Credit Cards with Primary Car Rental Insurance Coverage
Hilary Stockton

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Credit Cards with Primary Car Rental Insurance Coverage


Does your credit card offer primary car rental insurance coverage? And how about for foreign travel abroad? Most credit cards offer some amount of rental car insurance, but it's typically secondary to your existing auto insurance coverage.

Keep in mind that for U.S. drivers, when you're traveling overseas, even secondary coverage is effectively primary because your U.S. auto insurance policy doesn't cover you when renting abroad. Also, for folks like me that don't have a car and therefore no auto insurance, secondary coverage is effectively primary coverage even for U.S. rentals, because there they don't have any other auto insurance policy.

First, let's be clear on the coverage we're talking about for primary car rental insurance: Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) insurance.

CDW covers (up to the policy coverage limit):

  • Damage to the rental car
  • Theft of the car
  • Loss of use (loss to the rental car company for not being able to rent the car, while it is being repaired)
  • Towing

But, there are other liabilities that CDW does NOT cover:

  • Damage to any other car
  • Damage to any property
  • Injuries to people (whether in the other car, pedestrians, you, or your passengers)


Only a few credit cards offer primary car rental insurance coverage--here are my picks:

1. United MileagePlus Explorer

  • "Your MileagePlus Explorer Card provides you with primary coverage for physical damage and theft of most rented vehicles"
  • Coverage for rentals up to 15 consecutive days in your country of residence and 31 days outside your country of residence
  • Must decline rental car company's CDW coverage


2. Fairmont Visa

  • Primary coverage for physical damage and theft of most rented vehicles
  • Coverage for rentals up to 15 consecutive days in your country of residence and 31 days outside your country of residence
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Must decline rental car company's CDW coverage

3. United Club Card

  • Primary coverage for physical damage and theft of most rented vehicles
  • Coverage for rentals up to 15 consecutive days in your country of residence and 31 days outside your country of residence
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Must decline rental car company's CDW coverage

4. AMEX Premium Car Rental Protection

  • Primary coverage
  • Free to enroll
  • Flat rate of $24.95 ($17.95 for California residents) for up to 42 consecutive days (up to 30 consecutive days for WA Cardmembers) of coverage
  • Up to $100,000 in CDW primary coverage (against damage or theft of the rental car)
  • No deductibles
  • Coverage worldwide excluding Australia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, and New Zealand
  • Must decline rental car company's CDW coverage
  • Covers most vehicles, including convertibles, exotic cars, minivans, pickup trucks and full sized SUVs

5. Discover Escape Card

  • Primary coverage for physical damage and theft of most rented vehicles
  • Coverage up to $50,000 per incident for rentals up to 31 consecutive days
  • Excluded countries: Australia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, and New Zealand
  • Must decline rental car company's CDW coverage
  • Con: Discover not accepted as widely


6. Sapphire Preferred Visa and  MasterCard

  • CDW coverage worldwide (including Israel, which is typically excluded) via MasterRental
  • It is also primary in the U.S. 
  • No foreign transaction fees
  • Must decline rental car company's CDW coverage

7. Citi ThankYou Cards
  • CDW coverage up to $50,000 worldwide for rentals up to 31 consecutive days
  • While not primary in the U.S. if you have auto insurance, it's effectively primary if you don't, or if you're renting abroad
  • Must decline rental car company's CDW coverage

Other Tips:
  • Get the Terms in Writing to Bring With You: Get a copy of your credit card's car rental insurance coverage policy well before you need it. Typically it will only be provided by snail mail, and it may take a couple weeks to receive it
  • Watch Those Excluded Countries: Commonly excluded countries are Australia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica and New Zealand. For these, consider getting a World Elite MasterCard, such as the Sapphire Preferred MasterCard
  • Careful About Type of Car: Apart from the AMEX Premium Car Rental Insurance, most credit card insurance coverage excludes non-standard car rentals, such as convertibles, luxury vehicles, SUVs, etc.
  • Careful About Using Coupons: Some policies, notably AMEX, as these may nullify your insurance coverage. See Flyertalk discussion. And don't try using points for the rental: you need to pay with card you want to receive insurance coverage from, taxes don't count.
  • Know Your Car Insurance Policy: Review your own car insurance policy, if you have one, for rental car coverage and liability coverage. U.S. policies in general exclude all rentals outside the U.S. 
  • Check What the Rental Car Company Coverages Are: Is Liability coverage included, and if so, what are the limits? It's obviously crucial to have adequate coverage for anyone who might be injured--other drivers, pedestrians, and your passengers.
  • Ensure All Drivers are Authorized: If your spouse or other travel companion may be driving, make sure s/he is an authorized driver on the rental agreement
  • If Relying on Credit Card CDW, Decline Rental Car CDW: You'll nullify the credit card insurance coverage if you don't decline the rental car company's CDW.
Do you hold any other credit cards that provide primary car rental insurance coverage or have tips to share?

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User_avatar_default Gary R. commented 15 May 2013
I'm pretty sure that the Chase Ink cards also offer primary protection.
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 15 May 2013
Gary, true, although you do need to be careful that you're using it for business travel, as it specifically states that for any personal leisure travel, coverage is secondary.
Picture?type=large Xiangyi L. commented 15 May 2013
I didn't know the Fairmont Visa is among the pack. Checked the terms - indeed it says Primary. Nice! Thanks for sharing.
User_avatar_default Dave G. commented 18 May 2013
Great post, I had no idea that using a coupon could cause the credit card insurance to be void.
User_avatar_default Allen H. commented 03 Aug 2013
Hilary - since you don't own a car and therefore don't have auto insurance, do you buy supplemental liability insurance whenever you rent a car? It sounds like primary car rental insurance only covers CDW, not liability (which is required in most states, such as California).
Avatar_60_hilary Hilary Stockton commented 03 Aug 2013
Allen, yes, absolutely--liability coverage is critical since should an accident happen that could easily be the most expensive aspect. I only decline CDW.
User_avatar_default Allen H. commented 03 Aug 2013
That is quite interesting. You and I may be in the minority for not having auto insurance, but the car rental companies and credit card companies don't do a great job of advertising that CDW is not enough. In fact "primary car rental insurance" almost seems to imply that it is comprehensive.
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