Which Credit Cards Offer Primary Rental Insurance Coverage?
Rental car agencies will offer extra insurance options when you pick up the car, but knowing which credit cards offer primary rental insurance coverage can help you decide how much (if any) you want to pay for. Not all policies are created equal, and the cards are not uniform by any means in how their policies work.
What is Primary Rental Insurance Coverage?
The key word is “primary”, meaning that this is your go-to, first option. By having “primary”, this is your first coverage. Other cards will offer “secondary” coverage, meaning it can fill in the gaps from what the rental car company’s insurance didn’t cover (assuming you bought it). Rental agencies will offer you Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) or Loss Damage Waiver (LDW). Only waive these if you know you have primary insurance coverage from your own policy or from your credit card.
Primary rental insurance for rental cars means this is your first call after an accident, theft, or other type of damage to your rental. Not dealing with “secondary” policies can reduce the amount of paperwork and number of agencies involved when something goes wrong. That’s already stressful enough without adding more insurance agents and more companies putting you on hold. Secondary coverage typically involves your own insurance policy, as well. Who wants to call them to make a claim and have your rates go up ever month? No thanks.
Things To Know Before You Rent A Car
Before digging into which cards DO offer this benefit, there are some things to know about how to use this perk. Not taking the right steps before the accident can mean you’re stuck with the bill. Here’s what you need to know in advance:
- You need to reserve and pay for the rental car with the credit card whose insurance you want to fall under. (Sounds like a no-brainer, but this means paying with a different card and then supplying this card for the security deposit during rental won’t cut it)
- You must list all drivers on the rental agreement. If the person driving during the accident isn’t on the paperwork, you’ll have a mountain of problems.
- When picking up the car, decline the rental company’s CDW / LDW. If you want your coverage to be primary, don’t accept theirs.
Charges that a rental agency can hit you with during an accident include not only repair costs but also towing to the repair shop and something called “loss of use”. This is what the rental agency claims they’re losing every day that car can’t be rented by other customers.
These Credit Cards Offer Primary Rental Insurance
Noticeably absent from this list: Citi products. After they revamped their perks and benefits back in September, they axed this benefit from everything but the Costco card. Barclays, Bank of America, and Discover also don’t offer primary coverage.
Chase Credit Cards
Coverage is primary with these Chase cards and provides reimbursement up to $75,000 for theft and collision damage for rental cars in the U.S. and abroad. That includes using your card to pay or your points through the Chase portal with Ultimate Rewards earning cards.
- Chase Sapphire Reserve (earn 3X on the rental)
- Chase Sapphire Preferred (earn 2X on the rental)
- United MileagePlus Club Card
- United MileagePlus Explorer Card
- United Gateway Card (coverage is secondary in the U.S., unless you have no other policy)
- United Quest Card
- Chase Ritz-Carlton Rewards Visa
- Chase Ink Business Plus
- Chase Ink Business Preferred
- United Explorer Business Card
- United Club Business Card
- Chase Ink Business Unlimited
- Chase Ink Business Cash
One thing to remember on the business cards. The primary coverage only works when the rental is being used for business purposes.
Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi
Primary coverage is available from the Costco Anywhere Visa Card by Citi. It provides coverage up to $50,000 worldwide. You and authorized drivers are covered, as long as you pay for the full rental with this card and decline the rental agency’s coverage. Benefits are described here.
Note that this benefit is secondary within the U.S. If you have another policy, that will take preference.
Capital One Cards
Coverage is primary with these Capital One cards and provides reimbursement up to $75,000 for theft and collision damage for rental cars in the U.S. and abroad. That includes using your card to pay and points-based payments through Capital One Travel
Both of these will earn bonus points if your rental is booked through Capital One Travel.
Remember that coverage for rentals on business cards is intended for rentals being used for business purposes.
American Express Cards
Surprisingly, they’re all created equal. Why? Not a single one of American Express‘ credit cards offer primary rental insurance. Here’s why they’re on the list: they all offer an option for it. The fee isn’t bad: $19.95 to $24.95. Fees vary depending on the card you’re using and the options selected. The Premium Car Rental Protection option moves your secondary coverage (default) to primary when using your Amex cards. Enroll in advance when reserving the car.
USAA Credit Cards
There’s a reason why their slogan is “I’m a USAA member for life!” Many people swear by them for their customer service and perks for military. When low-fee or no-fee credit cards offer primary rental insurance, that’s a win. USAA is only open to members of the military, veterans, and eligible family members. If you qualify, this is a great option for a card to cover your rental cars. All of their cards offer this perk equally. It should be noted that this insurance is primary 1) when renting outside your home country and 2) when renting in your home country and you don’t have a car insurance policy of your own. If you have a car insurance policy on your personal vehicle, for example, then the USAA coverage becomes secondary.
U.S. Bank Visa Credit Cards
U.S. Bank offers primary rental insurance on many of their credit cards, as well. Benefits breakdowns per card can be seen here, but numerous cards offer primary rental insurance if you decline the insurance from the rental agency and pay for the full cost of the rental with your U.S. Bank credit card. Those cards which offer this perk provide the exact same levels of coverage — both personal and business cards. The Altitude reserve offers primary insurance, for example, while FlexPerks Gold doesn’t
Notable Exceptions to Primary Rental Insurance Through Credit Cards
Not to make you think insurance could be simple, there are exceptions. Aside from the business / personal use exception listed above, there are other things to know.
Where You’re Driving the Car
Most rental coverage doesn’t cover certain places. Aside from the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control and their countries you basically can’t do business with (Cuba, South Sudan, North Korea, etc.), there are other countries often not covered. The most common countries blocked from coverage policies: Australia, Israel, Italy, Ireland, Jamaica & New Zealand. Renting a car in these countries? Take a longer look at your coverage options before picking up the car.
Most coverage only applies to standard cars. Anything from compact to full-sized sedan should be good. If you’re renting a Hummer or a Ferrari, you’re probably not covered. “Non-standard” is a catch-all term that means cars that are overly pricey or likely to lead you to risky driving (off-road, super fast) won’t be covered. This also applies to large vehicles like an RV or a huge van for your family reunion.
Non-Standard Driving Behavior
Speaking of going off-roading, check your coverage terms. If you’re doing something outside of normal street driving, you might not be covered. Racing, driving off-road without a special policy addition, or committing a crime behind the wheel (DUI, for example) can void your coverage.
Length of Rental
The Amex policy above covers 42 days. However, Chase and USAA coverage periods are for 30 days. The Costco Anywhere Visa covers rentals of a max of 31 days. If you’re getting a long-term rental, check with the insurance provider to see what changes after 30 days.
A Note About the Other Car(s) and Other Driver(s)
You were in an accident, but you’re OK. You’re safe, and your credit cards offer primary rental insurance. Everything is going to be fine…until you get a huge bill. These primary insurance policies through credit cards cover your rental car. YOUR rental car. That’s it. Did you damage another car? Hit a fence or damaged someone’s property? These fall under liability insurance, which isn’t in the policies.
Was the car damaged because someone else ran into you and doesn’t have insurance? This type of coverage falls under Uninsured Motorist and/or Underinsured Motorist policies. Primary coverage from your credit card won’t cover cases where the rental car agency wants to pursue these UM policies.
The policies also won’t cover physical injuries to you, your passengers, or other people. They basically accomplish 1 thing: make sure you don’t owe the car rental agency money for damaging or losing the car. Anything else is usually left out. Guess who foots that bill if you haven’t planned for it.
Knowing that credit cards offer primary rental insurance is great, because it can save money and paperwork during the rental process if something should go wrong. However, it’s not as simple as it looks on the surface. You might escape this ordeal without owing anything to the rental agency for damages, but it won’t cover medical bills or paying for the repairs to a car you bumped into. Take all of these things into consideration when renting a car, so you can make the best, most informed decision possible to protect yourself. No one else is going to look out for you. As a final note: it won’t hurt to get a letter or document of some kind showing that you have primary rental insurance coverage. I’ve been to rental counters that wouldn’t let me decline coverage without proving (in writing) that I have it from another source.