8 Things to Know About Credit Card Rental Car Insurance Before You Book Your Next Car

Here’s how credit card car rental insurance protects you against losses — and what the limitations might be.
Last updated Oct 5, 2020 | By Christy Rakoczy
Woman picking up her rental car in a parking lot

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When you rent a car, you’re typically offered the chance to buy insurance coverage. If you decline, you could be held responsible for costs if you get into an accident or otherwise damage the vehicle.

The good news is, you may be able to turn down this insurance — and the extra cost it comes with — and still be protected if you have credit card car rental insurance.

Not all cards offer this benefit, and coverage varies from one card issuer to another. Still, if you have it, it can be an unexpected and valuable credit card perk you should definitely take advantage of.

Before you decline coverage or assume your card protects you, it’s helpful to know exactly what kinds of rental car insurance your card may offer you.

8 things to know about credit card car rental insurance

Whether you’re shopping for a new card or already have a card that offers rental insurance, there are a few things you’ll want to keep in mind. Here are eight key things you should know about the car rental insurance coverage that may come with your card.

1. Not every type of accident or expense may be covered

There isn’t just one type of insurance available when you rent a car, and credit card car rental insurance doesn’t necessarily cover you against all kinds of loss. Some of the different types of protection you may need — and that your card may provide — include the following:

  • Supplementary liability coverage: Liability insurance protects you if you cause an accident that damages other people’s property or hurts someone else. If you get sued, liability coverage pays the costs of resolving the lawsuit. You might already have liability coverage with your auto insurance, and your car rental company may be required to provide some liability protection.
    But some cards also offer supplementary liability coverage, which pays additional costs above the coverage limits of other policies protecting you. If you caused $30,000 in damage but only had $25,000 in primary liability coverage, for example, supplementary liability coverage could pay the other $5,000 in costs.
  • Collision damage waivers or loss damage waivers (CDW or LDW): This type of insurance protects you if the rental car is stolen or damaged while under your care. A CDW or LDW can pay for the costs of repairs and sometimes for other expenses, such as the rental company’s loss of use of the vehicle while it’s out of commission.
  • Personal accident insurance: This covers you in case you get into an accident and injure yourself or your passengers. Typically, it pays for medical care for you or your passengers that you need due to an accident, and it may pay a death benefit in the event of a fatality.
  • Personal effects coverage: This coverage protects you against the loss of valuable property you may have in your rental car. If your personal possessions are in the vehicle and are lost, stolen, or damaged, this insurance would pay you back up to policy limits.

Be sure to read the fine print of your credit card rental car insurance policy to see exactly what type of coverage is provided.

2. Insurance may be primary or secondary

Some credit card companies offer primary rental car coverage, while others offer secondary coverage; secondary insurance is more common. It’s important to know which one your card offers because there’s a big difference.

When you have primary insurance, that insurance coverage doesn’t require you to first make a claim with other insurance companies that could be responsible for your losses. It’s the first source you can look to in order to get losses covered.

Secondary coverage, on the other hand, only kicks in after you make a claim with your primary policy. When your rental car insurance is secondary, it comes second to your standard auto insurance policy that covers your personal car. You have to make a claim with your auto insurer first, and your secondary coverage only protects you against losses that your primary insurance won’t pay for.

If you don’t have a car of your own — and thus don’t carry your own auto insurance — credit card car rental insurance that’s normally secondary coverage could become primary. Likewise, if your standard auto insurance excludes coverage when you’re out of the country but your credit card’s insurance covers you, the credit card rental car insurance could become primary coverage.

3. You have to meet certain requirements to be eligible for coverage

Most credit card companies require you to fulfill certain obligations to receive coverage through your credit card’s car rental insurance. For example, you may need to:

  • Pay for the full rental transaction using a credit card that provides car rental insurance coverage
  • Decline the insurance from the car rental company if it’s offered to you

You likely also need to make sure that the person who rents the vehicle — the primary renter — is the one with the credit card that provides insurance coverage. While additional drivers may also be extended protection by the card’s rental insurance, the primary renter should be the cardholder.

4. Not all vehicles may be covered

Many card companies that offer car rental insurance only provide coverage if you rent a standard or typical vehicle. You may not be covered in circumstances where you rent cars that are out of the ordinary. For example, some types of vehicles that may be excluded from coverage include:

  • Antique cars
  • Certain vans
  • Vehicles that transport more than eight people
  • Vehicles with open cargo beds
  • Large trucks
  • Motorcycles
  • Mopeds
  • Motorbikes
  • Recreational vehicles
  • Limousines

5. Time limits may apply

Credit card car rental insurance is also typically intended to provide coverage for a rental car you use on a short trip. As a result, many insurance policies limit the number of days you can be covered for. If you’re renting a vehicle for months on end, chances are good that your rental insurance through your card company won’t protect you for the entire time.

For example, the Chase Sapphire Reserve won’t provide rental insurance coverage if your rental period on the vehicle exceeds — or is intended to exceed — 31 days.

6. You may be able to purchase more comprehensive rental insurance

Some credit card companies allow you to buy broader coverage through your card’s rental insurance if the standard coverage limitations would leave you unprotected. For example, American Express provides the opportunity to buy premium car rental coverage.

This premium coverage makes Amex’s car rental insurance primary, rather than secondary. It extends coverage for up to a 42-day rental period and provides as much as $100,000 in coverage for damage or theft of a rental vehicle or for accidental death or dismemberment in an accident. You also don’t have to pay a deductible for provided coverage.

If you’re considering buying supplemental coverage through your credit card company, find out prices and coverage details up front so you can compare the costs of getting insured through your car rental company versus your credit card.

7. Some international rentals may be excluded

Many cards provide car rental insurance coverage worldwide, but some countries may be excluded. Common exclusions include New Zealand, Ireland, Jamaica, Israel, Australia, and Italy.

Check your cardmember agreement or ask your card issuer to make sure you’ll be covered if you rent a car outside of the United States.

8. Paying with points or miles may affect your coverage

Because credit cards typically require you to pay for a rental car with your card to be covered by the card’s insurance, you might run into a problem if you pay for your card with miles or credit card points.

In many cases, you are not considered to be paying with your card when you redeem your points or miles to pay for your reservation and thus may not be eligible for the car rental insurance protections your card normally provides you.

While some credit cards do treat paying with points the same as paying for a car with the card — such as American Express — many cards do not. You’ll need to read your cardmember agreement carefully or ask your card issuer what the rules are before you decide to book a car using your card’s rewards.

Best credit cards for rental car insurance

So, which credit cards cover rental car insurance so you can take advantage of the protections this insurance provides?

The table below shows some of the credit cards with the most comprehensive protections for those who rent vehicles and want to limit their risk of financial loss if something goes wrong.

Card Insurance details Annual fee
Amex Platinum
  • Secondary coverage
  • Cardholder must sign the rental agreement, decline the rental company’s insurance, and pay for the rental with their Amex card
  • You’re covered up to $75,000 for theft or damage to the rental vehicle and up to $5,000 per person for medical expenses, plus other coverage for death and dismemberment
$550
Chase Sapphire Preferred
  • Primary coverage
  • Cardholder must be the primary renter, complete the transaction using the card, and decline the rental car company’s offered insurance coverage
  • You’re covered up to the actual cash value of most rental vehicles
$95
Chase Sapphire Reserve
  • Primary coverage
  • Cardholder must be the primary renter, complete the rental transaction using the card, and decline the rental car company’s insurance
  • You’re covered for up to $75,000 in covered losses to the rental vehicle
$550
Citi ThankYou Premier
  • Secondary coverage
  • Cardholder must be the primary renter, the entire transaction must be paid for with the Citi card, and the cardholder must decline the rental car company’s coverage
  • You’re covered for up to $100,000 in damages due to loss or theft
$95
United MileagePlus Club Card
  • Primary coverage
  • You must charge the entire rental to your card, the cardholder must be the primary renter, and you must decline the rental company’s insurance coverage
  • You’re covered up to the actual cash value of the vehicle for most rental cars
$450

#1 Travel Rewards Card

Benefits

  • 80,000 point sign-up bonus
  • 2X points on eligible dining and travel purchases
  • 25% more value when redeeming rewards for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards
  • Premium travel protection benefits