Whether we’re seeking lounge access, generous welcome bonuses, or a shortcut to the next level of airline status (my personal favorite), most of us probably have a credit card strategy that is based on some perks that we are really excited to use.
But there’s a whole other side to the equation – a side that doesn’t get the same level of attention, but can end up being the biggest money-saver – and those are the perks that you don’t want to ever have to use. One of the best examples of this is rental car collision insurance.
And in case you’re wondering if I have any experience with this, why yes, yes I do. And don’t worry, you’ll hear all about it very soon.
But to start, I wanted to cast a wider net and look at some of the perks that are available to all of us through the various cards that are out there. It’s never easy with insurance – each card has its own unique terms and conditions, the rental car companies want to sell you on their policies, and there’s the small issue of your primary car insurance for your personal vehicle. Even different cars may be subject to different rules.
So pour yourself a drink, kick up your feet, and buckle up (okay, maybe not in that order) as we dive into the exciting world of rental car insurance.
Before we get too far, there are a couple of terms that we should go over. These are extremely important in determining what’s covered and what’s not covered:
Liability coverage is what covers you for the damage that you do to anything or anyone else. This is the coverage that you are you legally obligated to have if you own a car, and is not covered under your card’s policy.
Collision coverage is for any damage specifically inflicted on your car – bumper damage, tree branch through the window, etc. (flat tires are typically excluded from this, however). This is primarily what we will be looking at here.
Before we go any further, I want to make one thing very clear: Credit card collision insurance is a not substitute for liability coverage. What that means is that if you damage anything other than your car in any kind of accident, you are still on the hook. So please make sure you are covered there – you can even buy a liability insurance policy if you don’t own a car.
Okay, off my soapbox.
The other important distinction to make is between primary and secondary coverage, which we will be looking at more closely here. In a nutshell:
Primary coverage is when you are covered regardless of your existing insurance situation. In other words, you get into a fender bender, you contact your credit card company directly, they send you to their insurance provider, and you file directly with them and carry on with your life. No harm, no foul, no raised premiums on your personal insurance.
Secondary coverage kicks in after your existing insurance has been maxed out. While you should be able to get your deductible covered, sadly, your monthly premium won’t be immune. If you don’t carry collision insurance, then this becomes your coverage automatically because, well, there is no other primary.
So which of our tried and true credit card friends offer the best coverage?
Rental car coverage through Chase
Chase is currently the only credit card carrier that I know of offering primary coverage as the default option on some of its cards. The following cards currently include primary coverage:
- Chase Sapphire Reserve®
- Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card
- The Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card
- UnitedMileagePlus® Explorer Card
- United MileagePlus® Club Card
- Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card (car must be rented for business purposes)
- Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card (car must be rented for business purposes)
- United MileagePlus® Explorer Business Card (car must be rented for business purposes)
Primary coverage should include international travel, but there are some country exceptions, so you’ll probably want to check your card’s specific guide to benefits before committing to this option.
Unfortunately, there’s no great one-stop shop that lays out the guide to benefits for each of Chase’s cards, but here is a sample guide to benefits for the Chase Sapphire Preferred, and here is one for the United MileagePlus Club Card.
Chase contracts with Card Benefit Services, also known as Eclaims Line, to process all of their claims, so you can check them out to learn more about what you’re in for if you ever do need to file.
Rental car coverage through American Express
This is where things start to get hairy. While American Express touts “Car Rental Loss and Damage Insurance” as one of the major benefits for many of its travel cards, all of the cards currently listed in the American Express portal only offer secondary coverage.
One nice thing about American Express is that they readily post their benefit guides online (although reading through them is another story). All 53 existing cards currently have published benefit guides for their secondary rental car coverage. I’m not going to break each one down here because I can already hear some of you starting to doze off, but if you want to find yours and go through the fine print, have at it.
Spoiler alert: the very last rider on the very last pages includes coverage for lost and stolen items in the vehicle.
If you do want primary coverage through your AMEX card, you can purchase primary rental car coverage through American Express directly for a flat rate of either $19.95 or $24.95 per rental car period, depending on how paranoid cautious you are.
The higher end service offers up to $100,000 for damage or theft of the vehicle, as well as a slew of other services including Death or Dismemberment coverage and up to $15,000 for secondary medical expenses per person.
Again, this is not the same as liability coverage, and you would probably have to do some pretty serious damage to tap into some of these benefits.
It should also be noted that this coverage is not available in Australia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, or New Zealand.
Rental car coverage through Citi
Citi’s approach is different in a couple of respects. They actually don’t advertise their secondary coverage in their portal, but their coverage does offer a few random benefits of note:
- While coverage is secondary in the United States, it automatically kicks up to primary coverage when traveling outside of the country — most other cards only offer primary coverage abroad if your personal auto insurance doesn’t cover this
- There are no excluded countries
- Their guide to benefits reads more like an owner’s manual and less like a legal document, and is really easy to access
To view your card’s benefits, simply log onto your Citi account and select “Card Benefits” from the “Rewards and Benefits” option:
Then select the “Travel Protection Benefits” tab:
And finally, select “Worldwide Car Rental Insurance:”
And voila! You should have complete access to your benefits, right at your fingertips.
If you’re not currently a Citi cardholder you can view a sample guide to benefits here. Just note that it’s from 2016 (although I don’t think much has changed based on my current guide).
Rental car coverage through Capital One
Their rules are a little different, depending on whether you have a Visa or a Mastercard. High level: you’re mostly getting secondary insurance. There are a few exceptions:
- Visa Business cards provide primary insurance when the vehicle is rented for business purposes. Otherwise, the insurance is secondary.
- Mastercards all provide secondary insurance, with the possible exception of the World Elite Business Mastercard. There’s some language indicating that the insurance is primary, but frankly, it’s pretty nebulous.
When in doubt, I would read through the individual benefit guide. Some of these cards have 14-day rental car periods and $50,000 caps, so it’s worth checking and calling your benefits administrator if you are not sure.
Credit card rental car insurance exclusions
Speaking of limits, it wouldn’t be insurance if there weren’t some exclusions involved (those times when you are NOT covered). While each policy is different, here are some of the common ones that you’re likely to see:
Specific types of vehicles
While the standard fare of rental cars are typically covered, if you’re renting a Porsche or a 15-passenger van, you’re probably out of luck.
Typically, luxury vehicles, vehicles designed to transport more than eight people, and antique cars are excluded. So don’t cave on the upsell to that ’72 Camaro.
Again, each policy is different, but with the exception of Citi, most cards come with some country exclusions (I’m looking at you, Amex!) Even if your policy is all-inclusive, you’ll want to print out a copy of your benefits guide for the…well…benefit of the foreign rental car company.
Chances are, the employees at the counter won’t be familiar with your credit card policies, and they may or may not accept your coverage. This is particularly prevalent in more remote locations or at off-airport rental car centers, but it’s probably best to have your policy printed either way, for everyone’s sanity.
Most of these policies will only cover you for the first 30-31 days of a rental. If you plan on traveling for longer, you may want to look at other options or consider swapping out your rental car, if possible.
Car for hire
Don’t pretend that your rental car is an Uber.
The car is used in a way that goes against your rental car agreement
Don’t drag race. Don’t drink and drive.
These are true of just about every policy, but check yours for specifics:
- You must pay for the rental car with the credit card in question (this may sound obvious until you land at 1 AM and just can’t wait to get to the hotel…)
- You must decline the rental car company’s collision coverage
- You must be listed as the primary driver on the vehicle
Whether you’re a notorious car crasher or you just want to save money by declining that last insurance upsell, these benefits can provide huge savings.
Each program offers some different perks, so be sure to read your cardholder’s policy to make sure you know what is and isn’t covered.
How have you used credit card rental car coverage? What was your experience?