Abstract We consider high-order compact (HOC) schemes for quasilinear parabolic partial differential equations to discretise the Black–Scholes PDE for the numerical pricing of European and American options. We show that for the heat equation with smooth initial conditions, the HOC schemes attain clear fourth-order convergence but fail if non-smooth payoff conditions are used. To restore the fourth-order convergence, we use a grid stretching that concentrates grid nodes at the strike price for European options. For an American option, an efficient procedure is also described to compute the option price, Greeks and the optimal exercise curve. Comparisons with a fourth-order non-compact scheme are also done. However, fourth-order convergence is not experienced with this strategy. To improve the convergence rate for American options, we discuss the use of a front-fixing transformation with the HOC scheme. We also show that the HOC scheme with grid stretching along the asset price dimension gives accurate numerical solutions for European options under stochastic volatility.