virtual card number instead of sharing your actual card number with the store when entering your payment information. 

  • When you want more convenience: Instead of having to find your physical Capital One credit card when you’re ready to make a purchase online, you can use a virtual card instead. You can easily access your virtual card through the Capital One Mobile app. Or, if you’re shopping on your desktop, either the Eno browser extension or Google Pay on Chrome can make it easy to create or use a virtual card at checkout without needing your physical card on hand. 

  • When you lose your physical card: If you lose your physical card, you can still use your existing virtual cards to shop online while waiting for your new card to arrive or create new virtual cards for specific stores. 

  • When paying for subscriptions: You can create virtual cards for each of your subscription services and set them to autopay. This way, you can enjoy uninterrupted access to your subscriptions even if your actual card number changes.

When to use your actual credit card from Capital One 

While virtual cards are useful, there are circumstances when you may want to use your actual credit card instead. These include:

  • When shopping in stores: Currently, virtual cards may only be used for online or over-the-phone purchases.

  • When making a reservation: Certain types of reservations may require you to verify your actual credit card number or present your physical card at the time of service. Examples include checking into a hotel, picking up a rental car, or picking up tickets at will call. 

  • When requesting a refund from certain stores: While less common these days, certain stores still require you to enter your physical credit card into a card reader to issue a refund, which may be more complicated if you made the purchase using a virtual card.

Virtual card vs. physical credit card in a nutshell

When deciding whether to use a virtual card or your actual credit card, you’ll want to consider the situation at hand. Virtual cards offer an added layer of security when checking out online. But some kinds of purchases may require you to present your card to verify your identity. In these instances, you may want to use your physical card instead. 

Learn more about the benefits of shopping online with virtual cards from Capital One.

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