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After a delayed flight or a long wait at baggage claim, the last thing you want to think about is whether you need your rental car company's insurance package. One way to skip this headache—and save a lot of money in the process—is to use a credit card you know provides good rental car insurance. Most rewards cards offer some kind of protection if you use one to pay for a rental car, but the coverage they provide varies widely from one card to another. We researched all the caveats, terms and exclusions of credit card rental car insurance policies to help you know which cards are best and what questions to ask before declining coverage at the rental desk.
Our Top Pick for Credit Card Rental Car Insurance: Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
What's Covered by Credit Card Rental Car Insurance?
Generally, rental car companies offer four basic types of coverage, which you need to accept or decline before you rent your vehicle. These include liability insurance (if you injure someone else), a collision damage waiver (if you damage the rental vehicle), personal accident insurance (if you're injured) and personal effects coverage (for the theft of your belongings).
Each of these types of coverage are important for different reasons, but they may already be included in your home, medical or auto insurance policies—if you have them—so you should check those policies to determine if you can waive coverage at the rental counter. "In some cases, the coverage applied to the rental is identical to what the insured has purchased, while in others situations there are only portions of the personal policy which will apply," said Chris Johnston, a personal injury attorney in the Minneapolis and Des Moines, Iowa, areas. "So save some money and learn what you have prior to renting."
As far as credit card benefits go, they usually only include one of these four types of insurance: the collision and comprehensive coverage.
When you go to pick up your car, you'll need to decide whether you want to pay for the rental company's collision damage waiver (CDW), sometimes called a loss damage waiver (LDW). This waiver releases you from financial responsibility for any damage done to the rental car itself while it's in your possession or for the loss of use of a rental vehicle if it's stolen.
For example, if your rental car window is smashed and your laptop is stolen out of the back seat, your CDW coverage would cover the car window, but not your laptop. To get reimbursed for your personal belongings, you'd need to file a claim under your personal effects coverage that you have through the rental company or through your home or renters insurance policy. Typically, an auto rental collision damage waiver costs around $9 to $19 per day.
If you own a credit card that offers free CDW coverage as part of its benefits, you might be able to avoid this cost.
Credit Card Car Rental Services at a Glance
|Credit Cards||All||All||Gold, Platinum, World and World Elite Cards|
|Period||15/31 days||30 days||15 days|
|Must Submit Claim Documents Within||90 days||180 days||180 days|
|Claims Contact||(800) 847-2911||(800) 338-1670 (domestic)
(216) 617-2500 (worldwide)
|Policy Details||More info||More info||More info|
Visa and Visa Signature reserves the right to deny claims that contain charges that could have been avoided had you immediately contacted the benefits administrator. There is also no coverage available for cars rented in Israel, Jamaica, Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Amex Platinum cards and the Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card offer better protections, including the $75,000 limit and personal property protections, and up to $5,000 in medical expense coverage. No coverage in Australia, Italy, New Zealand, Ireland, Israel and Jamaica.
Mastercard does not insure any cars rented in Australia, Italy, New Zealand, Ireland, Israel and Jamaica.
What's Typically Not Covered?
Liability, personal injury and personal effects are not protected by credit card auto rental insurance. Liability is probably the most important form of coverage. If another party files a lawsuit against you as a result of an accident (including people in your own vehicle), having no liability coverage could end up bankrupting you. Usually, your rental car company will offer you enough basic liability coverage to satisfy state minimum requirements.
You may also have the option to purchase supplemental liability coverage at an additional cost. Generally, accepting either of these forms of insurance will not disqualify you from your credit card auto rental insurance protection, since the two forms of coverage don't overlap. Still, it is always best to verify with your company beforehand to see if this applies to the credit card you’re using.
Additionally, certain types of vehicles will not be covered by most credit card companies. These generally include:
- Expensive cars: vehicles with a suggested retail market price above $50,000
- Antiques: any car that is over 20 years old or has not been manufactured in over 10 years
- Vans/trucks: vehicles capable of transporting more than 8 passengers (including limousines and RVs)
- Motorcycles/mopeds: vehicles with fewer than four wheels
In addition to the above, some companies will refuse to insure full-sized sports utility vehicles (SUVs). As with all the benefits listed here, it is best to contact your card provider to double check whether a vehicle you are planning to rent is covered.
Where you rent a car may also disqualify you from being covered. For example, your credit card usually won't cover you whenever you rent a vehicle in Israel or Australia.
As with all insurance policies, the details of what is and isn't covered are complicated and subject to changes. You should always call your credit card company before your trip to find out the exact details of your auto rental policy.
How to Get Rental Car Insurance Using a Credit Card
To take advantage of your credit card's free CDW coverage, you need to satisfy a few conditions. First, you usually need to be the primary account owner of that card, and the vehicle needs to be rented in your name. Second, you need to pay for the entire rental using that card. Third, you must decline CDW/LDW offered by the rental company.
However, it's important to note that many cards only offer supplemental or secondary CDW coverage, meaning you'd need to file a claim with your primary insurer first—if you have one. For example, if you carry your own auto insurance policy, that would constitute your primary insurer, even if you're renting a car in a different state. In this case, if you got into an accident in a rental car, you'd need to file a claim with your own insurance company first, and any costs left over after that claim, such as your deductible, may then be covered by your credit card company.
For people in this situation, secondary coverage is still great to have. Assuming you never need to file a claim in the first place, having secondary coverage will enable you to avoid paying the rental company's CDW fee. But it's far less valuable than primary coverage, because if you do have to file an accident claim with your auto insurance company, it will almost certainly result in a long-term increase in your auto insurance premiums. This means the secondary coverage offered by most credit cards is a lot more valuable to people who don't have any form of primary insurance, and who aren't at risk of increasing their personal premiums.
If you do have your own auto insurance policy, you frequently rent vehicles and you'd like coverage from your credit card, you should apply for a card that offers primary rental car insurance. Currently, Chase and Amex provide the best options for primary rental car insurance, with our favorite being the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card.
American Express Premium Car Rental Protection
American Express offers extended rental car insurance at a fee—$19.95/$24.95 per rental period. If you’re renting a car for one day, the insurance offered by the rental company will generally cost you less. But if you're renting a vehicle for two or more days, the American Express Premium Car Rental Protection starts to pay off.
Amex Premium Car Rental Insurance is different from the coverage offered by most other credit cards due to the fact that it covers more and acts as the primary insurance. With Amex Premium, you can get coverage for up to $100,000 for damage or theft of the rented vehicle, $100,000 in the event of an accidental death or dismemberment, up to $15,000 for secondary medical expenses per person and up to $5,000 for secondary personal property damage. This premium insurance will not cover damages you do to other parties in the event of an accident, nor will it cover any legal expenses that result from it (no liability coverage).
Unless you want to avoid filing a claim with your auto insurance company, this coverage is a hard sell to individuals who already have personal coverage. Liability coverage, which is not part of this policy, is often the thing individuals worry about the most, given the costs involved in the event of a lawsuit. If you'll be transporting a valuable item (worth up to $5,000) in your rental vehicle, and you're worried about it being stolen, then the secondary property coverage may be worthwhile—though we envision this being specific to only a few individuals.
Note that California and Washington State cardholders are subject to slightly different coverage amounts and lengths. For a full list of up-to-date details on this plan, visit Amex’s website.
Best Credit Card for Car Rental
The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card Review is our favorite card for frequent renters. Not only does it come with primary coverage and no international restrictions but its rewards program is also one of the best on the market. WIth the Chase Ultimate Rewards program, you can redeem the points you earn for airfare, hotel reservations, auto rentals, cash back and more. The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card also allows you to choose between a personal and business account—an important distinction if you're traveling for business purposes.
For rental cars, the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card provides CDW coverage up to the cash value of most rental vehicles.
Other Top Picks
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
- Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year. From 6/1/20 through 6/30/21, gas station & grocery store purchases will also count towards earning your Travel Credit
- 3X points on travel immediately after earning your $300 travel credit. 3X points on dining at restaurants including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
- Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards. For example, 50,000 points are worth $750 toward travel
- With Pay Yourself Back℠, your points are worth 50% more during the current offer when you redeem them for statement credits against existing purchases in select, rotating categories
- 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
- Access to 1,000+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®
- Earn 3x total points on up to $1,000 in grocery store purchases per month from November 1, 2020 to April 30, 2021. Includes eligible pick-up and delivery services
Similar to the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card Review card gives you primary coverage both in the U.S. and internationally, and you'll also gain access to the comprehensive and flexible Ultimate Rewards program. While the Chase Sapphire Reserve® comes with a higher $550 annual fee, its sign-up bonus, travel credit and rewards rate more the cover this cost. This card is a great option for frequent travelers who think they'll take advantage of all of the card's travel perks.
Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card
- New Offer! Earn 100k bonus points after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,250 toward travel when redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- Earn 3 points per $1 on the first $150,000 spent on travel and select business categories each account anniversary year
- Earn 1 point per $1 on all other purchases—with no limit to the amount you can earn
- Points are worth 25% more when you redeem for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards
- Redeem points for travel, cash back, gift cards and more - your points don't expire as long as your account is open
- No foreign transaction fees
- Employee cards at no additional cost
- $95 Annual Fee
The Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card will pay up to $75,000 in CDW coverage for rental vehicles—far more than is necessary in most cases.
The Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card is another great option for people traveling for business purposes. It comes with one of the highest sign-up bonuses available, plus Earn 3 points per $1 on the first $150,000 spent in combined purchases on travel, shipping purchases, Internet, cable and phone services, advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines each account anniversary year. Earn 1 point per $1 on all other purchases—with no limit to the amount you can earn. However, if you're looking for a comparable card with $0 annual fee, see the Ink Business Cash® Credit Card, below.
The Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card provides CDW coverage up to the cash value of most rental vehicles.
Ink Business Cash® Credit Card
13.24% - 19.24% Variable
- Earn $750 bonus cash back after you spend $7,500 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
- Earn 5% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on internet, cable and phone services each account anniversary year
- Earn 2% cash back on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants each account anniversary year
- Earn 1% cash back on all other card purchases with no limit to the amount you can earn
- 0% introductory APR for 12 months on purchases
- Employee cards at no additional cost
- No Annual Fee
The Ink Business Cash® Credit Card is another great option for small businesses. Generally, the card's travel perks and sign-up bonus aren't as attractive as those offered by the Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card. However, it makes up for it by charging $0 annual fee, and if your business commonly spends in certain categories, such as office supplies, using this card can actually earn you more cash in the long run.
The Ink Business Cash® Credit Card provides CDW coverage up to the cash value of most rental vehicles.
Frequently Asked Questions
That depends on your card. In most cases, the coverage provided by credit cards is secondary, meaning you'd need to file a claim with your primary insurer first. However, some cards, such as the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card Review, do offer primary coverage, so you should get in touch with your credit card company to find out exactly how you're covered.
Generally, three things are necessary for coverage to apply:
- The name(s) of primary cardholder and the driver at the time of the accident needs to be listed on the rental agreement.
- You must pay for the entire rental with that card.
- You must decline the CDW offered by the rental company.
However, different companies may treat the first requirement differently. Sometimes family members who are approved drivers are also covered, and sometimes they're not. Check with your credit card company to find out exactly who's covered before you let anyone else drive.
Credit card coverage usually only applies to damage done to the rental vehicle itself, or for the loss of its use if it is stolen or receiving repairs. Credit card coverage won't pay for injuries, liability lawsuits or personal property in the vehicle. As always, check your benefits statement or ask a company representative for specific details.
Typically not. You should check your benefits statement for a list of covered vehicles, but usually, luxury cars, motorcycles and large vehicles, such as a U-Haul or 15-passenger van, are excluded. You also may not be covered if you're using the vehicle for business.
Different coverage limits apply to different cards, but typically, you won't be covered for more than 15 days in-country and 31 days internationally.
Whether you're covered overseas will depend on your card and the country you're traveling to. For example, Visa won't cover rentals in Israel, Jamaica, Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Mastercard excludes any cars rented in Australia, Italy, New Zealand, Ireland, Israel and Jamaica. And Amex declines coverage for rentals in Australia, Italy, New Zealand, Ireland, Israel and Jamaica.
If you're not already insured, the coverage provided by your credit card and the rental company are even more important. Typically, any secondary coverage provided by a credit card will become primary coverage if no other primary form of insurance is in place. However, make sure you accept the other forms of coverage provided by the rental company, such as its liability insurance, to make sure you're adequately protected.
You should contact a representative at your credit card company immediately and ask for instructions on what steps to follow. Generally, you'll need a copy of the police report (if there is one), a copy of the accident report from the rental company, your rental contract, an official repair estimate and photographs of the damage.
At this time, Discover has suspended all coverage for rental vehicles. If you frequently rent cars and are concerned about coverage, you should use one of the cards above to pay for your reservation.
The information related to the Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card and Ink Business Cash® Credit Card has been independently collected by ValuePenguin and has not been reviewed or provided by the issuer of this card prior to publication.