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Insurance is a proven bad investment. How do insurance companies stay in business? The same way that a casino continues to operate day in and day out — they have a slight edge. That edge keeps insurance companies profitable.

While the idea of paying for insurance should make anyone shudder, at least a little, it does provide a sometimes necessary safety net. The shocking thing with travel insurance is that you may be purchasing an inferior product that might not cover what you really want, and your desired coverage might already be something you have through one of your credit cards.

Delayed Flight
photo credit: Jobopa Turkey Istanbul Ataturk Airport via photopin (license)

This isn't a junky throw-away benefit, but rather something that doesn't get a lot of attention because it isn't sexy — unless you read the fine print. With that said, we've looked at a few of the top travel rewards cards, and have identified which we think are the best options out there for travel protection and insurance that comes at no additional cost to you. You get these benefits just by being a cardmember.

Top Cards For Travel Insurance & Protection

Our top picks in order with a few summarized bullet points on why these cards stand out are below. Review the benefits guide and contact your benefits administrator for clarification on any benefit.

#1 – Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

  • Lowest annual fee of the group
  • You don't pay to add authorized users who receive the same benefits/protection as the primary card account holder
  • Primary Rental Car Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) included globally without country exclusion
  • Trip Interruption/Cancellation – up to $10,000/trip and covers personal illness of you, your traveling companion or immediate family that may not be traveling with you. If you're worried about someone you care for getting ill — this covers you!
  • Trip Delay Reimbursement – up to $500 if you're delayed for 12+ hours or overnight. If you're not otherwise compensated for a hotel, rental car, meals, this has you covered.
  • Baggage Delay – $100/day for up to 5 days ($500 total) to cover clothes and toiletries if your bag is 6+ hours delayed
  • Lost Luggage – Up to $3,000/trip/person
  • Travel Accident Insurance – Probably something you're not buying, but if something happens coverage of up to $500,000/person is provided at no cost
  • Coverage applies when you use Ultimate Rewards to pay or the card for all or part of your travel
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred Benefits Guide

#2 – Chase Sapphire Reserve®

  • Almost identical coverage to the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card with some enhancements
  • Authorized users are $75/person
  • Trip Delay Reimbursement – Kicks in after 6+ hours of delay (instead of 12)
  • Travel Accident Insurance – Caps out at $1,000,000 (instead of $500,000)
  • Emergency Evacuation & Transportation – If you need to be transported for emergency medical reasons you're covered up to $100,000.
  • Emergency Medical & Dental Benefit – Yes, medical and dental coverage. Up to $2,500 if you need to head to a hospital, clinic, or receive other medical/dental services while traveling that wouldn't be already covered by your insurance provider.
  • Sapphire Reserve Guide to Benefits

This card would be ranked #1, however, it has a much higher annual fee and authorized users are $75 each.

#3 – Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card

  • Similar coverage to the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card – exceptions noted:
  • Benefits may extend to employees of the company even if they don't have a card
  • Primary CDW with Rental Cars – Only for business travel. Coverage is secondary with personal travel (remember, this is a business credit card)
  • Trip Interruption/Cancellation – Up to $5,000
  • Ink Preferred Benefits Guide

#4 – Citi Prestige® Card

  • Rental Car CDW is Secondary in the United States, Primary internationally
  • Coverage applies when you use ThankYou Points to pay or the card for all or part of your travel
  • Medical Evacuation – up to $100,000
  • Trip Interruption/Cancellation – Up to $5,000/traveler. Note: Coverage includes if you have a sick pet as well.
  • Trip Delay Protection – Up to $500 for a 6-hour delay
  • Baggage Delay Protection – Up to $500 if your bags arrive 6+ hours after you
  • Lost Baggage Protection – $3,000/bag ($2,000 for NY residents)
  • Travel Accident Insurance – Up to $1,000,000/person
  • Citi Prestige Benefits Guide

#5 – Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®

  • Rental Car CDW is Secondary in the US and Primary internationally
  • Coverage applies when you use your card to pay for all or part (if the rest is covered by rewards from another program) of your travel
  • Trip Interruption/Cancellation – Up to $5,000/traveler
  • Trip Delay Protection – Up to $300 for a 6+ hour delay
  • Baggage Delay Protection – Up to $100 per day if your bags arrive 12+ hours after you
  • Travel Accident Insurance – Up to $250,000/person
  • Barclaycard Arrival Plus Guide to Benefits

We also covered a more in-depth comparison of the Sapphire Preferred and Sapphire Reserve benefits as well.

American Express Cards

Until recently, Amex cards struggled against the competition when it came to insurance benefits, however, Amex refreshed the coverage on almost all of its cards and the coverage is slowly gaining on that of Chase, Citi, and Barclaycard. The changes affect too many cards to list, but you can catch them all on a dedicated page of the Amex website.

One of the biggest changes was the adjustments to the Rental Car Coverage. Amex provides secondary coverage across the most credit cards but also supplies primary coverage for a flat fee. Amex charges a one-off payment of $19.95 – $24.95 per rental which covers you up to 42 days. The policy covers you for up to $100K in almost any car including luxury vehicles, SUV’s, and pickup trucks.

You can opt-in to the program on the Premium Car Rental Protection page. You'll be presented with a couple of options when signing up for the Amex coverage. No need to pay anything upfront, the payment comes off automatically after you rent a car and will continue to do so each time you hire a car until you unregister your account.

Why Other Cards Didn't Make the List

  • They don't offer primary CDW insurance on rental cars

Almost every travel-related credit card we've looked at offers some form of rental car protection and most of them provide secondary coverage. This means the coverage kicks in after your own personal insurance. Ideally, you don't want to involve your insurance at all, which is why primary CDW coverage is a big deal.

If your card doesn't explicitly call out that the coverage is primary, which would be a selling point, it is reasonably safe to assume that the coverage is secondary.

  • They don't offer trip & baggage delay

This is a great perk, and if your bags don't show up, you'll have to go shopping. It's a logical protection to have.

  • They require you put the full amount of your travel on the card and don't cover if you pay with points

If you've got a diverse set of points and miles, you're likely using points from one or more programs to pay. Credit card issuers need to realize this.

  • They're just not as good

These cards provide the best in class benefits — others just don't stand up.

Don't Ignore These Benefits

You pay nothing for any of these benefits. Sure, each of these cards has an annual fee, but when calculating the value of these cards, we'd venture a guess that you didn't look at some of these benefits.

Knowing about these benefits now, do they have you thinking about which card you use when you purchase your travel? It isn't all about 2x, 3x, or 5x points — even though these cards are some of the best for earning as well.

Is there are a card you think belongs on this list that we left out? Let us know in the comments.

Best Credit Cards for Free Travel Insurance (Updated November 2018)
4.8 (96%) 10 votes
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Comments

  • Thanks for the list. The Chase Sapphire cards seem to be recommended by everyone.

  • I did not know of some of these benefits on my card for travel insurance. Thank you. So happy I read this post!!!

  • Great info. Primary car insurance is a big deal. (But don’t be a dope like me and forget to file a claim right away. Some cards have a very short time limit for filing a claim and, if you miss it like I once did, there’s no grace for you.)

  • The Citi Prestige is on my list “want to get” credit cards since I already have 2 out of the 3 Chase cards. The diverse set of points and miles is a definite advantage to the cards that let you pay with the card or with points/miles and still be covered by the insurance and is a definite distinction to make between lesser cards. So far all of my travels have been relatively painless and easy with no big delays or lost luggage but there is always a first time and just like a boy scout, it’s always good to be prepared.

  • Thanks Howie. That makes the annual fee on the Reserve more palatable. As we get older, having evacuation & medical insurance for overseas trips is becoming more important. And congrats on your gig with Award Wallet! I was wondering where you ended up.

  • I thought AMEX offered pretty good insurance as well…

  • Susan Teegardin says:

    Under Chase Sapphire Preferred, Travel Accident Insurance, what does the phrase “probably something you’re not buying” mean?

    • I would think that 99.9%+ of people that buy travel insurance do not purchase some form of accident protection in case of loss of limb, sight, etc. From a small non-scientific poll I completed the major protection people were looking to have was to cover illness/injury prior to departure, on the trip, or if there was some sort of delay that caused them to be stranded.

      Not one person mentioned or indicated that they saw much value in travel accident insurance. They all liked that it was an included benefit but wouldn’t be something they would pay for while traveling.

  • The struggle of booking flights for bonus points or to get travel insurance. Hmm..

    • There is no struggle! Just pay the taxes/fees with the cards and you’re covered 🙂

      • Howie,

        If I booked my tickets with Skymiles and paid taxes with the Delta Amex, could I still be eligible for Trip Cancellation insurance if I buy an upgrade to Comfort + through Chase Sapphire Reserve? The T&C of the card seem to indicate that anything other than FF points need to be paid for with a Reserve card, or am I misreading it?

        Thanks!

        • Olga, as the ticket is being purchased with the Delta Amex, you wouldn’t be covered. If you used SkyMiles + Sapphire Reserve you’d be covered, but an upgrade is not a part of the base ticket.

  • Susan Teegardin says:

    Chase Sapphire Preferred has no medical evacuation coverage and Reserve has no Trip Cancellation coverage, so neither one replaces a good outside insurance provider.

    • Susan, while the Sapphire Preferred does not have medical evacuation coverage, the Sapphire Reserve does indeed have Trip Interruption and Cancellation coverage. The Sapphire Reserve, depending on your needs, provides some of the most complete coverage and can easily replace an outside insurance provider. It just comes with a larger of up-front cost.

  • Great stuff here!! I always ignore the insurance element but I can see the value in looking at that more now. Thanks again!

  • Leslie Horwinkle says:

    Does the United Explorer Chase card have similar to the Preferred card?

  • Thank you very much for the post! Great reminder indeed. Question: do any of these cards also cover award ticket bookings (say if I book a ticket using miles and only charge taxes/fees to credit card)? Thanks!

  • I think you are missing an important point. While the Chase Sapphire reserve appears to cost $450, one immediately gets $300 of travel credit (each year), usable for any travel expenses, such as Uber ,airlines or train. Since these cards are only a value for people who travel, it is a certainty that they will use the $300 travel credit. Thus, the real cost is only $150 about the same as the Chase preferred. Also unmentioned, is the hundred thousand frequent flyer miles when signing up, and triple mile for all restaurant expenses. The Chase Sapphire reserve is a much better deal than the Chase preferred.

    • Roger, thanks for chiming in. Indeed, the Sapphire Reserve does come with the $300 credit, and the big bonus and higher earning potential, the upfront cost and cost to add authorized users is more for the casual traveler. The reason the Sapphire Preferred gets the top spot for travel insurance cards from us is the cost for it and your entire family of authorized users that you could add is much smaller. For the moderate to heavy traveler and big spender in the bonus categories, I think everyone would agree that the Sapphire Reserve has much greater potential, but its travel insurance benefits alone aren’t significant enough to make it top of the list for the cost.

  • I thought the Chase United Explorer card offered primary auto insurance coverage for rentals.

  • Do you have a synopsis of the best Canadian cards out there?

    • Bob, we don’t — just not as versed with the options there, which are vastly different from how things work in the U.S. Which cards do you have? It’d give me a good starting place to take a look at things.

  • The Chase Sapphire Preferred just came through for us on the trip delay insurance. We used points for our flights, but paid the taxes using the card. Then Hurricane Matthew hit and it was an additional 2 days before we could get home. The documentation required was reasonable, and just today we got our reimbursement check covering all of our additional hotel and food expenses (almost $900). I was surprised at the full amount of the food being reimbursed as I couldn’t find an itemized receipt for one of the meals, but they paid it anyway. Truly an awesome benefit.

  • How exactly does travel insurance work? For example, if I book a flight with my Sapphire Preferred and it gets delayed, they will cover it for me? If I have to stay overnight at a hotel in a stopover city I just have to also use my Sapphire Preferred?

    • Alice, the benefits guide will walk you through all the details (there are too many to list here), but the gist of it is that you purchase the flight with your Sapphire Preferred (or at least a portion of it) and if you’re delayed and require an overnight, they’ll reimburse you up to $500 of expenses. You do not need to use your Sapphire Preferred for those expenses either, just keep your receipts.

  • Edward J. Ross says:

    You have reinforced all I have heard about the Saphire card which I have.

  • I like the Citi Double Rewards travel insurance. No annual fee and they even cover your pet.

    • Definitely great for domestic travel. the 3% foreign transaction fee is a killer but 2% cash back for all your spend and cancellation/interruption coverage domestically is awesome for $0 fee card.

  • Blane Nagareda says:

    Something else to consider about the value of a card besides the obvious points and annual fees.

  • I agree the Chase Sapphire card seemed to be recommend by everyone.
    The primary CDW for rental car with no country exception is amazing actually. Wish I had it when I took the side mirror off a rental in Ireland.

  • Thank you for making us a smart consumer. In early Jan.2018 I’m joining a 17 days tour to India and Nepal. I want to fly Etihad using my AA points(97k) but I’m sad to know that AA didn’t make the list. In this case I will have to buy a travel insurance but which one you recommend … and do they cover award airfare as purchased one?
    Thanks

    • Eva, if for example you redeem your AA miles and pay taxes/fees with the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, you would be covered. This would be the same with the Citi Prestige card as well as you’re using the card for part of your purchase. I hope this helps and congrats on the amazing trip you’ve got planned!

  • Margaret Bassion says:

    We buy an annual family membership with DAN(Divers Alert Network). The membership is reasonable, the travel insurance benefits excellent for all accidents & illness for any reason. Member does NOT have to be a diver.

  • How about the Amex personal gold card ? Do they have good insurance coverage?

    • Vivienne, assuming you mean this card: https://www.americanexpress.com/us/credit-cards/card/gold/, I find the coverage to be sub-par across the board. Rental car coverage is secondary and lost baggage protection is much lower than on other cards. While I haven’t combed through all the benefits of this card, it would not be one I would recommend for travel insurance and protection. If you’re using an Amex for travel you might consider purchasing some of their premium insurance products, which are on par with what the lists cards provide at no cost.

  • The Chase Sapphire looks great. Is the annual fee waived for the first year?

  • The biggest problem with the Chase trip insurance is that it doesn’t cover cases where the family member’s illness is due to a pre-existing condition, i.e., “Pre-existing Condition – illness, disease or Accidental injury of you, your Traveling Companion, your Immediate Family Member or the Immediate Family Member of the Traveling Companion, for which medical advice, diagnosis, care or treatment was recommended or received within the 60-day period immediately prior to the purchase of a Covered Trip. “. Trip insurance bought from an insurance company right after your first payment for a trip doesn’t have this exclusion.
    It would be great if Chase allowed some way to avoid this exclusion, even the payment of a small fee.

  • The travel insurance benefits of the Chase Sapphire Reserve are one reason I will keep the card (I got it initially for more obvious reasons). When I travel with my family, I have been thinking that I really should purchase travel insurance, but it really adds up. This gives me peace of mind for a mere $150 per year ($450-$300 travel benefit).

  • I get my travel insurance through my bank account (Nationwide). I pay 10 GBP per month and get travel insurance, mobile phone insurance, breakdown cover and fee-free cash withdrawals abroad. I usually make that back on the money I save make withdrawals abroad.

  • What about the Ritz Carlton card. It has Primary CDW, and is NOT subject to the 5/24 rules.

    • The Ritz card also comes with emergency medical/dental as well. It is a fantastic card with its benefits, but I couldn’t add it to the list as the only currency it accumulates are Marriott/Ritz Rewards and while you can transfer to SPG, it is still limited compared to the other flexible points earning cards.

  • Thanks, very helpful article. To clarify, is the CSR the only card on the list that offers emergency medical and dental coverage?

    Too bad that Amex doesn’t offer some of these coverages (eg trip delay, etc), otherwise putting airfare spend on the platinum card for 5x points would be a no brainer. As it stands, though, I’d still opt to use the Prestige or CSR for their superior travel insurance. Lost opportunity for Amex, hope they step up their game…

  • Very timely article. I used 3 different cards (CSR, CSP, and Arr+) for the various benefits on a current trip. One comment for the folks using the CSR. Please don’t rationalize the AF cost down to $150 because of the $300 travel reimbursement. You must spend that $300 to get it back. Net result is still a $450 AF.

  • Thanks so much for the insight. It inspired me to check my AAdvantage MC for benefits. CDW, but no travel insurance! The Citi Prestige annual fee of $450 is pretty hefty, though. Thanks again!

  • If your flight is canceled and/or delayed long enough that you require a hotel stay, the airline pays for your hotel, will the Chase Reserve card pick up the cost of your meals that the airline did not cover?

  • YVONNE JOHNSON says:

    Great information! We took a three month trip to India last year and I previously had decided to get travel insurance. Thank goodness as my travel partner had to go to the hospital the last week of the trip for emergency surgery. Everything was covered but I shelled out quite a sum for the insurance. Needles to say, I should have had the Sapphire card…I won’t traveL without it again! That perk alone is worth the annual fee.

  • I did not realize the difference between primary and secondary CDW coverage! I will have to make sure we always use our CSR card for rental cars now. Thanks!

    How do you know if the coverage extends internationally? We were in Mallorca last year and the rental agency insisted that neither our own personal auto insurance would work there but neither would our credit card coverage. We were unable to get a hold of either to confirm while standing there so we broke down and paid for the insurance, which was more than the rental fees for the car! Such a disaster that we do not want to repeat.

    • The coverage on the Sapphire Reserve is global with no country exceptions. If you contact customer service they’ll send you a letter stating proof of coverage that you can bring with you.

  • ADAM PARSONS says:

    Agree, Amex do offer a great free cover of travel / medical insurance for the whole family on most cArds they offer. I have also read that this cover is very reliable when actually needed and they go the extra mile but I’m sure Chase offer the same level of service.

  • I have never actually used travel insurance on any card but its good peace of mind and probably super valuable in a pinch. I have 4 cards that offer it from Chase and Amex. Putting most of my travel spend on the Chase Reserve though.

  • Costa Rica did not accept insurance cover from any of my cards. i had to purchase insurance at the counter.

  • I’ve been using the CSR card for last few months and really appreciate what it covers. In Panama City, the AVIS rep was not going to give me a car, unless I bought additional insurance and luckily I had a copy of the benefits of the CSR card and showed it to him and he had to back off trying to work me to pay more!

  • Do transferred balances earn points?

  • I’m kicking myself for not knowing how great Chase cards are. By the time I became aware of the superior product, I had every card but the one that made more sense to have. I thought my AMEX card was the best for renting cars until I heard about Chase. Too bad. Chase is treating us lame-brainers like the lame-brainers we are for not applying for their cards. So now we’re stuck in a purgatory condition watching others enjoy what we wish we had. Nate

  • Keep the 5 bonus Advantage miles. Help me get the Sapphire Preferred or Reserve or anything Chase.

  • I can’t get approved for sapphire…too many chase cards…the IHG and marriott have trip cancellation up to 5k per person…ive called 3 times to verify you do NOT have to put the whole trip on the card AND it will cover the whole purchase…do you know if that is true…sounds too good to be true…citi american aadvantage says you can charge partial. ..and they will reimburse ONLY the part on their card. ..so do you think for an 8k cruise…i could charge 5k on chase and the 3k on citi…would i get the full 8k between the 2 (5 from chase 3 from citi)

    • Yes a partial charge would work. As for a split payment, I doubt it would work as it is a single trip and limits are based on trip. The benefits administrator would answer this question for you — you should call them to confirm as this is a unique scenario.

  • edward cantor says:

    with either of the recommended chase cards, does the evacuation benefit cover transporting you home. to the hospital of your choice, if, for example, you have a heart attack?…ed

    • Review the terms in the guide to benefits for each card — based on how I read it, you do not solely make the decision on your hospital of choice. It is a decision made by your physician who coordinates with the benefits administrator. Getting proper treatment is priority #1, not getting you to your desired hospital.

  • edward cantor says:

    in the case of evacuation insurance, if you have a heart attack, can you choose to be transported to your home hospital for treatment. who makes the decision?

    • Edward, please review the guide in detail for the specific terms of the card product you have. Clarification on any terms can be explained by the benefits administrator for a specific scenario.

  • Kaylene Lindley says:

    So glad I read this post! I have been on the fence about the Chase Sapphire Reserve – now I believe it would be a great card to have – just not sure I can get it – I sure hope I can.

  • Great review. Thanks, Howie. Two questions: What kicks in “travel” coverage? Does charging the airfare (or taxes/fees) initiate the insurance? If I’m driving somewhere and staying in a hotel is that a trip? If air was on on CSR and hotel on citi, would I just file each card for their part?

    Second question: if CDW is included, do I need to buy any other auto insurance? Liability?

    • I’m not an insurance professional and don’t want to potentially misinterpret what you’ve asked; I would suggest reviewing the benefits guide and asking these questions of the benefits administrator to make sure your exact question is properly answered.

      That said, different coverage has different requirements. My understanding is that Trip Delay protection would not cover you if you’re personally driving, but rather trip interruption/cancellation may (depending on the circumstance). As for rental protection, you would need to purchase Liability insurance if that was something you felt you needed. You may be covered through your personal policy, or an umbrella policy you have.

  • I recently came across a scenario that I (fortunately) did not have to find out the answer to, but I am wondering if anyone has any practical experience with.

    Got both the Citi Prestige & Premier about a year ago. Combined the points (realized later that maybe I shouldn’t have but that’s a different story). Booked tickets with the points- the reservation email said something about Prestige in it. Between booking and travel, cancelled the Prestige due to the annual fee. Fine print of Citi Premier travel coverage said that travel coverage is good if ticket is booked with the card or with Citi ThankYou points. Sounds like we could have been covered but I wasn’t really sure since the reservation said something about the now-cancelled Prestige. Anyone have any experience with a scenario like this?

  • How does the Ink Business card prove if your card was used for travel? Does anyone know?

    • Each merchant is assigned an MCC (Merchant Category Code) and when they process a transaction that information is sent as a part of the transaction to Chase for when they credit your points.

  • Would like to know if the annual fee for Chase Sapphire is being calculated per calendar year or per anniversary date. Thanks.

  • I’m sorry to say this post is quite misleading.

    None of these cards cover you for emergency medical care while travelling. They only compensate you if you lose an organ or DIE, while “boarding, exiting or riding as a passenger on a Common Carrier” (like a plane or train)!!!

    In fact, I did extensive research, and the only US credit card that offered any real travel emergency coverage was the recently-discontinued Ritz-Carlton Rewards Visa card! NO other credit card, even those with the highest annual fee, will cover emergency medical care.

    That’s in huge contrast to credit cards in Canada and Europe, which often offer real emergency medical coverage. I guess Americans just can’t win when it comes to healthcare!

    • Take a look at the Sapphire Reserve — it provides coverage as well. That said, when it comes to medical coverage, I’d always recommend checking with your health insurance company.

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