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Insurance is one of the unsung heroes of credit card perks, potentially delivering more value than the rewards points cardholders receive over the life-cycle of the card. Many credit cards offer multiple types of insurance, from Purchase Protection and Lost Luggage Insurance to Trip Delay, Interruption, and Cancellation Coverage and even Extended Warranty protection.

Many rewards credit cards, particularly those aimed at the travel community, also offer some form of rental car coverage. A commonly misunderstood and underrated benefit, auto rental insurance covers cardholders against loss or damage when you rent a car.

Rental Car Elite Status
Some rewards credit cards also offer Primary Auto Rental coverage

Plenty of cards offer secondary rental coverage, which supplements your personal auto insurance policy. But there is also a selection of travel-focused rewards cards that provide primary rental coverage, providing a host of benefits over and above secondary cover. We’ll get to that selection in a moment, but first, we need to highlight how the policies differ to give you an idea of the added value in primary coverage.

How Does Primary Coverage Differ from Secondary Coverage?

Secondary rental insurance only kicks in to cover costs that your personal rental insurance won’t pick up. You still need to file a claim with your insurance provider and pay the deductible, and the coverage is small enough in some cases it may not cover the entire cost of fixing or replacing the car. Secondary coverage is often limited to 15/20 consecutive days, the policy may not cover you in some international destinations, and secondary policies don’t always cover administration fees or ‘loss of use’ costs.

Primary rental coverage, on the other hand, kicks in before your personal auto insurance, so there’s no need to notify your insurance company and take a hit on your yearly premiums. Primary rental car coverage is also typically greater than secondary, and much more likely to cover the entire cost of the car in the case of theft or total loss from flood or fire, and a primary policy covers cardholders for far longer periods, up to 30 or 40 days.

Neither Primary Nor Secondary Coverage Include Liability Insurance

Auto rental insurance provided by your credit card does not include liability insurance, and will not cover damage to other people's property, vehicles, or personal liability in the case of injury. This is such an important aspect to understand. If you’re at fault, and you hit another vehicle, building, or person, neither the primary or secondary coverage offered by your credit card will cover damage or costs from the other party. If you find a card that provides such coverage, please let us know!

Liability-Insurance

While some countries, for example, Australia, build partial liability insurance into the rental cost (compulsory third-party insurance built into the cost of vehicle registration which covers medical expenses and rehabilitation if someone is hurt, but not damages to personal property), you will still need to source your own liability coverage to pay for damage to another person's property. This can come from your own personal auto insurance, additional coverage supplied by the rental car company, or purchased as part of a travel insurance package.

Personal Credit Cards That Offer Primary Auto Rental CDW

We haven't covered every card in the US with primary coverage, just travel focused rewards credit cards that we think provide top value. Some of the cards on this list don’t cover specific countries or car types, and the policies differ by card, so it’s essential to check the benefits guide for your card and gain a thorough understanding of the T&C’s so you’re covered in the case of a mishap.

Credit CardConditions
Chase Sapphire Preferred® CardCatch all the details in our post covering Chase's Auto Rental CDW
Chase Sapphire Reserve®
United℠ Explorer Card
United MileagePlus® Club Card
The Ritz-Carlton Rewards® Credit Card
Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® (See Terms)Secondary coverage in the US unless you have no insurance and then it is primary, primary coverage internationally.
Citi Prestige® CardSecondary coverage in the US, primary coverage internationally
Citi Premier CardSecondary coverage in the US, primary coverage internationally
Citi® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Elite™ MasterCard®Secondary coverage in the US, primary coverage internationally

Business Credit Cards That Offer Primary Auto Rental CDW

Again, the coverage supplied by the cards listed differs by the issuer and card type, but also has one overarching difference from personal cards. You are only covered when renting a car for business purposes.

Credit CardConditions
Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit CardCatch all the details in our post covering Chase's Auto Rental CDW
Ink Business Unlimited℠ Credit Card
Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card
Ink Plus® Business Credit Card
Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus Business Credit Card
United℠ Explorer Business Card
United MileagePlus® Club Business Card
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit Card
CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World MasterCard®

Why No Amex Cards?

Amex provides secondary coverage across the majority of its credit card portfolio but also supplies primary coverage for a flat fee. For between $19.95 – $24.95 per rental, you’re covered for up to 42 consecutive days (dependent on the issuing state of the card), and the policy covers you for up to $100K in almost any car including luxury vehicles, SUV’s, and pickup trucks.

American-Express-Premium-Car-Rental-Protection

American Express primary insurance is an opt-in program which cardmembers sign up to on the Premium Car Rental Protection page. You'll be presented with a couple of options when signing up for the Amex coverage. You don’t pay anything upfront; the payment comes off automatically after you rent a car and will continue to do so each time you rent a car until you unregister your account.

What Do You Need to Do to Make Sure You're Covered?

Although the exact process will differ between cards, ensuring you get the coverage offered by your credit card is normally a straightforward affair.

  • Register as the primary renter of the car
  • Decline the rental car company’s collision damage waiver
  • Pay for the car in full with the credit card that offers the best Auto Rental CDW

Ask your credit card provider for a letter stating you’re covered in your destination country (how to get proof of coverage), as there are plenty of data points online of cardholders being denied rentals when refusing the car rental firm’s insurance, normally due to misunderstandings of how the coverage works.

Final Thoughts

Primary Auto CDW is not typically the first item taken into account when appraising a travel rewards card, but it should be close to the top of your list. The perks and insurances can provide more value on some cards than the rewards points on offer, and it only takes one claim after damaging a vehicle to highlight the value of primary rental coverage.

Check the T&C's on each card’s benefits guide before you apply for your next card and see whether it provides primary or secondary CDW/LDW auto rental insurance. It could potentially save you thousands of dollars and will make travel a more enjoyable experience.

For rates and fees of the cards mentioned in this post, please visit the following links: Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard® (See Terms)

Rewards Credit Cards That Offer Primary Rental Car Insurance [2019]
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Comments

  • This is an important benefit. Good resource to have this comparison chart.

  • ANGELO FONSECA says:

    I always forget this tip: “Decline the rental car company’s collision damage waiver”. thanks for that

  • dawoodman1 says:

    The tip about getting a letter of reference from the card issuer stating the T&Cs of the card’s insurance benefit is outstanding! I’ll definitely bring the insurance benefits T&Cs with me whenever I travel abroad or even in the states, never hurts to have it!

  • Thanks for the great information. Looks like I’m lacking in the liability coverage. I will look into seeing if there is cheap travel insurance to cover liability.

  • Thank you for the reminder and the straight forward discussion as to who covers what.

  • Good tip about getting a letter from the card issuer. Do any of these cards offer coverage for RV rentals?

  • Very informative article, I was wondering if I decide to sell my car would I still need automobile liability insurance.

  • Rob Arias says:

    Very interesting, another one of those perks I always forget to look into thanks for the reminder!

  • Thanks, this list is a handy reference. In reading the T&Cs of the Barclay AAviator Red World Mastercard, it appears this coverage is also primary in foreign countries (“If you have no other insurance or Your
    insurance does not cover You in territories or countries outside of the United States, coverage
    is considered primary coverage.”) Is this correct?

  • I believe the US Bank Altitude Reserve Card also offers primary CDW.

  • it’s important to note that if you dont have your own insurance, then secondary becomes primary.

  • This is a great reminder of the benefits of these cards. If you have one insurance claim, it certainly makes the annual fee worthwhile.

  • Jacqueline parsons says:

    Great article, I always forget about this additional benefit when hiring cars and being conned by the companies own insurance cover.

  • Thank you so much for this information. I thought I had read all of the benefits of my cards until reading this and rechecking again.
    This will save us a fair bit of waiver cover for an up and coming trip!

  • Great benefit to have AMEX rental coverage when running out of options from chase.

  • Yeah this isn’t really something i had ever thought about before.
    Will prob have to take it into consideration going forward though.
    Useful article.

  • Bertrand Say says:

    If you get the insurance from the car rental company, does it include third party liability?

  • Excellent article. Very important to highlight that credit card insurance might cover a ding or scratch, but if you have a big crash that’s your fault, you will often be stuck paying for third party costs.

  • A fantastic benefit. Precisely the reason I always make rental booking with the CSR, and before that, with the CSP.

  • good reminder as our driving trip approaches

  • Great info. Even though AMEX is secondary, if your primary does not cover you in another country, Amex will. I know this from prior experience.

  • Love my Chase Sapphire for primary car insurance!

  • Check for any exclusions even if they say you’re covered. Just went to Ireland and many of our cards excluded rentals there. Had a Citi Hilton which covered us fully. Make sure you check all the asterisks!

    • Same issue in Ireland here. I was so used to always declining any insurance that I was super skeptical when the agent told me that none of the credit card insurance covers Ireland. Some quick checking on the chase sapphire website confirmed it.

      And I’m glad I did purchase the insurance in Ireland, for it is the only time I have ever had a rental car accident!

  • First, how about delving into the list of countries covered for international travelers? Second, getting a letter from your cc issuer is a great idea. I had to buy insurance in Israel when they the car renter said it was required. Cost me more than the car rental itself! Third, I had a small fender bender years ago while renting in the USA on my MC (don’t recall issuer). Seemed like MC, not the cc issuer handled everything. It was easy and painless. As a bonus, the accident near showed up on my driving record, keeping my personal insurance rates low.

  • Very informative , but I have been told at rental cars in US and in Dominican Republic that the even if the card say it covers some of the cost you still need to buy rental car insurance

  • The Amex coverage for California residents is $17.95 per rental period up to 42 consecutive days. (30 days for WA residents).

    Coverage up to $100,000 for damage or theft.

    Once you enroll one card, every card you have is eligible.

    I think there is one other state less than $17.95 per period.s

  • This is great info and I know I will forget but hope I do. I’m going to read through the post for Chase’s Sapphire Preferred card rules! I keep reading through the rules for the coverage of baggage, car, etc and it’s seems that to get any reimbursement there are quite a lot of things I may not be able to get a hold of, well at least for baggage. Car seems straight forward but still 31days seems short but then thinking over my trips they are never that long. I wish they were that long!

  • Thanks for the great article, however I am still unclear on the liability coverage part. So this is never covered by the credit card benefit? Even if it’s primary?
    So you need to purchase it from the rental car company? Or is a personal policy for a car you own valid on a rental?

    Thanks
    Jason

    • Liability won’t be covered for free or even with Amex’s paid policy. You should speak with your auto-insurer to see if that liability coverage extends to an auto rental — or if you have an umbrella policy that might provide coverage.

    • I’m also still unclear as to the liability portion…(how to get it without voiding my credit card coverage) I have been in a few ding type accidents and one windshield claim – no one injured so it didn’t matter and our credit card coverage was perfect. I’m concerned about the liability part should something terrible happen someday. I do need to look into this part asap.
      Thanks

      • A personal insurance policy or liability coverage from the car rental facility would work. You need to not take the CDW/LDW coverage if you want your credit card coverage to kick in though.

  • Thank you for the very informative article. Always have to read all of the exclusions. Especially when traveling outside US. AMEX recently had changes to its T&C. I was glad to see some countries added. Usually they take away

  • Does anyone know of a good option for cheap primary car rental liability coverage, other than my own personal auto insurance? I just recently bought trip insurance. And that also only covers damage and loss of use, not liability. I still have to check if my auto insurance covers liability in other countries. I doubt that they do cover it though.

    • Everyone should call their own individual insurer and ask if they’re covered for international liability (doubtful). And ask what they recommend.

      And like the Dominican example above,

      For example, in parts of Canada, you’re required to have at least $200,000 in liability insurance. Your insurance provider may also advise you to call in advance of your visit to get a Canadian insurance card.

      Likewise, Mexico may want you to post a bond for as much as half of the vehicle’s value if you do not have theft, third-party liability, and comprehensive insurance coverage.

  • Jillian McCleskey says:

    To make sure you get covered, you must charge your entire car rental on your credit card and decline the supplemental collision damage coverage offered by the rental company. If you sign up for that insurance, you won’t be covered by the credit card company. Rental car insurance can cost roughly $20 to $40, depending on what plan you select. The collision damage waiver, also known as optional vehicle protection or loss damage waiver, can cost as much as $19 per day and shifts liability for collision damage from the person renting the car to the car rental company.

  • This is definitely a benefit I overlooked. The added peace of mind when walking away from the rental counter was reassuring. The CSR will be our go to on car rentals in the future.

  • […] Award Wallet blog (who knew they even had one! :-D) shares a fairly comprehensive on which rewards credit cards offer primary rental car insurance.  Thankfully my parents rented their car in Scotland with the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which will […]

  • Hilton reserve is primary

  • Between this and the travel delay reimbursement, I put almost all of my travel spend on my Sapphire. The 5x on Platinum AMEX sounds great until you get stuck somewhere and pay out of pocket.

  • I’m using this perk tomorrow and saving $70.

  • Glad to see this posted again. Good reminders here.

  • Considering the greed of rental car companies (often employees are forced to insist a lot in offering insurance) a credit card with primary insurance is a true added value!

  • This benefit has already saved me quite a bit, more than justifying the relatively high CC annual fee

  • Another reason to love my Chase Sapphire!

  • I use my CSR for all my car rentals. I do not have to worry about being dinged in a parking lot.

  • CSP is definitely a keeper if you rent cars enough times.

  • Note: In New York your primary insurance takes first place regardless as far as I know.

  • I have always used the credit card coverage but never had to actually “USE” it – thankfully. I am always worried that something in the terms I have not read will make me have to pay.

  • This really saved me on my last roadtrip.

  • The reimbursement we got due to rental car damage pretty much covers the next 20 years of annual fees for our Chase Sapphire Preferred. It has been a fantastic card since we got it back in 2011/2012.

  • Great reminder. Thanks.

  • I wonder what happens if you pay for the rental using one of these cards but you also accept the coverage from the rental company?

  • The Citi Thank You card is, thankfully, in my pocket.

  • Wonderful guide! Thanks!

  • I rent a car at least once per month so being able to decline the insurance due to the CSR saves me a lot. Internationally, I prefer to avoid the issue entirely by not renting cars.

  • This is a great comprehensive list. When I travel for work, the insurance is taken care of by the corporate contract with the rental company, but this is great information for the best card to use for personal rentals.

  • It’s definitely good to have at least 1 card with auto insurance benefit.

  • thanks for posting this again as spring break approaches

  • I don’t think most people realize how important the primary insurance perk is worth. I don’t rent a car with any card that doesn’t have this benefit!

  • Never thought about getting a letter from credit card company indicating coverage in a specified country. Great idea.

  • great reminder before my upcoming trip
    thanks

  • That loss of use coverage is especially good to have, since a lot of personal insurance policies don’t include that and the daily rental losses can add up quickly even for repairs for a very slight fender bender.

  • HUGE perk. Thanks for reminding!

  • Structurally, how does the primary insurance bundled with these credit cards work? I assume that it is being processed by a third-party, but are these third parties generally the standard auto insurance providers, or are they specialized providers? Thank you.

  • Amex was very good about covering damage to a rental in St. Kitts. I told them my insurance did not cover out of the country and there were no further questions asked by them.

  • Terms and conditions on credit cards change often, specially after signing up, and few of us read them or keep up. Its always worth making a quick call directly to the credit card company to confirm they still give coverage and if it is primary or otherwise.

    Also sometimes people change the card they wish to the rental to at the counter. If this means it now has secondary or no rental car coverage, you could be at a loss. If you want to change the card to which you want to charge the rental, check that you can do that when you return the car and ask for a different credit card to be charged.

    • If your terms/benefits change the issuer must give you notice of such a change. Check your mail, your statements, and your email for such updates. That said, it never hurts to follow-up before you may need to use a benefit.

  • insurance…one of those things you must get but hope that you never ever have to use. Thank god credit cards covers travel related insurance!

  • Alessandra says:

    When we get a CDW from the rental company, there is almost always a deductible that we are responsible (for example, $ 1.500). Do you know if the credit card insurance also have a deductible? Or they cover the entire cost?
    Thanks

    • Based on the policies I’ve scoured, none have a deductible. That said, before you use any card, you should review the current terms to ensure nothing has been changed.

      I’ll be using my CSR for a rental tomorrow, as of now, no deductible for CDW/LDW.

  • Jason Heiss says:

    At least some umbrella insurance policies provide liability insurance that covers international car rentals. I have an umbrella insurance policy from USAA and confirmed with them that it provides such coverage. I count on that plus my CSR to keep me fully insured.

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