Which Cards Offer Primary Car Rental Insurance?

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Many credit cards offer some type of insurance for rental cars. This benefit can be helpful if an unfortunate accident or theft happens to your rental. Credit card coverage is even more important if you don't own a car and have your own insurance. However, insurance varies by card issuer and by credit card. Below, we explain how these benefits work for some of the most popular travel credit cards.

How does car rental insurance work?

Generally, car rental insurance can be either primary or secondary. The difference between the two is very important. Primary rental car insurance pays for claims before your personal car insurance kicks in. This means you don’t have to use your personal insurance or the rental company’s insurance to get full coverage for your rental. In other words, primary rental car insurance prevents you from having to submit a claim with your insurance and paying a deductible.

Secondary rental car insurance, also known as supplemental insurance, kicks in only after you’ve used the coverage you already have in place–whether it’s your personal insurance or the rental company’s insurance that you signed up for. This means you must first file a claim with your personal insurance or the rental company’s, and then file a separate claim with the credit card company as your secondary insurer.

Clearly, primary rental car insurance is a better option than secondary, if available. First, it’s easier to use because you only submit one claim directly with the credit card company. Second, you avoid the risk of a rate increase with your personal insurance for submitting a claim.

One word of caution, however: Primary coverage does not always cover injuries to passengers, stolen personal items, or damaged property. Primary coverage is often limited to collision damage and theft.

Chase Cards

Chase leads the pack by offering complimentary primary coverage with several cards:

To use Chase's rental car insurance, you must book and pay for your rental car with your Chase credit card. Also, you must decline the rental company’s collision damage waiver and loss damage waiver.

Chase business cards, like the Chase Ink Business Preferred, offer primary coverage for normal types of vehicles. Coverage includes reimbursement up to the actual cash value of the vehicle for charges related to physical damage or theft of the vehicle, valid loss-of-use charges assessed by the rental company, and reasonable and customary towing charges related to a covered loss. However, you will only be covered by primary coverage while renting primarily for business purposes. If you are renting for personal reasons in your country of residence, you’ll only have secondary coverage.

In addition to the cards listed above, some Chase cards with no annual fee offer primary rental car insurance while traveling outside the U.S., though their coverage is secondary for U.S. rentals. These cards include the Chase Freedom Flex and Chase Freedom Unlimited. However, since those cards charge foreign transaction fees, it’s best to avoid using them to rent abroad, even if renting from a U.S. company.

American Express Cards

Most American Express cards offer complimentary secondary car rental insurance for when your rental car is damaged or stolen. No enrollment is required. You just have to use your Amex card to reserve and pay for your rental, and decline the collision damage waiver offered by the rental car company. Coverage excludes some vehicles, such as cargo vans, custom vans, vans with a seating capacity over eight passengers, cube vans, box trucks, any truck that has a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 pounds or more, antique cars, limousines, off-road vehicles, motorcycles, mopeds, recreational vehicles, motorized carts, and campers. A list of Amex cards offering secondary coverage and their individual policies is available here.

If renting a car with an Amex card for the complimentary secondary insurance, we recommend the following cards to maximize your points earning:

Most Amex cards offer the opportunity to purchase primary coverage at a flat rate cost per rental. When you enroll to purchase premium car rental protection, you receive coverage for your rental for up to 42 consecutive days. The flate rate also includes eligible luxury cars, SUVs, and pickup trucks.

Enrollment is required, but you only pay for the coverage when you actually rent a vehicle. The premium protection will be automatically charged to your enrolled card when you make a reservation, unless you cancel enrollment beforehand. To enroll, click on the Benefits tab on Amex’s website and select “Premium Car Rental Protection” among your card benefits:

Amex's premium car rental protection requires prior enrollment. You can find this in the Benefits tab of Amex's website.

Premium coverage varies among Amex cards. By way of example, let’s see what the American Express Platinum consumer card version offers.

The Amex Platinum charges a flat rate of $19.95 or $24.95 per rental, not per day. The lower rate provides up to $75,000 in coverage, while the higher end covers up to $100,000. Amex’s premium coverage also includes secondary medical coverage and accidental death or dismemberment coverage. Premium coverage does not cover liability. Amex’s website offers a useful chart to help assess whether premium coverage is the right option for you:

Amex provides a helpful chart comparing its premium car rental protection and the complimentary secondary coverage.

Amex’s coverage is available worldwide, except in Australia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, New Zealand, or in any instance where coverage would be in violation of U.S. economic or trade sanctions.

Capital One Cards

Many Capital One business cards provide primary rental collision damage waiver on eligible vehicles rented for business purposes. As with other cards, you must reserve and pay for your rental car with your Capital One credit card and decline the rental company’s collision damage waiver. If your rental is for personal purposes, the coverage is secondary. 

Capital One’s rental collision damage waiver provides reimbursement for collision damage and theft. Coverage is available worldwide except in Jamaica, Israel, the Republic of Ireland, and Northern Ireland.

Final Thoughts

Chase clearly leads the pack when it comes to primary coverage for rental car insurance. Many Chase cards offer complimentary primary coverage with no added hassle. Just use your Chase card to book and pay for your reservation and decline the rental company’s coverage. You still have options if you don't have a Chase card. Many Amex cards offer primary coverage for a small fee per rental, up to 42 days. If you only rent a car once or twice a year, the Amex fee will be less than the annual fee for Chase cards, including the Chase Sapphire Preferred’s $95 annual fee. Meanwhile, for business travelers, Capital One business cards also offer primary collision damage waiver on vehicles rented for business purposes.

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Travel on Point(s) has partnered with CardRatings for our coverage of credit card products. Travel on Point(s) and CardRatings may receive a commission from card issuers. Opinions, reviews, analyses & recommendations are the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any of these entities.