Credit card rental car insurance: Best cards and how it works

18 April 2023

If you’re looking to rent a car for an upcoming, you may be wondering how to get insurance on your rental — and hopefully without paying extra for that coverage.

When you pick up a rental car, the rental agency may present you with a confusing list of car insurance add-ons and protections available for purchase. Although buying rental car insurance might seem like a good idea, you might not need to. After all, some of the best travel rewards cards provide car rental insurance that may allow you to decline the rental company’s collision damage waiver.

In particular, some top rewards cards automatically offer a collision damage waiver when you pay for your car rental with your card. This waiver can cover rental car accidents, theft or damage. Today, I’ll discuss the best options for car rental insurance from credit cards and answer some common questions regarding this benefit.

How does credit card rental insurance work?

You need two things — a credit card with car rental insurance and a rental car — but simply having them isn’t sufficient. Terms and conditions vary, but they generally require you to pay for your rental car with the appropriate card (usually the whole bill, not just part of it) and to decline the insurance offered by the rental car company.

If you don’t follow these requirements, your credit card car rental insurance won’t take effect. That’s bad news if you run into a problem, only to find out you don’t have the protection you thought you had. You also need to understand that this coverage doesn’t provide other types of insurance, which we’ll discuss below.

The best credit cards for rental car insurance

While understanding how many points or miles you might earn is important, we’re focusing on something else: insurance protections that cover as many aspects of a rental as possible without surprise fees.

The following cards offer primary car rental insurance on most rentals:

Chase Sapphire Reserve.
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.
Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card.
Ink Business Preferred Credit Card.
Ink Business Cash Credit Card.
Ink Business Unlimited Credit Card.
United Explorer Card.
United Quest Card.
United Club Infinite Card.
United Business Card.
Any American Express card that’s enrolled in American Express’ Premium Car Rental Protection program.

Related: Should I purchase rental car insurance for a rental car booking?

Primary vs. secondary car rental insurance

The car rental coverage available on select travel rewards cards can be a primary or secondary auto rental collision damage waiver. Secondary insurance only kicks in after other types of insurance, such as travel insurance or your personal car insurance, have been used. Secondary insurance would cover any expenses remaining to be paid, such as deductibles on those other policies.

If you’re in an accident in a rental car and used a credit card with secondary insurance, you’ll likely need to file claims with multiple insurance companies. On the other hand, primary insurance applies before any other type of insurance. With primary insurance, you’d file one claim.

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Both types of insurance usually have maximum coverage amounts, so make sure these meet or exceed the total value of the car you’re renting. Generally, primary insurance will reimburse you for the rental car’s cash value or the cost to repair it — whichever is less. However, secondary insurance will reimburse you only for the amount not covered by other insurance policies.

Most secondary credit card car rental insurance policies automatically become primary insurance in two common scenarios. First, if you’re renting a car outside the U.S. and your personal car insurance policy doesn’t provide coverage, your credit card’s insurance may become primary. Second, if you don’t own a car or carry a car insurance policy, most secondary insurance from credit cards will become primary.

Related: 11 common rental car mistakes — and how to avoid them

What’s covered (and what’s not)

The car rental insurance from your credit card is technically called “auto rental collision damage waiver.” This benefit provides reimbursement for damage due to collision or theft — up to the actual cash value of most vehicles. While the coverage from some cards also covers loss-of-use and towing charges assessed by the rental company, policies from other credit cards only cover physical damage or theft of the rental vehicle.

Additionally, some rental types and locations may not be eligible for coverage. Keep the following provisions in mind if you rely on credit card car rental insurance benefits:

Liability insurance isn’t included

Although your card’s benefits may cover damage to your rental car, the benefits don’t cover damage you cause to other vehicles and personal property. And the credit card collision damage waiver typically doesn’t cover injuries to you and/or other people involved in the accident. Your car insurance policy may kick in here, but it’s helpful to check your policy or call your provider to confirm.

If you don’t own a car and want liability protection, consider purchasing non-owner car insurance. Many insurance companies offer this type of protection, though it may not be advertised online. It’s worth pricing out policies with several companies, as prices can vary greatly.

Not all car types are covered

If you stick to the standard categories of car rentals — such as compact, intermediate and full-size — your credit card’s car rental insurance should apply. However, most policies exclude specialty vehicles, which usually cover large passenger vans, pickup trucks, antique vehicles, RVs and motorcycles.

KATIE GENTER/THE POINTS GUY

In addition, many policies exclude leases and micro-leases, and most exclude rentals through person-to-person car-sharing companies such as Turo.

Related: Are Turo car rentals covered by credit card insurance?

There’s a limit on the number of days

Many readers likely rent cars for just a few days. But if you need a car rental for multiple months, your credit card insurance typically won’t apply. Be sure to check the policy limit on rentals; most cover 30 days, but it’s worth knowing the exact limit of your coverage.

Related: Can’t find a car rental? Here are 7 secrets that may help

Some countries are excluded

The exact list of excluded countries varies from card to card and issuer to issuer. Still, the most common exceptions are Australia, Israel, Italy, Ireland, Jamaica, Northern Ireland and New Zealand. Before traveling, call the customer service number on your card to ensure your destination is covered when renting a car outside the United States. Other exclusions for coverage include countries with U.S. economic sanctions, meaning rentals in countries like Cuba likely aren’t covered.

Ensure your rental is eligible

You must read your card’s policy carefully to understand what isn’t covered. If you have any doubts about your insurance, call the customer service number on your card. You can get more information and confirm that your policy covers your rental vehicle type in the country you’ll be visiting.

Related: How I saved nearly $250 on a one-day car rental by taking a $110 Uber ride

Call the number on the back of your card to ask questions about cardholder benefits. BROTHERS91/GETTY IMAGES

Top cards with primary car rental insurance

This section discusses some of the best credit cards offering primary car rental insurance — as long as you use your card to pay for the entire rental. Note that this isn’t an exhaustive list; you may find other cards offering primary insurance. In particular, we’ve excluded cards that aren’t open to new applicants.

Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

The Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Sapphire Preferred provide primary car rental insurance for rentals in most countries, covering rentals of up to 31 consecutive days. In particular, this policy covers losses — including physical damage and theft of the rental vehicle — valid loss-of-use charges from the rental company and reasonable and customary towing charges related to a covered loss.

Rental cars at PLZ airport in South Africa. KATIE GENTER/THE POINTS GUY

Policy details vary slightly between the two cards, though. For details, read the full benefits guides at the following links:

Sapphire Reserve benefits guide.
Sapphire Preferred benefits guide.

Related: Sapphire showdown: Chase Sapphire Preferred vs. Chase Sapphire Reserve

In addition to rental car benefits, the Sapphire Reserve provides perks like up to $300 in annual travel credits, Priority Pass Select membership, best-in-class travel protections and an up-to-$100 application fee credit for Global Entry, TSA PreCheck or Nexus every four years.

Meanwhile, the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is easily among the best travel rewards cards with a sub-$100 annual fee. The Sapphire Preferred includes benefits like a 10% points bonus on your cardmember anniversary and a $50 annual hotel credit for stays booked through Chase Travel.

See the full review of the Chase Sapphire Preferred and the full review of the Chase Sapphire Reserve to learn more about each card.

Official application links: Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve.

Capital One Venture X

The Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card offers an auto rental collision damage waiver that may reimburse you for damages caused by theft or collision up to the actual cash value of your rental vehicle — up to $75,000. And you can only get insurance when you rent for up to 15 consecutive days in your country of residence or up to 31 consecutive days in other countries.

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In addition, you can even stack rental car perks with Hertz when renting through the Capital One Travel portal.*

New applicants approved for the Capital One Venture X can currently earn 75,000 bonus miles after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first three months from account opening. The card has a $395 annual fee but offers various perks, including up to $300 back as statement credits each year for bookings through Capital One Travel, Priority Pass and Capital One Lounge access, anniversary bonus miles and at least 2 miles per dollar spent on all purchases.

*Upon enrollment, accessible through the Capital One website or mobile app, eligible cardholders will remain at upgraded status level through December 31, 2024. Please note, enrolling through the normal Hertz Gold Plus Rewards enrollment process (e.g. at Hertz.com) will not automatically detect a cardholder as being eligible for the program and cardholders will not be automatically upgraded to the applicable status tier. Additional terms apply.

Learn More: Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card

Ink Business cards from Chase

Three of the Ink Business cards from Chase — Ink Business Preferred Credit Card, Ink Business Cash Credit Card and Ink Business Unlimited Credit Card — offer primary insurance for most vehicles. This credit card rental car insurance provides reimbursement up to the vehicle’s actual cash value for charges related to physical damage or theft of the rental vehicle, valid loss-of-use charges assessed by the rental company and reasonable and customary towing charges.

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You’ll only be covered by primary insurance while renting primarily for business purposes, renting outside your country of residence for personal reasons or if you do not have automobile insurance. Conversely, if you rent for personal reasons in your country of residence and have automobile insurance already, you’ll only get secondary insurance.

Related: Your guide to the Chase Ink Business credit cards

The Ink Business Preferred Card offers a sign-up bonus of 100,000 bonus points after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. With this card, you’ll earn 3 points per dollar spent on travel, shipping purchases, internet services, cable services, phone services and advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines (on up to $150,000 in combined purchases each account anniversary year, then 1 point per dollar) and 1 point per dollar spent on everything else. This card has a $95 annual fee.

However, there are two cards in the Ink lineup without annual fees.

The Ink Business Cash Card offers a $750 bonus after you spend $6,000 on purchases in the first three months after account opening. You’ll earn 5% cash back at office supply stores and on internet, cable and phone services (on up to $25,000 in combined purchases each account anniversary year, then 1% back). You’ll also earn 2% cash back at gas stations and restaurants (again capped at $25,000 annually, then 1% back) and 1% cash back on other purchases.

The Ink Business Unlimited Card offers a $750 bonus after you spend $6,000 on purchases in the first three months after account opening. And earning is straightforward: You’ll earn 1.5% cash back on all purchases.

With both of these cards, you can combine your earnings with other eligible Chase cards to convert them to full Ultimate Rewards points. Unfortunately, both the Ink Cash and the Ink Unlimited charge a 3% foreign transaction fee. There are no foreign transaction fees on the Ink Preferred.

See our reviews of the Ink Business Preferred, Ink Business Cash and Ink Business Unlimited for more details on these cards.

Official application links: Ink Business Preferred, Ink Business Cash and Ink Business Unlimited.

United Airlines cards

These United credit cards are available to new applicants and offer primary car rental insurance — assuming you decline the rental company’s collision insurance and charge the entire rental cost to your card. This insurance provides reimbursement up to the vehicle’s actual cash value for theft and collision damage for most rental cars in the U.S. and abroad. They are:

United Explorer Card.
United Quest Card.
United Club Infinite Card.
United Business Card (when renting for business purposes).

Related: 4 reasons someone in your family needs a United credit card

RYAN SMITH/THE POINTS GUY

The United Explorer Card currently offers a bonus of 50,000 miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open. You’ll earn 2 United miles per dollar spent on United purchases, dining and hotel stays when booked directly with the hotel. This card has a $0 introductory annual fee, then $95 thereafter.

See our full United Explorer credit card review for more details.

The United Quest Card currently offers 60,000 bonus miles and 500 Premier qualifying points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open. You’ll earn 3 miles per dollar spent on United purchases (immediately after earning your $125 annual United purchase credit) and 2 miles per dollar spent on other travel, dining and select streaming services. The card has a $250 annual fee.

See our post about who should get the United Quest card for more details.

The United Club Infinite Card currently offers 80,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. You’ll earn 4 miles per dollar spent on United purchases and 2 miles per dollar spent on dining and all other travel. The card has a $525 annual fee and includes United Club access as a built-in benefit.

See our full United Club Infinite credit card review for more details.

The United Business Card offers 75,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. You’ll earn 2 miles per dollar spent on United purchases, at gas stations, at office supply stores, on dining and on local transit and commuting. The card has a $0 introductory annual fee, then $99.

See the full United Business credit card review for more details.

Official application links: United Explorer Card, United Quest Card, United Club Infinite Card and United Business Card.

Top cards with secondary car rental insurance

If you don’t have a credit card that offers primary car rental insurance, your next best bet is a card that provides secondary insurance. Many credit cards offer secondary car rental insurance, so we’ve only highlighted a few of our favorite options.

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American Express cards

Most American Express cards offer secondary car rental insurance.* You can access the entire list of cards that offer secondary car rental protection on the American Express website. It includes popular cards like The Platinum Card® from American Express, American Express® Gold Card, Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant® American Express® Card and Delta SkyMiles® Blue American Express Card. If you don’t need primary insurance, you can use one of these cards and decline the rental company’s insurance.

But, if you’re looking for primary insurance, all American Express cards offer an optional Premium Car Rental Protection policy that can be added (for a small fee) to your rental using the card. Note that enrollment is required in advance for some of these benefits.

*Eligibility and benefit level varies by card. Not all vehicle types or rentals are covered, and geographic restrictions apply. Terms, conditions and limitations apply. Visit americanexpress.com/benefitsguide for details. Policies are underwritten by AMEX Assurance Company. Coverage is offered through American Express Travel Related Services Company, Inc.

Related: Your complete guide to travel protections on American Express cards

Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card

The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card offer car rental collision damage waiver insurance. Insurance is secondary when you rent within your country of residence and primary when you rent outside of it. However, benefits are available only on accounts approved for the Visa Signature card, and terms apply.

Related: Capital One Venture Card vs. Capital One VentureOne Card: Which one is right for you?

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The Capital One Venture card offers 75,000 bonus miles after spending $4,000 on purchases within the first three months of account opening. You’ll earn at least 2 Capital One miles per dollar spent on every purchase and 5 miles per dollar on hotel and rental car bookings through Capital One Travel. The card has a $95 annual fee. Read our full Capital One Venture credit card review for more details.

The Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card offers 40,000 bonus miles after spending $1,000 on purchases within the first three months from account opening. You’ll earn at least 1.25 miles per dollar spent on every purchase but earn 5 miles per dollar on hotel and rental car bookings through Capital One Travel. The card has no annual fee. Read our full Capital One VentureOne credit card review for more information.

Learn More: Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card.

Chase Freedom Flex and Chase Freedom Unlimited

If you’re looking for a no-annual-fee credit card that offers secondary car rental insurance, the Chase Freedom Flex or Chase Freedom Unlimited merit attention. These cards provide insurance for theft and collision damage for most cars in the U.S. and abroad and even cover valid loss-of-use charges, administrative fees and towing charges related to covered incidents. Insurance within your country of residence is secondary; insurance outside your country of residence is primary.

THE POINTS GUY

Although neither card has an annual fee, both cards charge a 3% foreign transaction fee. Thus, using these cards to pay for a car rental outside the U.S. would add damage protections but also increase the cost of your rental. See our Chase Freedom Flex credit card review and Chase Freedom Unlimited credit card review for more information.

Related: Credit card showdown: Chase Freedom Flex vs. Chase Freedom Unlimited

Bottom line

Many consumers focus on the number of points they can earn and redeem when choosing a travel rewards card. However, credit card travel protections can be useful on the road. In particular, credit card rental car insurance can provide significant value.

However, reviewing the details of your card’s policy is essential to understand what is (and isn’t) covered. Don’t assume you’re covered for every possible mishap when you pay for a car rental with a credit card that offers insurance, as many exceptions and exclusions apply.

And keep in mind that credit cards rarely provide liability insurance or insurance for peer-to-peer rentals like Turo. Ensure you know the details and how they relate to your rental location, vehicle type, length of rental period and other important issues so you don’t get surprised by a bill if something bad happens to your rental car.

Related reading:

Renting a car under 25? Here’s how to save money
My experience with Kyte, the rental car startup that brings the car to you
Chase Sapphire rental car insurance: What it covers and how to file a claim
Readers say this credit card insurance provider isn’t reliable: Here’s what you need to know

For Capital One products listed on this page, some of the above benefits are provided by Visa® or Mastercard® and may vary by product. See the respective Guide to Benefits for details, as terms and exclusions apply.

Additional reporting by Ryan Smith.

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