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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 a trip delay and cancellation, having your baggage delayed on a trip or if you have an accident or need emergency evacuation while traveling.
One 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 into the cards that offer primary coverage, it’s important to note that many travel rewards credit cards offer some type of Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) coverage when you rent a car and decline or waive the car rental company’s collision loss/damage insurance. But, the extent of coverage offered will vary, so it’s important to understand the differences in coverage.
Credit cards generally offer either primary and secondary coverage. The latter of these two is more common but has some significant drawbacks. The most significant drawback is that secondary coverage 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.
Both types of coverage generally have a published maximum, so make sure the published maximum meets or exceeds the total value of the car you’re renting. Generally, you can be reimbursed the cost to repair the rental car or the actual cash value of the rental car, whichever is less, although for secondary coverage you’ll usually only be reimbursed the amount that isn’t covered by any other insurance policies.
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. Second, 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.
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 don’t include liability insurance. While the CDW provisions on credit cards may 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. Your own personal car insurance policy may kick in here though, unless you don’t have personal car insurance.
- 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 exclude 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.
It’s essential that you read your card’s policy carefully 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 — and will let you confirm that your rental vehicle type and country where you’ll be renting are covered. You also need to recognize that you may still be on the hook for a significant expense if you’re in an accident that damages another car, impacts personal property or injures another driver or passenger.
So with all of those details out of the way, what are some popular travel rewards credit cards that offer primary car rental coverage? Note that this isn’t an exhaustive list, so you may find other cards that also offer primary coverage. And, I’ve excluded cards like The Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card and Ink Plus Business Card that offer primary car rental coverage but aren’t currently accepting new cardholders.
Chase Cards With Primary Car Rental Coverage
Select Chase credit cards offer primary car rental coverage when you use your card, or in some cases your Ultimate Rewards points, to pay for the entire rental. Here are some of these cards.
The Sapphire Reserve and Sapphire Preferred both provide primary car rental coverage for rentals in most countries. 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:
When the Chase Sapphire Reserve was first introduced, it 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 earn 3x points on travel and dining purchases as well as have access to great perks like a $300 annual travel credit, Priority Pass Select membership, no foreign transaction fees and an application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck (up to $100). See our full card review for more details.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card carries a better sign-up bonus of 60,000 points when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening while only charging a $95 annual fee. The Sapphire Preferred only offers 2x points on travel and dining, but doesn’t charge any foreign transaction fees. See our full card review to learn more.
For tips on choosing between the two, see Chase Sapphire Preferred vs. Chase Sapphire Reserve: Which Credit Card to Get.
Ink Business Cards
The Ink Business cards — Ink Business Preferred Credit Card, Ink Business Cash Credit Card, Ink Business Unlimited Credit Card —offer primary coverage for normal types of vehicles. The coverage provides reimbursement up to the actual cash value of the vehicle for charges related to 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.
However, note that you’ll only be covered by primary coverage while renting primarily for business purposes, renting outside your country of residence for personal reasons or if you do not have automobile insurance. If you are renting for personal reasons in your country of residence, you’ll only get secondary coverage.
The 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. See our full card review for all the details.
The Ink Business Cash Card 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 internet, cable and phone 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. Unfortunately, the Ink Cash charges a 3% fee for foreign transactions, but doesn’t charge an annual fee. See our full card review for more information.
The Ink Business Unlimited Card currently offers $500 cash back after you spend $3,000 in the first three months from account opening. Earning on this card is straightforward: you’ll earn 1.5% cash back on all purchases. As with the Ink Business Cash, you can convert these earnings to Ultimate Rewards points if you hold a card that earns Ultimate Rewards. There’s a 3% fee for foreign transactions, but there’s no annual fee. See our full card review to learn more.
Select United Co-Branded Cards
Four of United’s co-branded credit cards offered by Chase — the United Explorer Card, United Explorer Business Card, United Club Card and United Club Business Credit Card — provide primary coverage with policy terms 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. For the business version, you’ll get primary coverage unless you’re renting for personal reasons within your country of residence (in which case you’ll get secondary coverage).
The current sign-up bonus on United Explorer Card is 40,000 miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open. You’ll earn 2x miles at restaurants, on purchases made directly with United and on purchases made directly with hotels, as well as 1x miles on all other purchases. You’ll also get priority boarding and your first checked bag free on United-operated flights, as well as two United Club one-time passes each year and a statement credit for a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee (up to $100) every four years. The card doesn’t charge any foreign transaction fees, but it does have a $95 annual fee that’s waived your first year. See our full card review for more details.
The current sign-up bonus for the United Explorer Business Card is 50,000 miles after you spend $3,000 in the first three months. You’ll earn 2x miles at restaurants, gas stations and office supply stores as well as on all purchases made directly with United. You’ll also get priority boarding and your first checked bag free on United-operated flights, as well as two United Club one-time passes each year. The card doesn’t charge any foreign transaction fees, but it does have a $95 annual fee that’s waived your first year. See our full card review for more information.
The Club cards give you full United Club membership. You’ll earn 2 miles per dollar on United purchases and 1.5 miles per dollar elsewhere plus 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 don’t charge any foreign transaction fees. See our full review for the personal version.
Amex Cards With Primary Car Rental Coverage
No American Express credit cards offer primary car rental coverage, although most offer secondary coverage. But all American Express credit cards offer an optional Premium Car Rental Protection policy that can be added to rentals made using the card for a small fee. See When to Use American Express’ Premium Car Rental Protection for more details on this protection option.
You can add Premium Car Rental Protection to any American Express card. TPG has a guide of the best American Express cards, but here are some of the best cards in terms of the return you could receive when renting a car. Note, the estimated return rate for these cards is based on TPG’s latest valuations.
- Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card ($450 annual fee (see rates & fees), 4.2% return on car rentals booked directly from select car rental companies)
- The Blue Business℠ Plus Credit Card from American Express ($0 annual fee (see rates & fees), 4% return on general spending)
- Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express ($95 annual fee, 3% return on general spending in billing cycles where you make 30+ purchases)
The information for the Amex EveryDay Preferred card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
For rentals before September 22, 2019, select Citi cards like the Citi Prestige, Citi Premier Card and Citi / AAdvantage Platinum Select World Elite Mastercard offer secondary coverage when renting a car in the US but primary coverage when renting abroad. However, these cards will no longer offer rental car coverage as of September 22.
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. And, realize that credit cards never provide liability insurance. 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.
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*Bonus value is an estimated value calculated by TPG and not the card issuer. View our latest valuations here.
- Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $750 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
- 2X points on travel and dining at restaurants worldwide & 1 point per dollar spent on all other purchases.
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