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Rental Car Insurance: Which Credit Cards Have You Covered

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—Aw, nerds! Looks like the American Express Platinum offer mentioned here is temporarily unavailable.

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. 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:

  • In general, your credit card offers secondary rental insurance. This means that it will 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 good enough.
  • In general, you must refuse the coverage offered by the rental car agency in order to receive rental car insurance benefits from your credit card. For exceptions to this, see below.
  • The information below applies to consumer credit cards. While many business credit cards offer rental car insurance, coverage levels could be substantially different from the benefits described in this article.
  • 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. Please call your bank to ask about your specific card’s benefits.
One final 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 place the 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 really 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: Usually, personal-use vans that seat eight people or fewer are covered. However, some waivers specifically exclude SUV’s, 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, they offer rental car insurance on all of their cards — standard, Signature, rewards, the works. However, they limit their 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 one to offer premium coverage for a small fee. It offers free secondary coverage up to $50,000 ($75,000 on the American Express Platinum and Delta Reserve 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 benefits are the worst of the lot. The coverage is limited to a handful of cards. Unlike the other three networks, Discover makes no pretense of covering loss of use fees, covering only collision damage up to a scant $25,000. The only bright spot is that 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 31 consecutive days
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 10 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 7 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 2 days/60 days
Source AmEx AmEx AmEx

**A $19.99 premium plan also exists, but with lower coverage limits

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.

Discover:

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 7 seats 7 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

Cards that offer primary car rental insurance

United MileagePlus Explorer: The United MileagePlus Explorer is one of the only cards on the market that provides primary rental car insurance at no additional cost (besides the annual fee, of course). If you’re a loyal United flyer and often rent cars, this card might be the right choice for you.

United MileagePlus® Explorer Card
Chase United Airlines Mileage Plus Credit Card
Apply Now

on Chase's
secure website

starstarstarstarhalfstar
  • Start with 30,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months
  • Check your first bag for free - save up to $100 per roundtrip
  • Enjoy priority boarding privileges and visit the United Club with two one-time-use passes every year
  • No foreign transaction fees!
  • Earn double miles on United ticket purchases, and 1 mile per $1 on all other purchases
  • Your miles don't expire as long as you're a Cardmember, with no limit to the number of miles you can earn
  • Use your miles for any seat, any time, on any United flight
  • $0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95
thumbsupPros
  • No foreign transaction fee
thumbsdownCons
  • Has annual fee
  • Needs excellent credit
Annual Fee Signup Bonus APR , Variable* APR Promotions
$0 intro annual fee for the first year, then $95 Start with 30,000 bonus miles after you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months. 15.99% (Variable) Purchase: None
Transfer: None

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  • Student

    @NerdWallet, I need clarity on the Visa “Rental Period 15 consecutive days domestic”…Is it safe to assume this coverage is no good for a weekend getaway?

    • Me112233

      What it means is that the rental period has to be for 15 days or less. Your weekend getaway would be covered.

  • gpks00

    Called Chase and was informed that if i use a coupon (for example, National rent 2 get 1 free, coupon gives me a $0.00 rental, plus fee and tax) then the rental will not be covered at all when i decline CDW.

    Also of note: insurance is supplemental, but as i do not have insurance or own a car, it will act a primary.

    The Benefit Admin also said that a coupon like a rent 2 days get the 3rd free is accepted.

    In my first case above, an accident would have to goto a Claims Examiner and reviewed.

    So no guarantees..

    So my Free Rental ended up costing me $33 (CDW and Liability) (May actually buy stupid None car owner liability insurance for stupid car rentals and zipcar type sharing companies.)

    ANNOYING!

  • clarity007

    United Chase MileagePlusExplorer card claims it is primary.

  • http://www.unlimitedcertificates.com/ Lois Williams

    Last time I have so much issues with the car insurance policies and now I have checked for the best car insurance policies and profits about that, its quite informative post as this perspective of car rental insurance. its quite informative. thanks