Best credit cards for rental car coverage
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If you don’t rent cars frequently, you may be confronted with a confusing list of car insurance add-ons or protections when you pick up your car. Well, good news: Depending on which credit card you use, you may be able to avoid purchasing the rental company’s collision damage waiver (CDW). With the card, you may be covered.
Some credit cards offer a CDW when you pay for your car rental with the card. This waiver can cover the rental car if you’re in an accident or if it’s stolen or damaged. Let’s consider the car rental protection provided by some credit cards and try to answer some common questions regarding this benefit.
Related: Five steps to a perfect car rental
The best credit cards for rental car coverage
- Chase Sapphire Reserve
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
- Ink Business Preferred Credit Card
- Ink Business Cash Credit Card
- Ink Business Unlimited Credit Card
- United Explorer Card
- United Club Card
- United Club Business Card
- Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business
- Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business
- Any American Express card that’s enrolled in American Express’ Premium Car Rental Protection program
These cards offer primary coverage on most rentals. Our guide focuses on cards that provide primary coverage, and discusses the difference between primary and secondary coverage. Near the end of the guide, we highlight a few low-fee or no-annual-fee cards that provide secondary coverage.
Primary versus secondary coverage
The car rental coverage provided by some credit cards comes in the form of a primary or secondary auto rental collision damage waiver (CDW). Secondary coverage is more common, but has some significant drawbacks. The most significant drawback is that secondary coverage kicks in after your personal car insurance, and in some cases, after any other types of insurance, such as travel insurance.
If you’re in an accident in a rental car, which you’ve paid for with a card that provides secondary coverage on your rental car, you must file a claim with multiple insurance companies. Primary coverage, on the other hand, will apply before any other types of insurance.
Both types of coverage usually have a published maximum amount of coverage, so make sure the published maximum meets or exceeds the total value of the car you’re renting. Generally, you can be reimbursed for the cost to repair the rental car or the actual cash value of the rental car, whichever is less. With secondary coverage, you will only be reimbursed the amount that isn’t covered by any other insurance policies.
Most secondary policies on credit cards automatically become primary coverage in two common scenarios. First, if you’re renting a car outside the U.S. and your personal car insurance policy doesn’t cover you in that country, the CDW from that card may become primary. Second, if you don’t own a car (and thus don’t carry car insurance), most secondary coverage offered by credit cards will become primary.
What’s covered (and what’s not)
The auto rental CDW benefit provides reimbursement for damage due to collision or theft up to the actual cash value of most rental vehicles. Usually, only physical damage and/or theft of the rental vehicle is covered. But, some cards also cover loss-of-use charges assessed by the rental company and towing charges to take the vehicle to the nearest qualified repair facility.
To be covered by a credit card CDW waiver, you must decline the rental company’s collision damage waiver or similar provision, if it is offered to you. But, it’s also important to remember that some rental vehicles may not be eligible for coverage. In particular, it’s important to keep the following provisions in mind if you use or rely upon these benefits.
Liability insurance isn’t included
Although the collision damage waiver provided by your credit card may cover damage to your rental car, it won’t take care of damage you cause to other cars and personal property. The credit card CDW does not cover injuries to you, your passengers or pedestrians involved in the accident. Your personal car insurance policy will likely kick in here. It’s a good idea to check your policy or call your provider to confirm.
If you don’t own a car, consider purchasing non-owner car insurance, which is offered by many insurance companies, but often isn’t advertised online.
Not all car types are covered
If you stick to the normal categories of car rentals such as compact, intermediate and full size, these policies will apply. However, most policies exclude specialty-class vehicles, including large passenger vans, pickup trucks, antique vehicles and motorcycles. Many policies exclude leases and micro-leases, which often means that rentals through person-to-person car sharing companies such as Turo are excluded.
There’s a limit on the number of days
Many readers likely stick to short car rental periods for trips, but if you need a car rental for multiple months, your credit card coverage typically won’t apply.
Some countries are excluded
Although the exact list of excluded countries varies from card to card and issuer to issuer, the most common exceptions I’ve noticed are Australia, Israel, Italy, Ireland, Jamaica, Northern Ireland and New Zealand. Regardless of where you’re travelling, it’s best to call the customer service number on the back of your card to ensure your destination is covered when renting a car outside the United States.
Ensure your rental is eligible
It’s essential that you read your card’s policy carefully to understand what is and isn’t covered. If you have any doubts about your coverage, a quick call to the customer service number on the back of your card allows you to get more information and confirm that your rental vehicle type is covered in the country where you’ll be renting.
Top cards with primary car rental coverage
Now, let’s consider some of the best credit cards that offer primary car rental coverage when you use your card to pay for the entire rental.
Note that this isn’t an exhaustive list, so you may find other cards that also offer primary coverage. And, I’ve excluded cards such as The Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card and Chase Ink Plus Business Card that offer primary car rental coverage for current cardholders but aren’t currently accepting applications.
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 the guide to benefits for full details at the following links:
The Chase Sapphire Reserve is one of the hottest premium travel rewards credit cards on the market despite its $550 annual fee. It currently offers 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 3 points per dollar spent on travel (excluding $300 travel credit) 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, travel protections and an application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck (up to $100). See our full card review for more details.
Here’s the official application link for the Chase Sapphire Reserve
The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is one of the best travel rewards cards with a sub-$100 annual fee. The Sapphire Preferred 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.
Here’s the official application link for the Chase Sapphire Preferred
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.
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 and have automobile insurance, 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 on purchases 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.
Here’s the official application link for the Ink Business Preferred
The Ink Business Cash Card currently offers $500 cash back after you spend $3,000 on purchases 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.
Here’s the official application link for the Ink Business Cash
The Ink Business Unlimited Card currently offers $500 cash back after you spend $3,000 on purchases 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.
Here’s the official application link for the Ink Business Unlimited
Capital One Spark Business cards
Two cards in the Capital One Spark family of business cards — the Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business and the Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business — offer primary auto rental CDW when the vehicle is rented for commercial or business purposes. And you’ll get secondary coverage when renting for personal reasons. The cards provide reimbursement for damage due to collision or theft up to the actual cash value of most rentals when you use your card to rent for 31 days or less.
The current sign-up bonus for the Capital One Spark Cash for Business is a $500 cash bonus when you spend $4,500 in the first 3 months of account opening. You’ll earn 2% cash back on all purchases. You’ll also get purchase protection and extended warranty protection. The card doesn’t charge any foreign transaction fees, but it does have a $95 annual fee that’s waived for the first year. See our full card review for more information.
Here’s the official application link for the Capital One Spark Cash for Business
The current sign-up bonus for the Capital One Spark Miles for Business is 50,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,500 in the first 3 months of account opening. You’ll earn 5x miles on hotels and car rentals when booked through Capital One Travel, and 2x miles on all other purchases, and miles can be redeemed for 1 cent each toward travel or transferred to airline partners.
You’ll also get a statement credit of up to $100 for a TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fee when you pay the fee with your card. The card doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees, but it does have a $95 annual fee that’s waived for the first year. See our full card review for more information.
Here’s the official application link for the Capital One Spark Miles for Business
Top cards with secondary car rental coverage
If you don’t have a card that offers primary car rental coverage, your next best bet is a card that offers secondary coverage. Many credit cards offer secondary car rental coverage, including a few options highlighted below.
American Express Cards
Most American Express cards offer secondary car rental coverage. In fact, you can see the entire list of cards that offer secondary car rental protection on the American Express website. So, if you don’t need primary coverage, you can just use one of these cards and decline the rental company’s coverage.
But, if you’re looking for primary coverage, all American Express credit cards offer an optional Premium Car Rental Protection policy that can be added (for a small fee) to your rental using the card. 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. 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 and fees; 4.2% return on car rentals booked directly from car rental companies, and no foreign transaction fees, see rates and fees
- The Blue Business®️ Plus Credit Card from American Express: $0 annual fee, see rates and fees; 4% return on general spending on the first $50,000 in purchases annually and 1X points thereafter, and 2.7% foreign transaction fee, see rates and fees
- The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express: $95 annual fee; 3% return on general spending in billing cycles where you make 30+ purchases, and 2.7% foreign transaction fee
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.
The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card offer auto rental CDW coverage that is secondary when you rent within your country of residence and primary when you rent outside your country of residence. You’ll be covered up to the actual cash value of most rental vehicles when you rent up to 15 days within your country of residence or up to 31 days outside your country of residence.
The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card currently offers 50,000 bonus miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months from account opening. You’ll earn 2 miles per dollar spent on all purchases. The card has a $95 annual fee that’s waived the first year and doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. See our full review of the Capital One Venture for more details.
Here’s the official application link for the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card
The Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card currently offers 20,000 bonus miles once you spend $1,000 on purchases within the first three months from account opening. You’ll earn 1.25 miles per dollar spent on all purchases. The card has no annual fee and it doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. See our full card review for more information.
Here’s the official application link for the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card
If you’re looking for a no-annual-fee card that offers secondary car rental insurance, the Chase Freedom or Chase Freedom Unlimited might be a good pick. These cards provide coverage up to the actual cash value of the rental car for rentals of 31 days or less. Coverage within your country of residence is secondary; coverage outside your country of residence is primary.
The Chase Freedom has rotating 5% bonus categories (up to $1,500 spent on purchases each quarter you activate) while the Chase Freedom Unlimited earns 1.5% on all purchases. Although neither card has an annual fee, both cards charge a 3% foreign transaction fee.
Many of us tend to focus on the number of points you can earn and then redeem when considering top travel rewards credit cards, especially when they come with lucrative welcome bonuses. However, the other credit card benefits can come in handy when traveling, and primary car rental coverage can be a lifesaver if 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 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.
Featured photo by Darren Murph/The Points Guy.
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