Best credit cards with car rental insurance: Protect yourself and earn travel rewards at the same time
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Locking in the best price on your car rental is incredibly important. But it’s also important to ensure that you’re properly covered in the event of an accident and that you earn travel rewards for your rental.
The good news is that a number of the top credit cards for travel offer coverage on rental cars, so you don’t have to pay extra for insurance when you pick up your rental.
Here’s a rundown of the best cards for care rentals and a look at why you’ll benefit from using a credit card that offers primary car rental coverage:
Best for beginner travelers
Best for earning United Airlines miles
Best small-business overall
Best no-annual-fee small business card
Best for long-term rentals
|Card||Intro bonus||Annual fee|
|Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card||Earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.||$95|
|Chase Sapphire Reserve®||Earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months from account opening.||$550|
|United℠ Explorer Card||Earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.||$95 annual fee, waived the first year|
|Ink Business Preferred Credit Card||100,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $15,000 on purchases within the first three months of opening your account||$0|
|Ink Business Cash® Credit Card||$750 bonus cash back after you spend $7,500 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.||$0|
|Any of the best American Express cards||varies||varies|
Deep dive into the best credit cards for car rentals
Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
The Chase Sapphire Preferred offers excellent travel protections, including primary car rental insurance that covers damage due to theft or collision to your rental car, when you pay for the rental with your card. This is great for personal trips, since many cards restrict the primary insurance to business trips. You also earn 2x Chase Ultimate Rewards points on travel and 3x points on dining and there are no foreign transaction fees.
We recommend the Chase Sapphire Preferred as a first credit card for beginners to the miles-and-points hobby. And it’s our top pick to use for car rentals if you aren’t interested in a premium card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve. When you sign up and are approved, you’ll earn 60,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
You’ll also get:
- 5x total points on all travel purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards
- 3x points on dining, including eligible delivery services, takeout and dining out
- 3x points on select streaming services
- 3x points on online grocery purchases (excluding Target, Walmart and wholesale clubs)
- 2x points on all other travel
- 1x point on all other purchases
- Trip delay reimbursement – Get up to $500 back per ticket when your trip is delayed more than 12 hours
The card has a $95 annual fee. Here’s our review of the Chase Sapphire Preferred.
Chase Sapphire Reserve
You’ll get primary rental insurance when you use your Chase Sapphire Reserve card to pay for your car rental and decline the rental agency’s collision damage waiver (CDW) or loss damage waiver (LDW).
The Chase Sapphire Reserve rental-car insurance applies to rentals of 31 consecutive days or less in the U.S. and most foreign countries. (Always call the benefits administrator to verify coverage.) You’re covered for damage from collision or theft but not damage to other vehicles or property, or for injuries. Because the coverage is primary, you won’t have to file a claim with your own insurance company first.
The Chase Sapphire Reserve has fewer exclusions than the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card. If you’re renting a high-end car, the Chase Sapphire Reserve is a better bet.
When you apply and are approved for the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you’ll earn 50,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 in the first three months from account opening.
The sign-up bonus is worth $750 in travel benefits when you redeem points for flights, hotels, car rentals and more through the Chase travel portal. With Chase Sapphire Reserve, your points are worth 1.5 cents each on travel booked through the Chase site.
With the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you’ll also get:
- 3x Chase Ultimate Rewards points per $1 on travel (excluding $300 travel credit) and dining
- A statement credit of up to $300 for travel purchases (i.e., airfare, Airbnb, hotels, car rental or Uber) each account anniversary year
- Priority Pass Select membership for access to airport lounges
- $100 statement credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck
- No foreign transaction fees
The card comes with a $550 annual fee, which is not waived the first year. However, you can offset this fee with perks like the $300 travel statement credit and airport lounge access.
These perks and the primary car rental insurance coverage make the Chase Sapphire Reserve our top pick among premium travel credit cards to use for rental cars. Here’s our review of the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
United℠ Explorer Card
If you want to earn United Airlines MileagePlus miles, the United Explorer card is a good choice because it comes with rental car insurance for most rentals under 31 days when you charge the entire amount of the rental to your United℠ Explorer Card. This insurance kicks in before you have to file a claim with your personal insurance company.
With the United Explorer, you’ll earn 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months of account opening.
You’ll also get:
- 2x United Airlines miles $1 spent on United Airlines purchases
- 2x United Airlines miles $1 spent at restaurants and on hotel stays
- 1x United Airlines mile $1 spent on everything else
You can read our review of the United Explorer Card here.
Ink Business Preferred Credit Card
The Chase Ink Business Preferred earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which are our favorite flexible points. You’ll also get primary car rental coverage when renting a car for business purposes.
The Ink Business Preferred card comes with a sign-up bonus of 100,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $15,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening.
That’s enough for:
- $1,250 in travel by booking airfare, hotel stays or car rentals through Chase’s travel portal (with no blackout dates)
- Potentially even more value by transferring points directly to airline and hotel partners, like Hyatt, Southwest or United Airlines
With the Ink Business Preferred, you also get:
- 3x Chase Ultimate Rewards points for every $1 spent on travel, shipping purchases, internet, cable and phone services, advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines (up to a maximum of $150,000 in combined purchases per account anniversary year)
- 1x Chase Ultimate Rewards points on all other purchases
- Up to $1,000 in cellphone insurance when you pay your phone bill with the card
The card’s $95 annual fee is not waived the first year. And the cellphone insurance perk actually works.
This is a small-business card but you might qualify without realizing it. Check our step-by-step guide to completing a Chase business-card application.
Ink Business Cash Credit Card
The Chase Ink Business Cash card comes with primary rental car insurance coverage when used for renting a car for business purposes and the highest-ever Ink Business Cash welcome bonus — $750 bonus cash back after you spend $7,500 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. It’s an awesome deal and the card has no annual fee.
The Ink Business Cash also comes with:
- 5% cash back (5x Chase Ultimate Rewards points) on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at office supply stores and on phone, internet and cable TV services each account anniversary year
- 2% cash back (2x Chase Ultimate Rewards points) on the first $25,000 spent in combined purchases at gas stations and restaurants each account anniversary year
- 1% cash back (1x Chase Ultimate Rewards point) on all other purchases
The primary car rental insurance is for rentals for business purposes and you have to pay with your Chase Ink Business Cash card. It provides only secondary coverage when renting for personal use. I’ve kept this card in my wallet for years because it has no annual fee. And I always use it to earn 5% cash back (5x points) at Staples when shopping for my vacation rental business. Bonus points like that really add up. Here’s our review.
Most American Express cards include secondary rental car coverage, but all Amex cards offer primary car rental coverage for a small additional fee, which can definitely be worth it.
You can enroll and see more details about the American Express Premium Car Rental Protection program online. What makes this program unique is that you pay ~$25 (~$18 for California residents and ~$15 for Florida residents) per rental for up to 42 consecutive rental days (30 consecutive rental days for Washington State cardholders).
Most car rental companies charge this same price daily. The American Express Premium Car Rental Protection program does not, however, cover rentals in Australia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica and New Zealand.
You can read more about the best American Express card offers.
It’s also worth noting that applying for Amex small-business cards will not hurt your chances for card approvals with Chase (if you’ve applied for many new cards recently) because Amex small-business cards do not appear on your personal credit report. So if you qualify, applying for an Amex small-business card can be a great way to earn bonuses for free travel.
FAQ about cards with car rental insurance
What’s the difference between primary vs. secondary car rental coverage?
One of the biggest causes for confusion with credit cards is understanding how the popular “car rental insurance” perk actually works. It’s important to understand the difference between primary and secondary coverage.
Say you charge a car rental to a credit card that offers secondary car rental insurance and decline the collision damage waiver (CDW) offered by the car rental agency. Lots of folks do this in order to save money because the CDW can get pricey (it isn’t uncommon for it to double the cost of your rental).
If you have a car insurance policy in the U.S. and you get in an accident in the U.S., the secondary car rental credit card insurance will only cover what’s leftover after you file a claim with your primary car insurance provider. You will still be responsible for the deductible through your insurance company and you will need to report the accident to them, which can lead to an increase in your premium. The secondary insurance on your credit card also would not cover damage to the other car, any property damage or injuries to you or others.
If you don’t have a car insurance policy in the U.S., secondary rental car insurance on a credit card will work as primary rental car insurance and will usually pay for physical damage to the car and damage due to theft, loss-of-use charges and towing charges for the rental car. You’d still liable for damages to other property and persons.
Similarly, outside the U.S. most secondary credit card rental car insurance will actually be primary rental car insurance and will pay for physical damage to the car and damage due to theft, loss-of-use charges and towing charges for the rental car. You will still be liable for damage to other property and persons.
By comparison, if you charge the rental to a credit card offering primary car rental coverage and decline the collision damage waiver offered by the car rental agency, the credit card insurance will usually pick up the bill for physical damage and damage due to theft, loss-of-use charges, and towing for the rental car if you get into an accident (up to the coverage limit) without requiring you to file a claim with your personal car insurance company.
That said, like secondary car rental insurance, the primary car rental insurance will not cover damage to the other car, any property damaged, and injuries to you or others. And you are still liable for those damages. Your personal car insurance policy may cover those claims.
Using a card that offers primary car rental insurance when you decline the collision damage waiver through the car rental agency can end up saving you a lot if something happens. Most credit cards offer secondary rental car insurance coverage, but a handful offer primary rental car insurance coverage.
Do most credit cards offer rental car insurance?
No, you shouldn’t assume that your credit card offers car rental insurance, as many of them don’t. Regardless of which credit card(s) you have, it’s always prudent to check on your card’s coverage to ensure you have the appropriate amount of protection.
Should you still get car rental insurance if your card offers coverage?
If your card offers primary coverage and you’ve followed the steps to ensure that you’re covered (i.e. using the appropriate card to pay for your rental, declining the coverage from the rental company) you shouldn’t need to pay extra for car rental insurance. That said, remember that cards that offer primary rental car insurance only pay for damage to your rental car, not damage to the other cars, property or personal injuries. So you shouldn’t rely on your credit card’s rental car insurance if you’re not comfortable with the risks.
Here’s a detailed guide to help you determine when you need to pay for car rental insurance.
How to get your card issuer to cover damages to a rental car
The process will depend on which card you have and which issuer you’re dealing with. In general, you’ll need to file your claim within the appropriate time frame and provide the card issuer with the necessary documentation. Ultimately, it’s up to the card issuer and benefits coordinator to determine whether your not your claim is eligible.
Here’s a first hand account of MMS writer Joseph’s experience filing a claim through his Chase Sapphire Reserve card.
Credit card companies that offer primary rental car insurance only pay for damage to your rental car, not damage to the other cars, property or personal injuries. Don’t rely on your credit card’s rental car insurance if you’re not comfortable with the risks. Check with your insurance company to see if you’ve got liability coverage for personal injuries through your policy.
For rates and fees of the Amex Platinum card, click here.
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Have you ever had to use your credit card’s primary car rental coverage? We’d love to hear about your experience in the comments below!
Editorial Note: We're the Million Mile Secrets team. And we're proud of our content, opinions and analysis, and of our reader's comments. These haven’t been reviewed, approved or endorsed by any of the airlines, hotels, or credit card issuers which we often write about. And that’s just how we like it! :)