Best Credit Cards for Rental Car Insurance [2019]

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Credit card car rental insurance is one of the unsung heroes of rewards card perks. Many rewards cards offer multiple types of travel insurance as a free benefit, including coverage for lost or damaged luggage, unexpected trip delays or cancellations, and a car rental policy to protect cardholders when they rent a vehicle.

Rental car insurance is an underrated and underutilized benefit that often creates confusion, so we’re here to set the record straight and help you maximize your benefits when you travel.

Credit card car rental insurance
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 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 more comprehensive 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. The primary policy offered with many cards also covers cardholders for longer rental 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!

which credit cards offer primary rental car insurance?

Some countries, like Australia, build partial-liability insurance into the rental cost. This may cover medical expenses and rehabilitation if someone is hurt, but not damages to personal property. Regardless, if you plan to use primary credit card rental coverage, you will still need to provide your own liability coverage in case of 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 U.S. with primary coverage; instead, we have focused on rewards credit cards that provide top value. And after Citi recently decimated the travel protections on its entire range of rewards cards, including removing Car Rental cover, most cards on the list are now issued by Chase. Some of the cards on this list don’t cover specific countries or car types, and the policies differ by card. 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® CardPrimary coverage in the United States and most foreign countries (no stated exclusions) - Catch all the details in our post covering Chase's Auto Rental CDW
Chase Sapphire Reserve®Primary coverage in the United States and most foreign countries (no stated exclusions) - Catch all the details in our post covering Chase's Auto Rental CDW
United℠ Explorer CardPrimary coverage in the United States and most foreign countries (no stated exclusions)
United MileagePlus® Club CardPrimary coverage in the United States and most foreign countries (no stated exclusions)
The Ritz-Carlton™ Credit CardPrimary coverage in the United States and most foreign countries (no stated exclusions)
U.S. Bank Altitude™ Reserve Visa Infinite® CardPrimary coverage when you charge your entire rental amount to your card and decline the rental agency’s collision insurance
Barclaycard Arrival Plus® World Elite Mastercard®Secondary coverage in the US unless you have no insurance and then it is primary, primary coverage internationally.

Business Credit Cards That Offer Primary Auto Rental CDW

The coverage supplied by the cards listed differs by card type, but business card rental insurance has one overarching difference from personal cards: You are only covered when renting a car for business purposes.

Credit CardConditions
Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit CardPrimary coverage in the United States while renting primarily for business purposes, renting outside your country of residence for personal reasons or if you do not have automobile insurance. This benefit is available in the United States and most foreign countries (no stated exclusions) - Catch all the details in our post covering Chase's Auto Rental CDW
Ink Business Unlimited℠ Credit CardPrimary coverage in the United States while renting primarily for business purposes, renting outside your country of residence for personal reasons or if you do not have automobile insurance. This benefit is available in the United States and most foreign countries (no stated exclusions)
Ink Business Cash℠ Credit CardPrimary coverage in the United States while renting primarily for business purposes, renting outside your country of residence for personal reasons or if you do not have automobile insurance. This benefit is available in the United States and most foreign countries (no stated exclusions)
Ink Plus® Business Credit Card (no longer open to applications)Primary coverage in the United States while renting primarily for business purposes, renting outside your country of residence for personal reasons or if you do not have automobile insurance. This benefit is available in the United States and most foreign countries (no stated exclusions)
Marriott Rewards® Premier Plus Business Credit CardPrimary coverage in the United States while renting primarily for business purposes, renting outside your country of residence for personal reasons or if you do not have automobile insurance. This benefit is available in the United States and most foreign countries (no stated exclusions)
United℠ Explorer Business CardPrimary coverage in the United States while renting primarily for business purposes, renting outside your country of residence for personal reasons or if you do not have automobile insurance. This benefit is available in the United States and most foreign countries (no stated exclusions)
United MileagePlus® Club Business CardPrimary coverage in the United States while renting primarily for business purposes, renting outside your country of residence for personal reasons or if you do not have automobile insurance. This benefit is available in the United States and most foreign countries (no stated exclusions)
Southwest Rapid Rewards® Premier Business Credit CardPrimary coverage in the United States while renting primarily for business purposes, renting outside your country of residence for personal reasons or if you do not have automobile insurance. This benefit is available in the United States and most foreign countries (no stated exclusions)

Amex Premium Car Rental Protection

You may have noticed American Express is notably absent from our list of credit cards with primary rental car insurance. Amex provides free secondary coverage on most of its credit card portfolio, but you can purchase 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 on almost any car—including luxury vehicles, SUV’s, and pickup trucks.

American Express Premium Car Rental Protection

American Express premium car rental protection is an opt-in program which cardmembers sign up to on the Amex Car Rental Insurance Coverage 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 is applied automatically when you rent a car. You'll be billed this one-time fee each time you rent a car until you request to remove the benefit from 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 (CDW).
  • Pay for the car in-full with the credit card that offers the best Auto Rental CDW

If you're planning to rent with a company you haven't used before (or rent for the first time in a new country), ask your credit card provider for a letter stating you’re covered in your destination country (how to get proof of coverage). There are plenty of unpleasant stories out there about travelers being denied rentals when declining the rental agency's CDW insurance, normally due to misunderstandings of how the coverage works. A proof-of-coverage letter should help you avoid this issue.

Final Thoughts

Primary credit card rental car insurance is not typically the first item taken into account when appraising a travel rewards card, but it should definitely be on your list. The perks and insurances can provide more value on some cards than the rewards points you earn, 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.

Best Credit Cards for Rental Car Insurance [2019]
5 (100%) 9 votes
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Comments

  • It would be helpful to have an article that outlines how to proceed in a timely manner and the documentation needed, and how to procure such, in order to be prepared to file a claim. Have heard stories regarding the difficulty in getting the companies to pay up as the insurers are not actually the CC company.

    • joshua schenk says:

      I have had 2 claims with AMEX premium rental coverage. Both were for windshield stone damages. Both were handled completely by AMEX after I filed the documentation from the rental car companies with AMEX. Never heard another word. So I use them exclusively for rentals in the US and OUS, since it is primary insurance. Primary insurance means that there is no collision or comprehensive deductible that will be applied against your automobile insurance policy. I did not know about the Chase Sapphire or the Chase United cards offering primary insurance and I will definitely need to look into using these cards

    • I agree, this would make for a great post!

      • I’ll third that. Insurance claims, regardless of what’s insured, can be designed at times to be a labyrinth. The harder the work to claim the less they have pay out. 🙁 Such an article would be a lot of detail work, but AW has certainly done that before for us. I’d very much love to see a ranking of the all the cards’ insurance based on ease of claims.

    • A follow-up article would be nice 🙂

  • I wonder if cards still provide rental car insurance when points are used to book the rental car(s).

  • I actually agree with Susan; having an article with those items would be pretty helpful. I’m a travel agent and am pretty familiar with these processes, but they can still be extremely burdensome and long to actually process.

    Thanks for writing this article, it’s extremely helpful for me as I build my points and cc coverage.

  • My favorite charge card for rental car coverage is definitely Chase Sapphire!

  • Stacy Liu says:

    Super informative and helpful!! Thank you for this! I’ve heard horror stories when it comes to rental car insurance so definitely bookmarking this for future reference.

    • Exactly. I always decline insurance from the rental car company, and unfailingly use my CSR for rental car payments.

  • Great to have this list. And thanks for explaining the gaps of liability, other cars’ damage and property damage coverages.

  • Marlin Seevers says:

    Thank you for the information on the rental car insurance included with these cards. I have kept an AmEx card for the purpose of using the Premium coverage available.

  • Is the definition of ‘business purposes’ flexible?

  • Always good info. I have saved money on a flat tire and dented rim just by using the right CC.

  • arshi007 says:

    thanks for the info. I didn’t know that the chase cards offered primary coverage even in US. Maybe i’ll switch from using my Citi Prestige to MileagePlus Club card for auto rentals.

  • Steven William Van Meter says:

    Well i slightly damaged a rental car in Panama (sorry to say). I was sure glad I had insurance!

  • I have always use my Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card when renting both domestically and internationally. Fortunately, I have never had to make a claim.

    • Fortunately it has both the best rewards and the best benefits so we don’t have to weigh options to pick the best card.

    • Same. It’s got the best return as it is so you get the best of both worlds with no compromise.

  • So the Amex platinum isn’t the best card for car rental insurance?

    • If you’re okay with paying for the Amex premium protection, that coverage is quite good. And it will still be far cheaper to pay the flat Amex fee for the whole rental period than to pay the daily insurance rate from the rental company. However, a card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred offers primary coverage at no cost. I wouldn’t

  • I always use my CSR; it’s the best out there in my view.

  • Car rental companies make a lot selling you the insurance so they will do anything to get you to buy the insurance. I had the Chase Sapphire Reserve and figured it would save me about $120 on insurance. I booked with Sixt, a reputable rental in Croatia and the agent pretended to run my card and fraudulently claimed it was declined; she hinted that it was because of the higher deposit for refusing the insurance. I called the bank and they confirmed I had enough credit to cover the deposit and were confused since there was no recent attempt to charge my card. The agent still insisted that it must be because of the higher deposit. Since it was 2am and nothing else was open I finally agreed to pay for insurance and sure enough the card was magically accepted. So dont count on the rental agreeing to accept credit card insurance, especially when they are the only one still open!

    • I definitely understand the predicament you were in but the rental company doesn’t need to accept your credit card’s insurance. That’s your choice to have insurance or not.

  • I came back from a beach in Costa Rica last year and saw that someone had collided with my car while it was parked in the parking lot. Chase paid for all the damages. The rental car insurance benefit is worth its weight in gold

  • Brian G. says:

    The letter stating you’re covered in your destination country as saved me before.

  • Maryjane says:

    I rent cars at least monthly so this is a benefit that I use quite a bit. It’s sad when people don’t realize they have this coverage: A friend of mine who has the Sapphire Preferred gave in to their hard sell tactics and bought the rental car insurance anyway. It negates the benefits that you get to offset the annual fee.

  • To me it’s the CSR and then everything else. The primary coverage is tough to beat, and my one claim went smooth.

  • Although I don’t have any of these cards with these travel benefits. I did recently find that our Citi Costco card comes with many travel benefits including secondary coverage for rental cars. Basically I guess this is only helpful if you have very low coverages on your personal auto insurance but at least it’s an extra perk you might not have known about if you have the Citi Costco card.

  • I have used the Chase premium credit card primary coverage in the US though have never filed a claim. When renting outside the US I always buy the rental car company additional insurance.

  • Great summary of the various cards that carry benefits. Find this one of the more confusing benefits to keep track of. Had no idea the United cards had primary coverage.

  • I agree with the person above: “It would be helpful to have an article that outlines how to proceed in a timely manner and the documentation needed, and how to procure such, in order to be prepared to file a claim”. I have CSR and CSP but use an AMEX card because of the horror stories I’ve heard trying to get Chase to fulfill their end of the deal.

  • Thanks for the update. I appreciate the reminder as to which of my cards have coverage and which do not. My thought, this seems like an easy perk that almost every credit card issuer should consider as a perk, especially the secondary coverage.

  • I used to use Amex premium protection before I got the Chase Sapphire. Never had to make a claim on Amex, but I did contact them once about a windshield chip, and they were very helpful, turned out the car rental agency did not care about the chip so no claim was actually needed

  • Car insurance is always handy to know, thanks for the post!

  • Amex id definitely the better card to use, especially abroad. To guarantee coverage, we get additional insurance just in case; the extra bucks sure buys good piece of mind.

  • Any guidance on knowing when you’re moved into a “premium” class of car and thus eligible for certain credit card based insurance programs? Sometimes I’m upgraded due to status or use free night certs that allow almost any vehicle class.

  • Great info. Traditionally I have always used Chase or AMEX for rentals. Often depending on country. Lots of detailed information.

  • Steven P says:

    This was a good article. I didn’t realize that the coverage by the credit card doesn’t cover liability. I currently live in an RV and have no car, just the RV policy. This article inspired me to call my insurance and see if I am covered for liability in no matter what I drive.

  • Helpful article! I didn’t realize that AmEx didn’t automatically provide primary insurance…

  • Maybe this is a little too complex for a single blog post, since a) not everyone in the world has US credit cards b) not everyone is renting from US companies or c) in the US. In each case, it depends on the individual situation. In any case, I wouldn’t base my car insurance on a blog post… which defeats the point of the post.

  • These are very useful tips. I’m looking at going to Mexico in October an taking the right credit card to cover car rental insurance is something I will definitely be doing. Thanks for the tips in the article! Justin

  • Patrick B says:

    Thank you. I have a rental at the end of the month and your discussion helped me decide the card to us.

  • Great article. Rental car insurance is always difficult to figure out – especially when you traveling outside the US.

  • Michael Y says:

    Thanks for the useful article. Really narrows down the list of credit cards for me.

  • Thanks, just like other people I didn’t realize primary coverage wasn’t provided by Amex… Very helpful!i

  • Drew Theunissen says:

    Does anyone happen to know if *any* Australian credit card offers coverage? The Australian credit card market seems to be terrible for actual frequent travellers (ie, forex charges etc) but i’m yet to find a card for rental car waiver coverage, and hate having to submit to their over-inflated per-day fees to reduce/remove the excess/deductible.

  • I’m renting a car in two weeks and this article really helped, thanks.

  • This is really helpful. I am always undecided when it comes to the additional insurance.

  • Interesting. And i always thought the amex platinum is all ill ever need. thanks for the heads up!

  • Good article, not surprisingly very US heavy (I am not complaining 🙂 ). There are insurance providers that provide Liability and CDW, would be great to get a similar overview of those outfits …

  • Hi Jess,
    I read your story with great interest because my Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite MasterCard was terminating their rental car coverage. Credit cards are not just about points and I loved this card because I travel to Ireland a lot and it saved me a ton of money on car rentals. Also almost every car rental coverage excludes these four countries: Israel, Italy, Ireland, and Jamaica. I have never quite understood Ireland being in that list, the theft rate is not high and while the secondary roads are narrow, there are still places where you can drive for 10-20 miles and never see another car. I know it is the “wrong” side of the road, but driving through the rest of Europe can be far more hazardous ! The Citi Card offered worldwide coverage and all one had to do was call them for a letter of coverage and present it to the rental agency.
    I am now searching to replace this card and need to find another card that will cover Ireland. Unfortunately, this is a “Catch 22” situation, if I look at the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card Terms:
    When and where am I covered?
    The benefit is available in the United States and most foreign countries. Coverage is not available where it is prohibited by law or by individual merchants, or is in violation of the territory terms of the rental agreement.
    Please note: Regulations vary outside the United States, so we recommend that you check with your auto rental company and Benefit Administrator before you travel to make sure your Auto Rental CDW will apply.
    it seems very ambiguous, if you call them for an explanation they refuse to tell you unless you have a Chase Sapphire Preferred Card account. I have found this to be the case with every card company and Visa and MasterCard send you to a call center where they are clueless unless they can look up your account.
    Here is what you find on MasterCard with similar language for Visa:
    F. Where you are covered:
    Coverage is available worldwide.
    Coverage is not available in countries where:
    • This EOC is prohibited by that countries law; or
    • The terms of the EOC are in conflict with the laws of that country.

    EOC means evidence of coverage.

    I would greatly appreciate any guidance from you or your readers to finding another card with worldwide coverage; I have good credit but do not want to take a “hit or miss” approach in applying for a card only to find out when I receive it that it does not have the coverage.
    Many Thanks…….. Kieranh

    • Hi Kieran, I rented a car in Ireland in the summer of 2017 and confirmed with Chase that coverage for the Sapphire Reserve includes Ireland before renting. I’m pretty sure that the policy is the same for the Sapphire Preferred. That info is a bit out of date, but hopefully, that helps. I’ve never had a claim for rental coverage, but I’ve used the CSR coverage for damaged bags and found their claims process to be efficient and got full value claimed.

  • This information really helps everyone. Thanks so much for sharing tbis

  • CSP cost $95/y = $95/year for unlimited Primary car insurance. If over 5/24 or renting a car up to 4-5 times a year, then enroll your Amex to the Amex Premium Car Rental Protection. $20/rental covers up to $75K and $25/rental up to 100K car. So the break even point is 5 up to full size rentals or 4 up to premium size. Over that, get the CSP – if you can. I think pretty much any Amex qualifies. Be sure to enroll the Personal card for personal trips and the business card for business trips.

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