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When we analyze travel rewards credit cards here at The Points Guy, we tend to focus on the most visible benefits they offer, including top welcome bonuses or earning rates across different categories of merchants. However, the less tangible benefits on these cards can save you significant time and money when things go wrong, including having your baggage delayed on a trip or if you have an accident or need emergency evacuation while traveling. An often overlooked perk of many cards is car rental coverage if you’re in an accident or have your rental vehicle stolen or otherwise damaged. Today I want to highlight popular credit cards that offer primary car rental coverage to give you peace of mind the next time you hit the road.
Primary vs. Secondary Coverage
Before I get to that list, it’s important to note that the vast majority of travel rewards credit cards offer some type of coverage when you rent a car. These benefits are commonly referred to as “Collision Damage Waiver” (CDW), though some car rental companies may use the term “Loss Damage Waiver” (LDW). However, there are two general categories of coverage: primary and secondary. The latter of these two is more common but has some significant drawbacks. For starters, it typically comes with some type of deductible and may not cover the entire loss of a vehicle nor any administrative fees associated with the damage. Most importantly, it kicks in after your own personal car insurance. As a result, you still need to file a claim with your own insurance company if you’re in an accident in a rental car for which you’ve paid with a card that offers secondary coverage.
Primary coverage, on the other hand, will apply before your own personal car insurance and will cover full damages due to collision or theft of most rental cars (up to a published maximum that generally exceeds the total value of any covered car). If you waive the car rental company’s CDW/LDW coverage offered at the time of rental, these benefits will apply if and when your car is lost, stolen or damaged.
It’s also worth pointing out that most secondary policies on credit cards automatically become primary coverage in two common scenarios. First, if you’re renting a car outside the US and your personal car insurance policy doesn’t cover you in that country, the CDW from that card becomes primary. Secondly, if you don’t own a car (and thus don’t carry car insurance), most secondary coverage offered by credit cards becomes primary as well. For more information on this, be sure to check out Akash Gupta’s post on How Secondary Car Rental Insurance Works for Renters Without Auto Insurance.
Of course, nothing involving insurance is simple, so there are a few other important details to keep in mind when it comes to utilizing or relying upon these benefits:
- They almost always do not include liability insurance. While the CDW provisions on credit cards do cover damage to your rental car, they don’t apply to damage you cause to other cars and personal property, nor do they cover injuries to you, your passengers or pedestrians involved in the accident. If you’re at fault in an accident while driving a rental car and cause this type of damage or injuries, you’re liable for them. Your own personal car insurance policy may kick in here, and most states require car rental companies to include minimum liability coverage in their rates, though this probably won’t be enough to cover a major accident. However, your credit card CDW will not apply here (unless you carry the American Express Centurion (Black) Card in your wallet).
- They don’t cover all types of cars. If you’re sticking to the “normal” categories of car rentals like compact, intermediate and full-size, these policies will apply. However, most policies will exclude many specialty classes of cars like large passenger vans, pick-up trucks, antique vehicles and motorcycles.
- They have a limit on the number of days. Many readers likely stick to short car rental periods for trips, but if you’re in need of a car rental for multiple months, your credit card coverage typically won’t apply.
- They aren’t always available in every country. While the exact list of excluded countries varies from card to card and issuer to issuer, the most common exceptions I’ve seen are Australia, Israel, Italy, Ireland, Jamaica and New Zealand.
Because of these items, it’s essential that you read your card’s policy careful to understand where the coverage won’t apply; a quick call to the customer service number on the back of your card should allow you to get more information if you’re like me and don’t save every card agreement you get in the mail! You also need to recognize that you may still be on the hook for a significant expense if you’re at fault in an accident that damages another car, impacts personal property or injures another driver or passenger.
Chase Cards With Primary Car Rental Coverage
So with all of those details out of the way, what popular travel rewards credit cards currently offer primary car rental coverage? Here’s a list at time of writing, with important exceptions or details noted where applicable:
Both flavors of Sapphire cards from Chase provide primary car rental coverage. Rentals of up to 31 consecutive days paid for with either card are covered for losses including physical damage and/or theft of the rental vehicle, valid loss-of-use charges assessed by the rental company and reasonable and customary towing charges related to a covered loss. The details of the policies vary slightly between the two cards, so be sure to read each one’s guide to benefits for full details at the following links:
The Chase Sapphire Reserve was first introduced just last year and quickly became one of the hottest premium travel rewards credit cards on the market despite its $450 annual fee. It’s currently offering a sign-up bonus of 50,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. You’ll also earn 3x points on all travel and dining purchases and have access to great perks like no foreign transaction fees, a $300 annual travel credit, Global Entry credit and Priority Pass Select membership.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card carries an identical sign-up bonus (50,000 points when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening) with a much smaller $95 annual fee, which is even waived the first year. However, your earning rates drop to 2x points on travel and dining, though you’ll also avoid foreign transaction fees.
For tips on choosing between the two, be sure to check out my analysis on the Break-Even Point on the Chase Sapphire Reserve Card.
Another Chase card that offers primary coverage is the Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card. Like others previously mentioned, you need to charge the entire cost of the rental to your card and then decline the rental company’s collision insurance. You are then covered up to $75,000 for theft and collision damage in both the US and internationally.
The card received a refresh last year and is currently offering a sign-up bonus of two complimentary nights at any participating Tier 1-4 Ritz-Carlton hotel after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months after account opening. You receive 5 points per dollar on Ritz-Carlton, Marriott and SPG purchases; 2 points per dollar on airline tickets, car rental expenses and restaurants; and 1 point per dollar on everything else. Additional benefits of this card are a $300 annual travel credit, a $100 hotel credit on paid Ritz-Carlton stays of two nights or more, complimentary Priority Pass Select membership, three upgrades to Ritz-Carlton Club Level each year and instant Gold Elite Status for the first year. The card incurs no foreign transaction fees, but comes with a $450 annual fee.
For more information, check out Richard Kerr’s review of the card from 2016.
Ink Plus Business Card, Ink Business Preferred Credit Card and Ink Business Cash Credit Card
These cards offer primary coverage for most types of vehicles (with the exception of sports cars, trucks and off-road vehicles) in most countries except Ireland, Israel and Jamaica. The coverage provides reimbursement up to the actual cash value of the vehicle for theft and collision damage. However, note that cardholders must be driving for business in order to be covered, and you may need to provide proof of this in order to get your claim approved.
Ink Plus is no longer available to new cardholders, but existing holders earn 5 points per dollar spent at office supply stores and on cellular, landline, internet and cable TV services (on up to $50,000 in combined purchases each year). In addition, you’ll earn 2 points per dollar spent at gas stations and hotel stays (again, capped at $50,000 annually) and 1 point per dollar on all other purchases. The card incurs no foreign transaction fees, and there’s a $95 annual fee.
Ink Cash currently offers $500 cash back after you spend $3,000 in the first three months from account opening. You’ll earn 5% cash back per dollar spent at office supply stores and on cellular, landline, internet and cable TV services (up to $25,000 in combined purchases each year). In addition, you’ll earn 2% cash back per dollar spent at gas stations and restaurants (again capped at $25,000 annually) and 1% cash back on all other purchases. You can combine these earnings with other eligible Chase cards to essentially “convert” them to Ultimate Rewards points (in the same way you can with the Chase Freedom). Unfortunately, Ink Cash charges a 3% fee for foreign transactions, but there is no annual fee.
The recently introduced Ink Business Preferred Card is currently offering a sign-up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $5,000 in the first three months. With this card, you’ll earn 3 points per dollar spent on travel, shipping purchases, internet/cable/phone and advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines (on up to $150,000 in combined purchases each account anniversary year) and 1 point per dollar on everything else. This card has a $95 annual fee and doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees.
United MileagePlus Explorer Card, United MileagePlus Explorer Business Card, United MileagePlus Club Card and United MileagePlus Club Business Credit Card
All four of United’s co-branded credit cards offered by Chase also provide primary coverage, and the insurance policy terms are similar to the ones highlighted above. You’re covered up to the actual cash value of the vehicle as it was originally manufactured, as long as you charge the rental to your United card and decline the coverage offered by the company when you pick up the car. Just note that for the business version, you need to be renting for business purposes to utilize this benefit.
The current sign-up bonus on the and Consumer Explorer card is 40,000 miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open. The current bonus for the Business Explorer is 50,000 miles after you spend $3,000 in the first three months. You can enjoy priority boarding and a free checked bag when flying United, and you’ll also get two United Club passes every year. In addition, you’ll earn 2 miles per dollar spent on tickets purchased from United and 1 mile per dollar spent elsewhere (the business version also offers 2 miles per dollar spent on select categories of purchases like restaurants and gas stations). Both cards come with a $95 annual fee which is waived for the first year and no foreign transaction fees.
The Club cards give you full United Club membership and automatic World of Hyatt Discoverist status. You’ll earn 2 miles per dollar on United purchases and 1.5 miles per dollar elsewhere plus a 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in the first three months. On United-operated flights, you’ll get your first and second checked bags free and enjoy Premier Access for priority check-in and boarding. Both versions of the card come with a $450 annual fee, but you may be able to have the fee waived by signing up in a Chase branch.
Amex Cards With Primary Car Rental Coverage
All American Express cards offer premium primary coverage for a flat rate of $19.95 or $24.95 (with slightly discounted rates for California and Florida residents) for a rental period of up to 42 days (up to 30 days for Washington State residents). The more expensive option simply includes higher thresholds for medical expenses and coverage like accidental death and dismemberment. During the enrollment process, you’ll see details of the two options and can decide whether the extra coverage is worth the higher premium. However, note that neither option covers rentals in Australia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica and New Zealand.
To enroll, simply visit the Amex Premium Car Rental Protection page and click Enroll Now. You’ll need to log in to your American Express account, choose the plan you’d like and review the program’s terms and conditions. You won’t be charged anything until you actually use an enrolled card to rent a car, in which case the premium will automatically post to your account. If coverage won’t be necessary for your travel needs, be sure to unenroll your card prior to your trip by calling 1-866-518-0259. Otherwise, you will automatically be charged on future rentals.
If you don’t currently have an American Express card, One of the best current offers is for The Platinum Card from American Express, which comes with 60,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months. This card has a high $550 annual fee, but you can receive an annual airline fee credit of $200 for incidentals like checked bags, flight-change fees and snacks, and you’ll also pay no foreign transaction fees and enjoy complimentary lounge access.
Note that many USAA co-branded cards (e.g., American Express, MasterCard, etc.) also offer primary rental car insurance to cardholders. However, these cards are only available to officers, enlisted personnel or veterans of the US military and their eligible family members.
Many of us tend to focus on how many points you can earn and then redeem when considering top travel rewards credit cards, especially when they come with lucrative sign-up bonuses. However, the other benefits can come in handy when traveling, and primary car rental coverage can be a lifesaver when you get into an accident. That being said, it’s essential to review the details of your card’s policy to understand exactly what is (and isn’t) covered. Don’t assume that you’re covered for every possible mishap when you pay for a car rental with a card that offers primary coverage, as many exceptions and exclusions may apply. Nevertheless, each of the above cards can be a great option if you’re looking for added peace of mind the next time you rent a car.
If you’ve taken advantage of primary car rental coverage provided through a credit card, please share your experiences (both positive and negative) in the comments below.
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- Limited Time Offer: Earn up to 100,000 Membership Rewards® Points.
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