Rental Car Insurance: Which Credit Cards Have You Covered

Rental Car Insurance: Which Credit Cards Have You Covered

Do you really need rental car insurance? Many rental agencies offer damage waivers for about $15-$25 a day, selling peace of mind along with expanded coverage. But these waivers are often no better than the coverage you already have with your favorite credit card. Not only does your primary insurance company often step in, but every state has a minimum insurance requirement.

Depending on where you rent, the rental company’s liability for injury or property damage may be anywhere from $25,000 to $50,000. This could still leave a big bill for you to foot, but your credit card will also step in — sort of. All four major card networks offer rental insurance, but vary substantially in benefits and requirements.

Thinking about relying on your credit card for rental car coverage? Read this first

Before we review the rental car insurance benefits offered by each network, there are a few important things to keep in mind:

  • Generally, your credit card offers secondary rental insurance. This means that it will only pay for the cost of certain damages not covered by your regular car insurance policy.
  • As the cardholder, you must book the rental car with your credit card under your name in order to receive coverage. Simply carrying a card that offers rental car insurance isn’t sufficient.
  • Typically, you must refuse the coverage offered by the rental car agency in order to receive rental car insurance benefits from your credit card. We’ll discuss exceptions to this general rule below.
  • This article applies to consumer credit cards. While many business credit cards offer rental car insurance, coverage levels could be substantially different from the benefits described below.
  • Cards in the same network may have varying levels of coverage. Some issuers don’t offer rental car insurance at all, while others set terms different from the network standard. Call your bank or check your card’s benefits statement to learn more about your specific card’s benefits.
Nerd note: Much of the information discussed in this article is a compilation of resources available online. However, some of it was obtained through phone calls to customer service hotlines. This is just one more reason that it’s important to get in touch with your card’s issuer to verify its rental car coverage policy before you set off on your trip. Here are some important terms to know before you call:
  • Loss of use: The cost of renting another car while the original is out of commission.
  • Fully utilized: A card network may cover loss of use only if the auto rental company’s fleet is “fully utilized,” generally meaning that 80% of the cars are in use.
  • Diminished value: The amount that the rental car’s resale value goes down. This cost is usually relatively small, unless you manage to significantly damage the car without totaling it.
  • Antique cars: All of the networks exclude coverage of antique cars, usually defined as a car made at least 20 years ago or one that has been out of production for 10 years.
  • Vans: As a general rule, personal-use vans that seat eight people or fewer are covered. However, some waivers specifically exclude SUVs, and almost all exclude cargo vans.

Benefits by network: An overview

Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover all provide rental car insurance above and beyond what your primary insurer and rental company will offer. Here’s a quick overview of each network’s benefits and limitations:

Visa: Visa is often touted for its excellent rental car insurance benefits, mostly because it’s widely available for cardholders. Unlike many other networks, it offers rental car insurance on all of its cards — standard, Signature, rewards, the works. However, it limits its rental car period to only 15 days domestically.

MasterCard: Its benefits are similar to Visa’s. However, rental car insurance is not offered on all cards — according to customer service, it’s only available on Platinum, Gold, World and World Elite cards.

American Express: AmEx is the only network to offer premium coverage for a small fee. It offers free secondary coverage up to $50,000 ($75,000 on the The Platinum Card® from American Express and Delta Reserve Credit Card cards), but will offer primary coverage with a higher limit and protection against injury and property damage if you opt for it.

Discover: Discover’s coverage is limited to a handful of cards. Unlike the other three networks, Discover doesn’t cover loss of use fees, only collision damage up to a $25,000. That said, the Discover Escape offers a step up from the network’s other offers.

Drilling down: A network-by-network comparison

Visa and MasterCard

Both Visa and MasterCard emphasize that their terms vary by issuing bank. Again, check with your particular card’s issuer before heading out on vacation.

Benefit Visa MasterCard
Offered on All cards Gold, Platinum, World and World Elite
Rental Period 15 consecutive days domestic/31 abroad 15-31 consecutive days, depending on the card
Must decline rental insurance? Yes Yes
Vehicle Value Not specified <$50,000
Includes Physical damage, theft, loss of use* Physical damage, theft, loss of use
Excludes Injury, property damage, taxes, damage to other vehicles, diminished value, tire wear and tear
Primary or Secondary? Secondary Secondary
Drivers Covered All authorized drivers
Vehicles excluded Expensive, exotic or antique cars, trucks, pickups, RV’s, motorcycles, ATV’s, limousines and certain vans
Excluded Countries Ireland, Northern Ireland, Israel, Jamaica Maybe Italy, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland, Germany, Costa Rica, Israel, Jamaica, Mexico
Exclude SUVs/vans with more than 8 seats 9 seats
Max coverage Not specified $50,000
Max loss of use* Not specified $500
Report/file claim within 45 days 30 days
Source Visa Call to customer service

*In order to be compensated for loss of use, the rental company must prove that the fleet is “fully utilized.” Most rental agencies won’t bother, so your chances of getting this benefit aren’t very high.

American Express

American Express has various exemptions for students, Californians and Floridians, see below for the details.

Benefit AmEx Basic Amex Platinum AmEx Premium
Offered on All cards Platinum Card All cardholders can purchase
Rental Period 30 days, consecutively or in a 45-day period in the same 75-mile location 30 days, consecutively or in a 45-day period in the same 75-mile location 42 days (30 in Washington State)
Must decline rental insurance? Decline full, can accept partial
Vehicle Value <$50,000 <$75,000 Not specified
Includes Physical damage, theft Also covers property damage and injury Also covers property damage and injury
Excludes Diminished value, taxes, wear and tear
Primary or Secondary? Secondary Secondary Primary
Drivers Covered All authorized drivers
Vehicles excluded Expensive, exotic or antique cars, many trucks, RV’s, motorcycles
Excluded Countries Ireland, Israel, Jamaica, Australia, Italy, New Zealand
Exclude SUVs/vans with more than 8 seats N/A
Max car coverage $50,000 $75,000 $24.95 plan: $100,000
Max medical expenses per person N/A $5,000 $24.95 plan: $15,000
Accidental death and dismemberment: $100,000
Max property damage N/A $1,000/person, max $2,000 $5,000/person, $10,000 max
Max loss of use Proprietary information
Report/file claim within As soon as reasonably possible/60 days
Source AmEx AmEx AmEx

American Express Exemptions

Students: Personal, Gold and Rewards Plus Gold cardholders who are enrolled in a four-year college or graduate program in the United States, and are receiving student benefits provided by card membership, are ineligible.

California: Additional coverage costs $17.95, maximum coverage extended to:

  • $100,000 car damage
  • $250,000 accidental death and dismemberment
  • $15,000/person medical expenses
  • $5,000/person property damage, maximum $10,000 overall

Florida: Property damage is capped at $15,000 per person, $25,000 overall.


Benefit Discover Discover Escape
Offered on Motiva, Miles, Open Road, More Escape
Rental Period 31 days, 45 for employees using business credit card 31 days
Must decline rental insurance? Yes Yes
Vehicle Value <$50,000 <$50,000
Includes Collision or upset only Physical damage, theft and towing
Excludes Theft, any damage not due to a collision, loss of use Diminished value, taxes, wear and tear
Primary or secondary? Secondary Primary (under certain conditions)
Drivers Covered All authorized drivers
Vehicles excluded Expensive, exotic or antique cars, trucks, pickups, RV’s, motorcycles
Excluded Countries Valid in any country that accepts Discover Ireland, Israel, Jamaica, Australia, Italy, New Zealand
Exclude SUVs with more than Doesn’t specify seat exclusions, but doesn’t cover all vehicles 9 seats
Max coverage $25,000 $50,000
Max loss of use N/A N/A
Report/file claim within File claim in 90 days 30 days
Source Discover Discover

A card that offers primary car rental insurance

Chase United Airlines Mileage Plus Credit Card
Apply Now

on Chase's
secure website

The United MileagePlus® Explorer Card is one of the only cards on the market that provides primary rental car insurance at no additional cost. If you’re a loyal United flyer and often rent cars, this card might be the right choice for you. It offers 2 miles on every dollar spent on United flights and 1 point on all other purchases, plus a killer signup bonus: Limited Time Offer: Start with 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months

The United MileagePlus® Explorer Card has a $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95 and no foreign transaction fees. You’ll also get your first checked bag fee waived with cardmembership.

Image via iStock.

  • avenez

    As someone in the rental industry I see a few issues in this article. To say the waivers are often no better than card coverage is completely wrong at worst, and inaccurate at best. It would be better to say while the (full) waiver (which is not insurance but an agreement wherein the company waives their right to charge you for damage) is usually the most complete option, your card coverage may be sufficient. There are never any vehicle exclusions or maximum amounts to the (full) waiver, even exotic cars are covered. In terms of secondary coverage, usually this means your personal auto insurance will pay the claim, and the secondary card coverage provided by your credit card will pay (reimburse) your deductible. (Note that in some states a rental car is considered third party property and as such your vehicle liability insurance will cover damages to rental cars.) Alex commented that liability coverage is implicit in renting a vehicle and is 100% wrong. Hertz is no more liable for an accident you cause than your landlord is for a fire you start that burns your neighbors house down. Read the rental agreements from any of the top companies and you will find several statements to the effect that by declining any liability coverage they provide you are assuming full liability. So the other thing to bear in mind when using card coverage is to ensure you are capable of satisfying the liability requirements of the state of rental via your own auto insurance policy or another method, or alternately accept liability coverage from the rental company. Uninsured renters be aware, while unlikely, if pulled over in a rental vehicle the officer can ticket you for driving without insurance if you have no liability coverage of your own and have declined the rental companies liability coverage. Again, the article here is inaccurate as enterprise rent-a-car’s supplemental liability coverage covers up to $1,000,000, as does hertz liability insurance supplement. I believe most other major companies have similar outrageously high coverage amounts, and would be shocked to find any liability plan offered that covers less than $100k. You could pretty much drive (accidently, of course) into every single vehicle in the first row on a lot of a dealership and not exceed that amount.
    I’m not sure on Mary’s question above. I suspect they would likely not cover it, but could be wrong. Some cards (such as Amex) offer am optional benefit in which you can enroll where a flat fee is charged per rental transaction to provide coverage, so that you could simply pay that one flat fee each month when your contract is closed and reopened. However I am unsure if there are any terms that would prevent that in the program. Another tip would be to clarify many cards only pay loss of use when fleet utilization logs are provided by the rental company, and virtually no rental company ever discloses these as at times there is no way to do so without releasing some amount of personal information of other customers and so the card company can leave you holding the bag for that amount.