The 10+ Best Credit Cards for Primary Car Rental Insurance [2019]

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You’re faced with several decisions when renting a vehicle but none is more important than whether to purchase the car rental insurance coverage offered by the rental car company.

The representatives are pros at telling you why you need their coverage, so unless you’ve done your homework in advance, you’re likely to just accept the coverage in an effort to ensure you’re covered during the rental period.

Purchasing the car rental agency’s coverage can be expensive, though, as much as $30 per day. Having car rental insurance on your credit card allows you to confidently decline that coverage, forego the added expense, and potentially save hundreds of dollars.

In order to accomplish these savings, you’ll need to be prepared and pay for your rental with a credit card that offers primary car rental coverage.

Our objective in this article will be to help you understand car rental coverage and recommend a few credit cards that offer great car rental insurance.

Let’s get started on our journey.

What is Primary Car Rental Insurance?

There are 2 levels of car rental coverage that can be offered on your credit card — secondary and primary. A single credit card could even apply both types of coverage. For example, a card could offer primary coverage when you rent a vehicle outside your country of residence, and secondary coverage within your country of residence.

Car rental insurance is also referred to as Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) or Loss Damage Waiver (LDW) by the car rental companies and also by some credit card companies.

This is because CDW/LDW coverage is not really insurance, although it functions similarly because it waives your responsibility to pay for damages, theft, or other related charges you could incur during a rental car incident.

Before we discuss the best credit cards for primary car rental insurance, let’s first define the difference between secondary and primary coverage and how these coverages may be applied.

Secondary Collision Damage Waiver Coverage

Secondary CDW coverage, also referred to as “excess” coverage, requires you to first file a claim with any insurance that might be applicable to the situation before the secondary coverage kicks in. This is important because your own insurance company could potentially penalize you for an accident if you file a claim.

You may also have to pay a high deductible when filing a claim with your own insurance company, depending on the coverage you have.

Primary Collision Damage Waiver Coverage

Primary CDW coverage does not require you to file a claim with your own insurance company before coverage kicks in. It functions as the primary coverage for the car rental incident.

Bottom Line: Credit cards can offer CDW/LDW coverage that is secondary or primary. Some credit cards offer a combination of both, applying primary coverage outside of your residence country and secondary within your country of residence, for example. Another scenario is that primary coverage may apply if you do not have your own car insurance or if the coverage you do have does not cover you outside of your resident country. 

Best Personal Credit Cards With Primary Car Rental Insurance

Some of the best personal credit cards with primary car rental coverage are issued by Chase. Be aware that not all Chase cards have primary coverage — some offer secondary coverage.

Here are the best personal Chase cards that offer primary car rental insurance.

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

One of our favorite travel rewards cards, the Sapphire Preferred card earns valuable Ultimate Rewards points and offers 25% more value when points are redeemed for travel. Additionally, with primary car rental insurance, you’ll have the peace of mind knowing you’re covered if you have an incident with your rental vehicle.

Chase Sapphire Reserve® Card

Chase’s premium travel rewards card comes with several travel benefits that favor the frequent traveler. Complimentary worldwide lounge access alone is reason enough to have the card but additional benefits such as statement credits and 3x earnings on travel purchases make it a good choice for value.

United Club℠ Card

In addition to primary car rental insurance, the United Club card offers the frequent United flyer a generous welcome bonus, complimentary United Club lounge access, priority boarding, and free checked bags.

What’s Covered — Chase Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver

  • Primary coverage for damage or theft of the rental vehicle up to the actual cash value of the vehicle ($75,000 limit on Chase Sapphire Reserve card).
  • Towing charges related to the loss that are reasonable and customary.
  • Loss of use charges levied by the rental agency due to the vehicle not being in service.
  • Coverage is valid for rental periods not exceeding (or intending to exceed) 31 days.
  • Coverage is effective in the United States and most foreign countries; call the administrator before you rent outside of the U.S.

Who’s Covered

The primary cardholder and any driver listed on the rental agreement are covered. Authorized users that use their card to rent a vehicle are also covered as well as any additional drivers they add to the rental agreement.

Amex Car Rental Insurance
You can secure primary car rental insurance for pennies a day with American Express. Image Credit: American Express

American Express Premium Car Rental Insurance

You’ve likely heard that American Express cards do not come with primary car rental insurance. While it’s true that you won’t find primary car insurance on American Express cards, secondary car rental insurance is included. Fortunately, there is an easy and affordable option for securing primary coverage on most American Express cards.

Sign up for Premium Car Rental Protection coverage in advance, then use the enrolled American Express card to reserve and pay for your rental. The premium (primary) coverage will automatically be applied.

You’ll be charged only when you actually rent a vehicle and the cost will be between $12.25 and $24.95 depending on your coverage selection, for the entire rental period, up to 42 days. For a 30 day rental, that’s as little as 41 cents per day.

What’s Covered — American Express Premium Car Rental Protection

  • Primary car rental coverage for damage or theft to the rental vehicle, loss of use, and applicable related charges.
  • Coverage limit of up to $100,000 for damage/theft but less can be selected.
  • Up to $100,000 accident death/dismemberment ($250,000 for California residents).
  • Up to $15,000 in excess property damage and $5,000 in excess medical expenses per person.
  • Worldwide coverage with the exception of Australia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, and New Zealand.
  • Up to 42 consecutive days of coverage (30 days for Washington state cardholders).

Who’s Covered

The primary card member and any authorized driver listed on the rental agreement are covered under the plan. In addition, passengers are covered for the associated medical benefits.

Please note that coverage descriptions have been abbreviated. You can access a sample of the Premium Car Rental Protection plan with full terms and conditions here.

Hot Tip: The cost of purchasing American Express Premium Car Rental Protection for your entire rental period could be less than the cost of 1 day CDW/LDW coverage purchased directly from the rental car company. 

Recommended American Express Personal Travel Rewards Cards

You can add Premium Car Rental Protection to most American Express cards. Here are 2 American Express travel rewards cards we recommend.

The Platinum Card® from American Express

The frequent discerning traveler will make good use of the premium travel benefits offered by the Amex Platinum. Worldwide lounge access, hotel elite status, hundreds of dollars in annual statement credits, and 5x earnings on flights make the card a wise choice for the traveler.

American Express® Gold Card

The Amex Gold card functions with dual identity as a travel rewards card and an everyday spending card. It earns elevated rewards on travel and everyday purchases such as groceries and dining.

When it comes time to redeem your points, you’ll find the best value transferring to travel partners or purchasing travel via Amex Travel.

Car on Road Unsplash
Your business credit card can cover you for personal use outside of your resident country. Image Credit: Alex Mares via Unsplash

Best Business Credit Cards With Primary Car Rental Insurance

Business credit cards handle car rental insurance coverage a bit differently than personal cards. You’ll receive primary car rental coverage if you are renting primarily for business purposes and use your associated card to pay for the rental.

You are also covered for personal use when renting a vehicle outside of your resident country. If you rent for personal use within your country of residence, you will not have primary coverage.

You can be confident you’ll have proper car rental insurance coverage with any of these Chase business credit cards as all 3 cards offer a primary car rental coverage benefit.

What’s Covered

Like the Chase personal cards mentioned earlier in this article, coverage for damage, theft, and loss-of-use of the rental car for a covered incident are covered. Coverage is valid in most countries as long as the rental period is 31 days or less.

Who’s Covered

The primary cardholder and any drivers listed on the rental agreement are covered. Authorized users are also covered when using their card.

Hot Tip: If you’re looking for a no-annual-fee business credit card that also offers primary car rental insurance, the Ink Business Unlimited℠ Credit Card or the Ink Business Cash℠ Credit Card each fit that criteria perfectly.

How to File a Claim

Report the Claim

Your first step in the process will be to report the claim to the credit card claims administrator as soon as possible after the incident. This can be done by calling the number on the back of your credit card and they will transfer you to the appropriate person.

You’ll be asked some initial questions regarding the claim and then sent a claim form to complete.

Be sure to obtain a claim number and the name of the person who initiated your claim in case you do not receive the claim form promptly and need to follow up.

Gather the Documentation

Before you embark on your journey, it may be helpful to read up on what will be required should you have a rental car claim. Gathering the documentation you need at the time of the accident is much easier than trying to do so after you return home.

You may be asked to submit any, or all, of the following:

  • A copy of your credit card statement validating that the rental car was paid for entirely with the associated card
  • A copy of the full car rental agreement
  • A statement from the rental company stating the damages you’re responsible for
  • A police report
  • Photos of the damage
  • Repair estimates
  • Any additional documentation the benefits administrator requests

Know the Deadlines

There will be several dates you’ll need to adhere to during the claim process. Failure to meet any of them could jeopardize your benefits.

  • The deadline to report the initial claim
  • When the completed claim form needs to be submitted or received
  • The dates all required documents need be submitted and/or received

Follow Up

Claims personnel are busy handling several claims each day. Plan to follow up to ensure all the required documents have been received and that the claim is progressing.

Bottom Line: It is your responsibility to initiate the claim with the credit card claims administrator and adhere to the deadlines for submitting the required documents. It’s also a good idea to follow up to make sure your claim is progressing and all required documents were received.

Additional Cards with Primary Car Rental Insurance

There are several other credit cards that carry primary rental car insurance. Here are just a few:

Everything Else You Need to Know

Requirements to Ensure Coverage

Adhere to these requirements to ensure the car rental coverage on your card is activated:

  • Reserve and pay for the entire car rental reservation with the associated credit card.
  • Decline the rental car agency’s CDW/LDW coverage.
  • List all drivers you want to be covered on the car rental agreement.

Hot Tip: If you use points that are associated with the credit card to pay for your car rental, or a combination of points and charging the remainder on your card, you will still have coverage if all the other conditions are met.

Exclusions

  • The coverage on your credit card may exclude certain countries.
  • Liability insurance that covers damage to the property of others, medical injuries to passengers and pedestrians is not included in coverage that comes with your credit card. The good news is that because this coverage is mandatory it is usually included in your rental car daily rate.
  • Certain types of cars are normally excluded for coverage. These can include high-value luxury cars, commercial vehicles, off-road vehicles, motorcycles, and others. Check your specific card exclusions prior to renting.

Additional Information

If you do not have your own personal auto insurance, many credit cards default to applying primary car rental coverage, even if the card normally offers just secondary coverage. Check the coverage on your specific card for the terms and conditions.

Coverage periods vary. You may find that some CDW coverage covers rentals of 31 days or less, others just 15 days. Check for the rental period limit on your card before renting a vehicle.

Prior to renting a vehicle outside your country of residence, ask the card issuer’s claims administrator for a letter of coverage to carry with you. This letter can serve to validate existing coverage when declining the car rental company’s coverage.

Final Thoughts

Insurance can be inherently complicated and car insurance especially so.

If you have questions about the coverage on your card, you can always call the administrator before you rent a vehicle.

Arming yourself with a little knowledge of car rental insurance and having a card in your wallet that affords primary rental car insurance can go a long way towards saving you money, yet keep you protected, during your next car rental.


FAQ

Which credit card has the best car rental insurance?

The best credit card for car rental insurance will offer primary car rental coverage. You will also want the coverage to include damage to the rental car, loss of use coverage while the car is being repaired, towing, and theft.

If we had to select 1 card that tops the list for car rental insurance, it would be the Chase Sapphire Preferred card for its elevated earnings on travel, a generous welcome bonus, and flexible redemption options.

With that said, all of the cards we’ve mentioned in the article carry primary car rental coverage or make this coverage easily available. Selecting the card that aligns with your spending and that offers other benefits you can readily use will make sure you’re getting the maximum value from the card.

Does my credit card have car rental insurance?

The quickest way to find out if your credit card has car rental insurance is to call the number on the back of your credit card.

You can also access the Guide to Benefits that came with your card. All of the terms and conditions, limits of coverage, and exclusions will be spelled out clearly in that document.

Some guides are available online but you can request a new copy by logging into your online credit card account or by calling the number on the back of your card.

What is the difference between primary and secondary car rental insurance?

Put simply, secondary car rental insurance requires that you submit a claim to any other car insurance you might have access to before the credit card coverage kicks in.

Primary car rental insurance becomes effective immediately and does not first require you to file a claim elsewhere.

If I use points for the car rental, am I still covered?

Yes. If you use points that are associated with your credit card, you will still be covered providing you have complied with other requirements.

You must have reserved and paid for the entire rental with points, a charge on your associated card, or a combination of both. You must also decline the rental car agency’s CDW/LDW coverage.

Additionally, any driver you want to be covered must be added to the rental agreement.

Christine Krzyszton

About Christine Krzyszton

Christine, who lives in Northern Michigan, travels about 300,000 miles a year despite her remote location. Her expertise is traveling the world on a weekend with no pre-determined destination in mind, letting the cost of the airfare determine where she will go. She has over four million flown miles and elite status on all three major domestic carriers.

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