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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.
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!
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.
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card||Catch 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® Card||Secondary coverage in the US, primary coverage internationally|
|Citi Premier℠ Card||Secondary 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.
|Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card||Catch 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 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.
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)
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