Protect Yourself and Earn Miles, Points, or Cash Back With the Best Credit Cards for Car Rentals

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Protect Yourself and Earn Miles, Points, or Cash Back With the Best Credit Cards for Car Rentals

MeghanProtect Yourself and Earn Miles, Points, or Cash Back With the Best Credit Cards for Car RentalsMillion Mile Secrets Team

Signing-up for credit cards through partner links earns us a commission. Here’s our full Advertising Policy.

Best Credit Cards for Car Rentals

We write a lot about how miles and points can help you save on airfare and hotels.  But what about some of the other major expenses that can be a part of planning a vacation, like your rental car?

Because saving on car rentals can be tricky, it’s important to use one of the best credit cards for car rentals.  One, so you know you’re covered in the event of an accident (without spending extra money for coverage through the rental company!).  And two, so you’re earning travel rewards or cash back for your purchase.

Relax! Using One of the Best Credit Cards for Car Rentals Will Have You Covered in Case of an Accident

Let’s take a look at the best credit cards to use for rental cars.  And quickly review just why you’ll benefit from using a card that offers primary car rental coverage.

The Best Credit Cards for Car Rental

Primary vs. Secondary Car Rental Coverage

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.

If you have a car insurance policy in the US and you got in an accident in the US, the secondary car rental credit card insurance will only cover what’s left over 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 raises in your premiums.  And it would NOT cover damage to the other car, any property damaged, and injuries to you or others.

If you don’t have a car insurance policy in the US, secondary rental car insurance on a credit card will work as primary rental car insurance and will usually pay for physical damage and damage due to theft, loss-of-use charges, and towing charges for the rental car.  Although you’d still liable for damages to other property and persons.

Best Of Million Mile Secrets December 2017
Certain Credit Cards Can Save You $100s Off Rental Car Insurance.  And Save You Even More If an Issue Arises!

Similarly, outside the US, most secondary credit card rental car insurance will actually be primary rental car insurance and will pay for physical damage and damage due to theft, loss-of-use charges, and towing charges for the rental car.  Even though you will still be liable for damages to other property and persons.

In comparison, if you charge the rental to a credit card offering primary car rental coverage and decline the Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) 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 and your personal car insurance policy may cover those claims.

For these reasons, 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!   

Top Credit Cards for Car Rentals

It’s important to remember that because of Chase’s stricter approval rules, we almost always suggest getting any Chase cards you want first.  Chase will NOT approve you for most of their cards if you’ve opened 5+ cards from any bank (NOT counting Chase business cards and certain other business cards) in the past 24 months.

And if you qualify for a business card, you could consider any of the small business cards on the list.  Because they don’t appear on your personal credit report and hinder your ability to be approved for any great Chase offers in the future.

Just remember, organization is key when you’re in the miles & points hobby.  And we always suggest paying your bills on time and in full every month.  Because any interest you accrue will likely negate any rewards you earn. 

You can use sites like MyBankrate to check your credit score.  But your score isn’t the only factor banks consider when evaluating credit card applications.  They also look at income and financial stability.  And the decision to approve you or not is always ultimately up to the bank!

It’s also worth noting that the following countries are often excluded from credit card rental coverage:  Israel, Ireland, Jamaica, Northern Ireland, Italy, Australia, and New Zealand.  But Chase cards and Citi cards have no exclusions.  So if you’re renting in any of those locations and intend to use your credit card’s coverage, it’s best to pick a Chase or Citi card.

Chase Cards

1.   Chase Sapphire Reserve

Apply Here:   Chase Sapphire Reserve

Read our review of the Chase Sapphire Reserve

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 (often called CDW or LDW).

The Chase Sapphire Reserve rental car insurance applies to rentals of 31 consecutive days or less in the US and most foreign countries (but it’s always best to call the benefits administrator to verify coverage).  You’re covered for damage due to collision or theft to your vehicle, but not damage to other vehicles, property, or injuries.

And because coverage is primary, you won’t have to file a claim with any other insurance policy you have first.  Which could end up saving you lots of money in the event of an accident or damage to your vehicle!

Plus, the Chase Sapphire Reserve has fewer exclusions than the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card.  So if you’re renting a very high-end car, the Chase Sapphire Reserve is a better bet.

When you apply for for the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you’ll earn 50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

This Is The ULTIMATE Card Combo If You Can Get It
You Can Redeem Chase Ultimate Rewards Points for Travel Almost Anywhere in the World. Even the Far-Flung Islands of the Maldives! So It’s Great to Be Able to Earn Bonus Points for Using the Sapphire Reserve for a Car Rental.

The sign-up bonus can get you $750 worth of travel when you redeem points for flights, hotels, car rentals, and more through the Chase travel portal.  Because when you have the Chase Sapphire Reserve, your points are worth 1.5 cents each on travel booked through Chase!

With the Chase Sapphire Reserve, you’ll also get:

  • 3X Chase Ultimate Rewards points per $1 on travel (excluding $300 travel credit) and dining
  • Up to $300 statement credit for travel purchases (like airfare, Airbnb, hotels, car rental, Uber, etc.) each account anniversary year
  • Priority Pass Select for access to airport lounges
  • $100 statement credit for Global Entry
  • NO foreign transaction fees

The card comes with a $450 annual fee, NOT waived the first year.  But you can offset this fee with perks like the $300 travel statement credit and airport lounge access.

With all of these great perks AND the fact the card offers primary car rental insurance coverage when declining the car rental agency’s collision damage waiver, the Chase Sapphire Reserve is the #1 premium travel credit card to use for rental cars.

2.   Chase Sapphire Preferred

Apply Here:   Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

Read our review of the Chase Sapphire Preferred

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 dining and no foreign transaction fees!

In fact, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is the #1 card we recommend for beginners in the miles & 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.

Better Safe Than Sorry! The Chase Sapphire Preferred Comes With Primary Rental Car Coverage

When you sign-up, you’ll earn 60,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of opening your account.

You can redeem the sign-up bonus for $600 in cash back or $750 in travel when you book through the Chase Travel Portal.  And potentially more value if you transfer points directly to airline and hotel partners, like Hyatt.

You’ll also get:

  • 2X Chase Ultimate Rewards points per $1 spent on travel and dining worldwide
  •  1X Chase Ultimate Rewards point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Primary car rental insurance – Covers damage due to theft or collision to your rental car, when you pay for the rental with your card
  • Trip delay reimbursement – Get up to $500 back per ticket when your trip is delayed more than 12 hours

The Chase Sapphire Preferred has a $95 annual fee.

3.   Chase United Explorer Cards

Apply Here:   United℠ Explorer Card

Read our review of the United Explorer card

Apply Here:   United℠ Explorer Business Card

All of the annual-fee Chase United Airlines cards, including the United Explorer Card and United Explorer Business, provide primary coverage when you use the card to pay for your car rental.

If you’re looking for a personal card, I’d suggest the United Explorer Card.  But if you qualify for a business card, consider the United Explorer Business Card.

When you apply for the United Explorer Card, you’ll earn 40,000 United Airlines miles after spending $2,000 on purchases within the first 3 months of account opening.

Increased Sign Up Bonus 50000 United Airlines Miles With This Card
You Can Fly From the US to Cape Town for 40,000 United Airlines Miles One-Way in Coach

In addition to the great bonus, you’ll also get:

  • 2 United Airlines miles per $1 you spend on purchases from United Airlines, restaurants, and hotels (when purchased directly with the hotel)
  • 1 United Airlines mile per $1 you spend on everything else
  • Free first checked bag for the cardholder and 1 companion – but you MUST use your card to pay for your ticket
  • Priority boarding
  • Global Entry or TSA PreCheck credit (up to $100)
  • 25% off in-flight purchases of Wi-Fi, food, and drinks on United Airlines operated flights
  • 2 United Club lounge passes per card membership year
  • Earn 25% bonus miles when shopping through the United Airlines MileagePlus X app
  • No foreign transaction fees

And with the United Explorer Business card, you’ll earn a 50,000 United Airlines miles welcome bonus after spending $3,000 on purchases within the same timeframe.  And also get:

  • 2 United Airlines miles per $1 you spend on United Airlines and at restaurants, gas stations, and office supply stores
  • 1 United Airlines mile per $1 you spend on everything else
  • Free first checked bag – but you MUST use your card to pay for your ticket
  • Priority boarding
  • 2 United Club lounge passes per card membership year
  • Earn 25% bonus miles when shopping through the United Airlines MileagePlus X app
  • No foreign transaction fees

The $95 annual fee on both cards is waived the first year.  And in my opinion, both are worth keeping even beyond the first year, because cardholders have access to more award seats!

Just remember, these cards are impacted by Chase’s stricter approval rules.  So if you’ve opened 5 or more credit card accounts (from any bank) in the past 24 months (NOT counting Chase business cards and certain other business cards) it’s unlikely you’ll be approved.

4.   Chase Ink Business Preferred

Apply Here:   Ink Business Preferred Credit Card

Read our review of the Chase Ink Business Preferred

Ink Business Preferred℠ Credit Card

The Chase Ink Business Preferred earns Chase Ultimate Rewards points, which are our favorite type of flexible points!  Plus, you’ll get primary car rental coverage when renting a car for business purposes.

The Ink Business Preferred card comes with an 80,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards point sign-up bonus after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.

Booking a Rental Car for a Business Trip?  Use the Chase Ink Business Preferred Card and You’ll Get Primary Rental Car Coverage Plus Earn Valuable Chase Ultimate Rewards Points.  It’s a Win-Win!

That’s enough for:

With the Ink Business Preferred, you also get:

  • 3X Chase Ultimate Rewards points for every $1 you spend 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 $600 in cell phone insurance when you pay your cell phone bill with the card

The card’s $95 annual fee is NOT waived the first year.

Team member Keith can confirm the cell phone insurance perk actually works!  He filed a claim and received an $85 check to cover the cost of repairing his damaged iPhone screen.  So he’ll definitely continue to keep this card in his wallet!

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.

Just keep in mind, this card IS affected by Chase’s 5/24 rule.

5.   Chase Ink Business Cash

Apply Here:   Ink Business Cash Credit Card

Read our review of the Ink Business Cash 

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.

Plus, with the highest-ever Ink Business Cash welcome bonus, you’ll earn $500 cash back (50,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points) after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months of account opening.  Earning $500 in cash from a card with no annual fee is an AWESOME deal!  Especially if you frequently rent cars for business purposes.

Ink Business Cash Cardholders Can Get a LOT of Travel! But You’ll Have to Pair Your Card With Another Eligible Chase Ultimate Rewards Point Earning Credit Card. This Way, You Can Combine Points and Transfer Them to Travel Partners, Like Hyatt!

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
  • Primary car rental insurance (CDW) when renting for business purposes, covering damage due to collision or theft to your rental car when you pay with your Chase Ink Business Cash card.  Secondary coverage when renting for personal reasons

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 can really add up!

Citi Cards

1.   CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select

Apply Here:   CitiBusiness® / AAdvantage® Platinum Select® World Mastercard®

Read our review of the CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select Card

The CitiBusiness AAdvantage Platinum Select card is a good option for anyone wanting a card that comes with primary rental coverage for business rentals and earns American Airlines miles.

The card currently comes with up to 60,000 bonus American Airlines miles;  50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first 3 months and 10,000 bonus miles after you spend $10,000 total on purchases in the first 12 months.

Best Airline Credit Cards
It Costs Just 60,000 American Airlines Miles to Fly Round-Trip to Europe From the US

Plus perks like:

  • 2 American Airlines miles per $1 spent with American Airlines
  • 2 American Airlines miles per $1 spent on select business categories (like car rental merchants and certain telecommunication merchants) including gas stations
  • Free first checked bag for you and up to 4 travel companions on the same reservation (domestic flights only)
  • Preferred boarding for you and up to 4 travel companions on the same reservation
  • 25% off eligible in-flight purchases
  • Reduced Mileage Awards – get discounts up to 7,500 miles round-trip on award flights to certain airports
  • NO foreign transaction fees

And the $99 annual fee is waived for the first 12 months.

American Express Cards

You can pay for primary insurance coverage with AMEX cards.

You can enroll for free in the American Express Premium Car Rental Protection program.  But you’ll 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).

They do NOT, however, cover rentals in Australia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica and New Zealand.

You can read more about the best AMEX card offers here.  And don’t forget, applying for AMEX small business cards will NOT hurt your chances of card approvals with Chase if you’ve had 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.

Bottom Line

Our best credit cards for car rentals are:

Just remember, credit card primary rental car insurance only pays for damages to your rental car, NOT damage to the other car, property, or injuries.  And you could be liable for millions of dollars in personal injuries.

So don’t rely on your credit card’s rental car insurance if you’re not comfortable with the risks.  Check with your own insurance to see if you’ve got liability coverage through your policy, or pay for it directly through the car rental company.

Have you ever had to use your credit card’s primary car rental coverage?  Tell me about your experience in the comments below!

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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! :)

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Hi there!
Thanks for your site and continued promotion of points. Both have served me well and I’m very appreciative!

My question is about renting a car directly through the Chase Sapphire site with points or simply pay for it with the card.

Both options will provide me the insurance, but would redeeming the miles serve me better than using them via the site?

Thank you!

Do you know which card is best for award rentals? For example, if I use Hertz points for the rental and just pay the taxes on the card, which card(s) will cover the insurance on that rental? Thanks!

Does anyone know how to get liability insurance in the cheapest possible way (in addition to using the primary or secondary credit card insurance offered by one of these credit cards)?

Any good ideas about how to liability coverage overseas? My insurance agent says my auto insurance gives me liability in the US, but not overseas. I have a chase sapphire reserve so have primary car rental coverage but I’m concerned about damage to property or other people

Hey MMS Team!

I recently booked a rental car for Iceland (on WOW!) using all Ultimate Reward Points. So, there was no credit card transaction. Am I covered by any of my cards with Rental Insurance? I have the Chase Sapphire Preferred card.

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