If you don’t rent cars frequently, you may be confronted with a confusing list of car insurance add-ons or protections when you pick up your car. Well, good news: Depending on which credit card you use, you may be able to avoid purchasing the rental company’s collision damage waiver (CDW). With the card, you may be covered.

Some credit cards offer a CDW when you pay for your car rental with the card. This waiver can cover the rental car if you’re in an accident or if it’s stolen or damaged. Let’s consider the car rental protection provided by some credit cards and try to answer some common questions regarding this benefit.

Related: Five steps to a perfect car rental

The best credit cards for rental car coverage

  • Chase Sapphire Reserve
  • Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
  • Ink Business Preferred Credit Card
  • Ink Business Cash Credit Card
  • Ink Business Unlimited Credit Card
  • United Explorer Card
  • United Explorer Business Card
  • United Club Card
  • United Club Business Card
  • Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business
  • Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business
  • Any American Express card that’s enrolled in American Express’ Premium Car Rental Protection program

These cards offer primary coverage on most rentals. Our guide focuses on cards that provide primary coverage, and discusses the difference between primary and secondary coverage. Near the end of the guide, we highlight a few low-fee or no-annual-fee cards that provide secondary coverage.

Primary versus secondary coverage

The car rental coverage provided by some credit cards comes in the form of a primary or secondary auto rental collision damage waiver (CDW). Secondary coverage is more common, but has some significant drawbacks. The most significant drawback is that secondary coverage kicks in after your personal car insurance, and in some cases, after any other types of insurance, such as travel insurance.

If you’re in an accident in a rental car, which you’ve paid for with a card that provides secondary coverage on your rental car, you must file a claim with multiple insurance companies. Primary coverage, on the other hand, will apply before any other types of insurance.

Both types of coverage usually have a published maximum amount of coverage, so make sure the published maximum meets or exceeds the total value of the car you’re renting. Generally, you can be reimbursed for the cost to repair the rental car or the actual cash value of the rental car, whichever is less. With secondary coverage, you will only be reimbursed the amount that isn’t covered by any other insurance policies.

Most secondary policies on credit cards automatically become primary coverage in two common scenarios. First, if you’re renting a car outside the U.S. and your personal car insurance policy doesn’t cover you in that country, the CDW from that card may become primary. Second, if you don’t own a car (and thus don’t carry car insurance), most secondary coverage offered by credit cards will become primary.

What’s covered (and what’s not)

The car rental coverage provided by credit cards doesn’t cover everything. (Photo by @brittneyborowski via Twenty20.)
The car rental coverage provided by credit cards doesn’t cover everything. (Photo by @brittneyborowski via Twenty20.)

The auto rental CDW benefit provides reimbursement for damage due to collision or theft up to the actual cash value of most rental vehicles. Usually, only physical damage and/or theft of the rental vehicle is covered. But, some cards also cover loss-of-use charges assessed by the rental company and towing charges to take the vehicle to the nearest qualified repair facility.

To be covered by a credit card CDW waiver, you must decline the rental company’s collision damage waiver or similar provision, if it is offered to you. But, it’s also important to remember that some rental vehicles may not be eligible for coverage. In particular, it’s important to keep the following provisions in mind if you use or rely upon these benefits.

Liability insurance isn’t included

Although the collision damage waiver provided by your credit card may cover damage to your rental car, it won’t take care of damage you cause to other cars and personal property. The credit card CDW does not cover injuries to you, your passengers or pedestrians involved in the accident. Your personal car insurance policy will likely kick in here. It’s a good idea to check your policy or call your provider to confirm.

If you don’t own a car, consider purchasing non-owner car insurance, which is offered by many insurance companies, but often isn’t advertised online.

Not all car types are covered

RVs are usually excluded from car rental insurance coverage provided by credit cards. (Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy.)
RVs are usually excluded from car rental insurance coverage provided by credit cards. (Photo by JT Genter/The Points Guy.)

If you stick to the normal categories of car rentals such as compact, intermediate and full size, these policies will apply. However, most policies exclude specialty-class vehicles, including large passenger vans, pickup trucks, antique vehicles and motorcycles. Many policies exclude leases and micro-leases, which often means that rentals through person-to-person car sharing companies such as Turo are excluded.

There’s a limit on the number of days

Many readers likely stick to short car rental periods for trips, but if you need a car rental for multiple months, your credit card coverage typically won’t apply.

Some countries are excluded

Although the exact list of excluded countries varies from card to card and issuer to issuer, the most common exceptions I’ve noticed are Australia, Israel, Italy, Ireland, Jamaica, Northern Ireland and New Zealand. Regardless of where you’re travelling, it’s best to call the customer service number on the back of your card to ensure your destination is covered when renting a car outside the United States.

Related: Choosing the right card for worldwide car rental insurance coverage

Ensure your rental is eligible

Establish a relationship, over the phone or in person, with the restaurant staff. (Photo by Hero Images / Getty Images)
Establish a relationship, over the phone or in person, with the restaurant staff. (Photo by Hero Images / Getty Images)

It’s essential that you read your card’s policy carefully to understand what is and isn’t covered. If you have any doubts about your coverage, a quick call to the customer service number on the back of your card allows you to get more information and confirm that your rental vehicle type is covered in the country where you’ll be renting.

Top cards with primary car rental coverage

Now, let’s consider some of the best credit cards that offer primary car rental coverage when you use your card to pay for the entire rental.

Note that this isn’t an exhaustive list, so you may find other cards that also offer primary coverage. And, I’ve excluded cards such as The Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card and Chase Ink Plus Business Card that offer primary car rental coverage for current cardholders but aren’t currently accepting applications.

Chase Sapphire Reserve and Chase Sapphire Preferred Card

The Sapphire Preferred and Sapphire Reserve offer primary car rental coverage. (Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy.)
The Sapphire Preferred and Sapphire Reserve offer primary car rental coverage. (Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy.)

The Sapphire Reserve and Sapphire Preferred both provide primary car rental coverage for rentals in most countries. Rentals of up to 31 consecutive days paid for with either card are covered for losses including physical damage and/or theft of the rental vehicle, valid loss-of-use charges assessed by the rental company and reasonable and customary towing charges related to a covered loss.

The details of the policies vary slightly between the two cards, so be sure to read the guide to benefits for full details at the following links:

Related: Chase Sapphire Preferred vs. Chase Sapphire Reserve: Which card is right for you?

The Chase Sapphire Reserve is one of the hottest premium travel rewards credit cards on the market despite its $450 annual fee. It currently offers a sign-up bonus of 50,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. You’ll earn 3 points per dollar spent on travel (excluding $300 travel credit) and dining purchases as well as have access to great perks like a $300 annual travel credit, Priority Pass Select membership, no foreign transaction fees, travel protections and an application fee credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck (up to $100). See our full card review for more details.

The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is one of the best travel rewards cards with a sub-$100 annual fee. The Sapphire Preferred carries a better sign-up bonus of 60,000 points when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening while only charging a $95 annual fee. The Sapphire Preferred only offers 2x points on travel and dining, but doesn’t charge any foreign transaction fees. See our full card review to learn more.

Ink Business cards

The Chase Ink Business cards provide primary car rental coverage for some rentals. (Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy.)
The Chase Ink Business cards provide primary car rental coverage for some rentals. (Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy.)

The Ink Business cards — Ink Business Preferred Credit Card, Ink Business Cash Credit Card, Ink Business Unlimited Credit Card — offer primary coverage for normal types of vehicles. The coverage provides reimbursement up to the actual cash value of the vehicle for charges related to physical damage and/or theft of the rental vehicle, valid loss-of-use charges assessed by the rental company and reasonable and customary towing charges related to a covered loss.

Note that you’ll only be covered by primary coverage while renting primarily for business purposes, renting outside your country of residence for personal reasons or if you do not have automobile insurance. If you are renting for personal reasons in your country of residence and have automobile insurance, you’ll only get secondary coverage.

Related: Chase Ink Business cards showdown: Cash vs. Unlimited vs. Preferred

The Ink Business Preferred Card is currently offering a sign-up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months. With this card, you’ll earn 3 points per dollar spent on travel, shipping purchases, internet/cable/phone and advertising purchases made with social media sites and search engines (on up to $150,000 in combined purchases each account anniversary year) and 1 point per dollar on everything else. This card has a $95 annual fee and doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. See our full card review for all the details.

The Ink Business Cash Card currently offers $500 cash back after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. You’ll earn 5% cash back per dollar spent at office supply stores and on internet, cable and phone services (up to $25,000 in combined purchases each year). In addition, you’ll earn 2% cash back per dollar spent at gas stations and restaurants (again capped at $25,000 annually) and 1% cash back on all other purchases.

You can combine these earnings with other eligible Chase cards to essentially convert them to Ultimate Rewards points. Unfortunately, the Ink Cash charges a 3% fee for foreign transactions, but doesn’t charge an annual fee. See our full card review for more information.

The Ink Business Unlimited Card currently offers $500 cash back after you spend $3,000 on purchases in the first three months from account opening. Earning on this card is straightforward: you’ll earn 1.5% cash back on all purchases. As with the Ink Business Cash, you can convert these earnings to Ultimate Rewards points if you hold a card that earns Ultimate Rewards. There’s a 3% fee for foreign transactions, but there’s no annual fee. See our full card review to learn more.

Select United cobranded cards

Some United cobranded cards offer primary car rental coverage. (Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy.)
Some United cobranded cards offer primary car rental coverage. (Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy.)

Four of United’s cobranded credit cards offered by Chase — the United Explorer Card, United Explorer Business Card, United Club Card and United Club Business Card — provide primary coverage with policy terms similar to the ones highlighted above. You’re covered up to the actual cash value of the vehicle as it was originally manufactured, as long as you charge the rental to your United card and decline the coverage offered by the company when you pick up the car. For the business cards, you’ll get primary coverage unless you’re renting for personal reasons within your country of residence (in which case you’ll get secondary coverage).

The information for the United Club, United Club Business card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related: The 8 best credit cards for flying United

The current sign-up bonus on the United Explorer Card is 40,000 miles after you spend $2,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open. You’ll earn 2 miles per dollar spent at restaurants, on purchases made directly with United and on purchases made directly with hotels, as well as 1 mile per dollar spent on all other purchases.

You’ll also get priority boarding and your first checked bag free on United-operated flights, as well as two United Club one-time passes each year and a statement credit for a Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fee (up to $100) every four years. The card doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees, but it does have a $95 annual fee that’s waived your first year. See our full card review for more details.

The current sign-up bonus for the United Explorer Business Card is 100,000 miles after qualifying purchases: 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $5,000 on purchases in the first three months your account is open and an additional 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $25,000 total on purchases in the first six months your account is open.

You’ll earn 2 miles per dollar spent at restaurants, gas stations and office supply stores as well as on all purchases made directly with United. You’ll also get priority boarding and your first checked bag free on United-operated flights, as well as two United Club one-time passes each year. The card doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees, but it does have a $95 annual fee. See our full card review for more information.

The United Club cards give you full United Club membership. You’ll earn 2 miles per dollar on United purchases and 1.5 miles per dollar elsewhere. On United-operated flights, you’ll get your first and second checked bags free and enjoy Premier Access for priority check-in and boarding. Both versions of the card come with a $450 annual fee but don’t charge foreign transaction fees. See our full review for the personal United Club Card, which is currently offering a sign-up bonus of 50,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases in the first three months your account is open.

All four of these United cobranded cards also get you enhanced award availability that can save the day when you’re trying to lock in an economy award ticket.

Capital One Spark Business cards

Cards in the Spark Business family provide primary car rental coverage when renting for business purposes. (Photo by TPG staff.)
Cards in the Spark Business family provide primary car rental coverage when renting for business purposes. (Photo by TPG staff.)

Two cards in the Capital One Spark family of business cards — the Capital One® Spark® Cash for Business and the Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business — offer primary auto rental CDW when the vehicle is rented for commercial or business purposes. And you’ll get secondary coverage when renting for personal reasons. The cards provide reimbursement for damage due to collision or theft up to the actual cash value of most rentals when you use your card to rent for 31 days or less.

Related: Capital One Spark Cash for Business vs. Capital One Spark Miles for Business

The current sign-up bonus for the Capital One Spark Cash for Business is $500 once you spend $4,500 on purchases within the first three months from account opening. You’ll earn 2% cash back on all purchases. You’ll also get purchase protection and extended warranty protection. The card doesn’t charge any foreign transaction fees, but it does have a $95 annual fee that’s waived for the first year. See our full card review for more information.

The current sign-up bonus for the Capital One Spark Miles for Business is 50,000 miles when you spend $4,500 on purchases within the first three months from account opening. You’ll earn 2 miles per dollar spent on all purchases, and miles can be redeemed for 1 cent each toward travel or transferred to airline partners.

You’ll also get a statement credit of up to $100 for a TSA PreCheck or Global Entry application fee when you pay the fee with your card. The card doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees, but it does have a $95 annual fee that’s waived for the first year. See our full card review for more information.

Top cards with secondary car rental coverage

If you don’t have a card that offers primary car rental coverage, your next best bet is a card that offers secondary coverage. Many credit cards offer secondary car rental coverage, including a few options highlighted below.

American Express Cards

Most American Express cards offer secondary car rental coverage. In fact, you can see the entire list of cards that offer secondary car rental protection on the American Express website. So, if you don’t need primary coverage, you can just use one of these cards and decline the rental company’s coverage.

But, if you’re looking for primary coverage, all American Express credit cards offer an optional Premium Car Rental Protection policy that can be added (for a small fee) to your rental using the card. See When to Use American Express’ Premium Car Rental Protection for more details on this protection option.

You can add Premium Car Rental Protection to any American Express card. Here are some of the best cards in terms of the return you could receive when renting a car. Note, the estimated return rate for these cards is based on TPG’s latest valuations.

  • Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card: $450 annual fee; 4.2% return on car rentals booked directly from car rental companies, and no foreign transaction fees.
  • The Blue Business®️ Plus Credit Card from American Express: $0 annual fee; 4% return on general spending for the first $50,000 in purchases each year, and 2.7% foreign transaction fee.
  • The Amex EveryDay® Preferred Credit Card from American Express: $95 annual fee; 3% return on general spending in billing cycles where you make 30+ purchases, and 2.7% foreign transaction fee

The information for the Amex EveryDay Preferred card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Related: Choosing the best American Express card for you

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

The Capital One Venture Card offers 2x earnings on everything, as well as car rental coverage. (Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy.)
The Capital One Venture Card offers 2x earnings on everything, as well as car rental coverage. (Photo by Isabelle Raphael/The Points Guy.)

The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card offer auto rental CDW coverage that is secondary when you rent within your country of residence and primary when you rent outside your country of residence. You’ll be covered up to the actual cash value of most rental vehicles when you rent up to 15 days within your country of residence or up to 31 days outside your country of residence.

Related: Credit card showdown: Capital One Venture Card vs. Capital One VentureOne Card

The Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card currently offers 50,000 bonus miles once you spend $3,000 on purchases within the first three months from account opening. You’ll earn 2 miles per dollar spent on all purchases except for purchases through Hotels.com/Venture, which will earn 10 miles per dollar spent through January 2020. The card has a $95 annual fee that’s waived the first year and doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. See our full card review for more details.

The Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card currently offers 20,000 bonus miles once you spend $1,000 on purchases within the first three months from account opening. You’ll earn 1.25 miles per dollar spent on all purchases except for purchases through Hotels.com/Venture, which will earn 10 miles per dollar spent through January 2020. The card has no annual fee and it doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. See our full card review for more information.

Chase Freedom and Chase Freedom Unlimited

The Chase Freedom cards offer car rental protection and don’t charge an annual fee. (Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy.)
The Chase Freedom cards offer car rental protection and don’t charge an annual fee. (Photo by Eric Helgas/The Points Guy.)

If you’re looking for a no-annual-fee card that offers secondary car rental insurance, the Chase Freedom or Chase Freedom Unlimited might be a good pick. These cards provide coverage up to the actual cash value of the rental car for rentals of 31 days or less. Coverage within your country of residence is secondary; coverage outside your country of residence is primary.

The Chase Freedom has rotating 5% bonus categories (up to $1,500 spent on purchases each quarter you activate) while the Chase Freedom Unlimited earns 1.5% on all purchases. Although neither card has an annual fee, both cards charge a 3% foreign transaction fee.

Related: Chase Freedom vs. Chase Freedom Unlimited: Which card is right for you?

Bottom line

Many of us tend to focus on the number of points you can earn and then redeem when considering top travel rewards credit cards, especially when they come with lucrative welcome bonuses. However, the other credit card benefits can come in handy when traveling, and primary car rental coverage can be a lifesaver if you get into an accident.

That being said, it’s essential to review the details of your card’s policy to understand exactly what is (and isn’t) covered. Don’t assume that you’re covered for every possible mishap when you pay for a car rental with a card that offers primary coverage, as many exceptions and exclusions apply. And, realize that credit cards never provide liability insurance. Nevertheless, each of the above cards can be a great option if you’re looking for added peace of mind the next time you rent a car.


This story was originally published on The Points Guy. Sign up for the TPG daily newsletter and wake up to unbeatable flight deals, travel industry news, and credit card bonuses that let you travel first-class to some of the world’s most incredible destinations at a fraction of the price.