If you’ve tried to rent a car at all this year, you may have faced some extremely high prices due to the car rental shortage happening around the world. There’s an easy way to save some money on your rental right within your wallet that you may not know about.

Many credit cards offer either primary or secondary car rental insurance at no additional cost to you. If you book your rental car with one of these cards, you can say no to the extra fees rental companies try to charge you for coverage. Let’s break down some key things to know about rental car insurance and take a look at some of the cards that offer the best coverage.

What’s Typically Covered (And Not Covered) By the Insurance Offered by Car Rental Agencies and Credit Cards?

What both car rental agencies and credit card issuers offer as insurance while the car is in your care is called either a collision damage waiver (CDW) or loss damage waiver (LDW). This waiver will typically provide you with some or all of these coverage benefits:

  • Reimbursement for damage due to collision or theft up to the full value of the vehicle
  • loss-of-use charges
  • Towing fees

It’s also important to keep track of what isn’t included in the coverage. Typically the below items are not covered by the CDW.

  • Liability related costs
  • Damage to other vehicles or property involved in the collision

What is the Difference Between Primary and Secondary Coverage?

Car rental insurance offered by credit card issuers falls into two categories: primary and secondary. Secondary insurance coverage applies after you file claims with other insurance providers first like your personal car insurance policy or travel insurance. The secondary coverage policy would cover any expenses not covered by the other insurance providers.

Primary insurance coverage preempts the other forms of insurance you may have meaning that you would only need to file a claim directly with the primary insurance provider. Primary coverage will reimburse you for the full cost to replace or repair the car—typically whatever is less expensive.

As we get further into the credit card details, I’ll outline which cards provide primary insurance and which provide secondary to help you decide which card is best for your rental car booking.

car rental insurance coverage

Make Sure Your Rental Is Eligible for Coverage

In order to make use of a credit card’s rental car insurance, the first step is to decline the rental company’s insurance policy so that the credit card policy goes into effect.

There are a few other things to keep in mind to make sure the car you’re renting is eligible for coverage.

  • The standard car types available at a rental agency are covered (i.e. economy, mid-sized, full-sized, etc.) but specialty vehicles like vans, RVs, pickup trucks and exotic cars are not covered.
  • Rentals from peer-to-peer services like Turo are not covered.
  • Only short-term rentals (shorter than 31 days) are covered.
  • When renting outside the U.S. some countries are excluded. It varies by card issuer so make sure to check before you rent.

Now that you’ve made sure your car is eligible for coverage, let’s get down to the cards that offer the best coverage.

Credit Cards That Offer Primary Coverage

Chase Credit Cards

Chase has a number of credit cards under their umbrella that offers primary coverage including the Sapphire cards, Ink Business cards and United MileagePlus cards.

Chase Sapphire Cards

The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and the Chase Sapphire Reserve® both offer some of the best car rental insurance available. They both offer primary coverage in most countries and cover the following:

  • Rentals of up to 31 days
  • Physical damage or theft of the rental car
  • Loss-of-use charges provided by the rental agency
  • Towing fees

One difference in the card policies is that with the Chase Sapphire Reserve® the policy includes a higher maximum coverage of $75,000 for the rental car.

Since the insurance policies provided by these cards are somewhat similar, let’s look at the potential earning rates when using them to book rental cars.

With the Chase Sapphire Preferred card, the money you spend on your rental car could earn you at least 2X points or 5X points if you book through the Chase Travel Portal.

Using the Chase Sapphire Reserve® would earn you 3X points regularly (after earning the $300 travel credit) or 10X points when booked through the Chase Travel Portal (also after earning the $300 travel credit). Another great perk of booking with this card is the discounts offered at specific rental companies—20% off Silvercar rentals, up to 30% off Avis and up to 25% off National rentals.

Whether you use your card or redeem points, you qualify for insurance coverage.

rental cars at airport

Chase Ink Business Cards

The Ink Business Cash® Credit Card, the Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card and the Ink Business Unlimited® Credit Card all offer primary insurance coverage when booking rental cars for business purposes. If you book for personal use, the coverage lowers to secondary insurance.

Coverage provided by these cards includes:

  • Rentals of up to 31 days
  • Physical damage or theft of the rental car
  • Loss-of-use charges provided by the rental agency
    Towing fees

Of these three business cards, the Chase Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card earns the most points on your rental at 3X points. The other two cards, the Ink Business Cash and the Ink Business Unlimited, earn 1% and 1.5% cashback, respectively. These two cards don’t charge annual fees, so getting this level of car rental coverage with a no-annual-fee card is a great deal.

One thing to consider is the Ink Business Cash and the Ink Business Unlimited cards charge a 3% foreign transaction fee, so avoid using these cards to book rental cars internationally.

United MileagePlus Cards

The United℠ Explorer Card, the United Club card, the United Quest℠ Card, the United Club℠ Infinite Card, and the United℠ Business Card all provide primary insurance coverage when using these cards to book your rental car.

Note that the United℠ Business Cards must be used to rent cars for business purposes to leverage primary coverage rather than secondary.

Here’s what’s covered under the insurance:

  • Rentals of up to 31 days
  • Physical damage or theft of the rental car
  • Loss-of-use charges provided by the rental agency
  • Towing fees

The United Quest℠ Card and the United Club℠ Infinite Card earn the most miles on your rental car booking at a rate of 2X miles on travel. All other United cards earn you 1X to 1.5X miles on your purchase.

credit cards with car rental insurance

Capital One Business Cards

All Capital One Spark Business cards offer primary insurance coverage for your rental car when booking for business purposes. This comes as a standard benefit through Capital One’s Visa Business partnership. This coverage includes:

  • Rentals of up to 31 days
  • Physical damage or theft of the rental car
  • Loss-of-use charges provided by the rental agency
  • Towing fees

Of these business cards, the Capital One® Spark® Miles for Business card would probably be your best choice for your car reservation as it earns 2X miles on your purchase, and its $95 annual fee is waived for the first year.

Credit Cards That Offer Secondary Coverage

American Express Cards

Most American Express cards offer secondary insurance coverage, which means it will kick in after you’ve filed claims with your other insurance providers.

You can see each card’s rental insurance policy on the American Express website, but here is an overview of what’s typically covered:

  • Rental period up to 30 consecutive days
  • Up to $75,000 in coverage for damage or theft of the rental car
  • Loss-of-use charges provided by the rental car agency
  • Towing fees
  • Accidental death or dismemberment coverage
  • Accidental injury coverage
  • Personal property coverage

American Express also offers the option of primary insurance coverage for a fee of $12.25 to $24.95 depending on what state you live in. This fee covers the entire rental period rather than the per day charge of between $30 and $60 that rental companies typically charge.

In order to activate this primary coverage, you need to enroll your American Express card in the service. When you use the enrolled card to pay for the car rental, the primary coverage will automatically activate and be charged to your card. The coverage terminates when your rental terminates. Here is what’s covered under American Express’ Premium Car Rental Protection:

  • Rental period of up to 42 days
  • Up to $100,000 in coverage for damage or theft of your rental
  • Up to $100,000 of accidental death or dismemberment coverage
  • Up to $15,000 of secondary medical coverage for drivers and passengers
  • Up to $5,000 of secondary personal property coverage
  • Loss-of-use charges provided by the rental car agency

Because so many American Express cards offer either secondary or primary coverage (with a fee), it’s best to choose a card that will earn you the most return on your purchase.

The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card and The Hilton Honors American Express Business Card are great options that earn 7X and 6X points respectively on rental cars from American Express’ list of approved rental companies.

If you’re looking to earn transferable points, the American Express® Green Card is a solid option that earns 3X points on rental cars.

Capital One Cards

The Capital One® Venture® Credit Card and the Capital One® VentureOne® Credit Card both provide secondary insurance coverage as long as you are approved for the Visa Signature version of the card. You’ll know if you have a Visa Signature if it’s printed on the card or if you have a minimum credit limit of $5,000.

Here is what’s covered under Capital One’s insurance policy:

  • Rentals of up to 15 consecutive days in your home country or 31 days outside your country
  • Physical damage to or theft of the rental car
  • Loss-of-use charges provided by the rental car agency
  • Towing charges

Using the Capital One Venture Rewards card earns a flat 2X miles on all purchases, and your car rental booking falls under this earning rate. If you were to use the Capital One® VentureOne® Credit Card, you would earn 1.25X miles on all purchases including your car rental.

car rental insurance

Chase Cards

Access to secondary insurance coverage is available when using the Chase Freedom Flex℠ and the Chase Freedom Unlimited® to book a rental car. Here’s what you can expect to be covered under the policy:

  • Rentals of up to 31 consecutive days
  • Physical damage to or theft of the rental car
  • Loss-of-use charges provided by the rental car agency
  • Towing fees

Neither card has an annual fee, so when deciding which card to use for your booking, look at the potential earning rates. With the Chase Freedom Flex℠, you can earn 1% cash back on your purchase unless car rentals happen to fall into one of the quarterly bonus categories. The Chase Freedom Unlimited® earns 1.5% cash back. However, both of these cards offer 5% cash back if you book through the Chase Travel Portal.

Credit Card Issuers That Don’t Offer Coverage

When you’re rustling through your wallet trying to decide which credit card to use for your car rental, it’s important to know which credit card issuers don’t offer any type of car rental insurance so that you can rule them out quickly.

Most Citi cards do not offer car rental insurance. This went into effect in the fall of 2019, and car rental insurance was just one of many travel-related benefits that Citi cut from its cards. Interestingly, Citi Costco cards are the exception to this rule, and the Costco Anywhere Visa® Card by Citi still carries secondary car rental insurance.

Discover is another card issuer that has removed car rental insurance from all of its credit cards, so it’s best to consider the options above when picking the card to use for your purchase.

Final Thoughts

When making travel purchases, it’s wise to put some thought into what credit card is best used beyond just using the one you’re trying to meet the minimum spend on. Especially for purchases like car rentals, using a credit card strategically can save you some extra cash—up to $60 a day in insurance costs.