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Primary rental car coverage credit cards: A list and pitfalls

by on Wed September 7, 2016 • 19 Comments


Most travel credit cards offer some collision damage coverage when you rent a car, but most offer what’s known as ‘secondary’ coverage.

That means if you have damage you’ll need to file a claim with your own auto insurance policy first, which might lead to higher rates on your own policy.

However over the last few years several cards have started to offer primary coverage, which is an improvement.

With primary coverage you don’t have to file a claim with your own insurance provider, saving you the hassle and risk of policy rate hikes.

Below is a list of cards currently accepting applications that generally offer primary coverage. Most card companies don’t actively market this feature, so make sure you call the number on the back of your card to double check the coverage is primary before relying on it for a rental.

With Annual Fees for personal coverage

For Business Rentals only

If you have any American Express card, including cards with no annual fee, you can pay $19.95 – $24.95 per rental to secure primary coverage via the Premium Car Rental Protection program. Just make sure you enroll online before your rental.

Other pitfalls to be aware of

For rentals outside the U.S. and Canada, any credit card coverage is considered primary. That’s because U.S. auto insurance policies don’t cover incidents that happen outside the U.S. and Canada, unless you get a special rider, and those are usually only available for travel to Mexico with your own vehicle. So there’s no extra benefit to using a card with primary coverage for most international rentals.

If you use a business credit card for a personal rental, it’s possible you won’t be covered. Business credit card coverage is designed for rentals that are primarily for business use, rather than your own vacation. And some companies may ask for proof that your trip was business in nature before accepting a claim.

Credit card coverage only handles damage to the vehicle you rent. Damage to other vehicles or property is handled by personal liability coverage, which is not offered by credit cards.


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19 thoughts on Primary rental car coverage credit cards: A list and pitfalls

  1. Shane

    If the rental car company claims there is a scratch or dent how does the process work? Do we just let them know we have the Chase sapphire card and they deal with it? How do claims work with the primary insurance through credit cards?


      @Shane – You call the number on the back of your card as soon as you notice damage – even before returning the car if you notice it before returning. They’ll walk you through the claim process.

  2. Kiran

    I have this AMEX card offer which covers the primary car rental coverage without liability. I it safe to decline the rental company insurance while booking with this card? What are the pitfalls ? and how would my liability be covered?


      @Kiran – Yes if you pay Amex for that coverage specifically. But it’s only for collision damage to the car and theft – not liability for damage to other people’s vehicles or property, or injuries.

  3. jediwho

    So, what happens if one is at fault? The damage to the rental car is covered by the credit card but the insurance company gets involved for the other car(s)?


      @jediwho – Your rental car itself is covered for collision damage. Damage to other cars or property is not covered by credit card coverage. That’s handled by liability coverage, which might be your own auto insurance, or coverage you purchase from the rental car company, or that might sometimes be included in your rental.

  4. Karthik

    I have a citi Preferred card. It says it has a rental coverage. I do not have any other auto insurance. So in this case, the secondary coverage will become my primary, correct?

  5. GARY

    Does the Chaise Sapphire card rental car coverage cover both the cardholder and additional driver on rental contract?

    Also I see that some limit the coverage to 15 consecutive days. Is that on the Sapphire card also. If so if you return the car and start a new contract would it extent those 15 days?


      @Gary – Yes, if the additional driver is listed on the contract and you are also on the contract then both are covered when operating.

      As for duration, we’ve seen longer than that, but best to call the number on the back of your card to get the exact duration for your account.


      @Deena – No deductible – though with secondary coverage you may have to first pay the deductible on your own insurance, then try to get that reimbursed with the CDW coverage.

  6. Bruce steadman

    I am traveling to New Zealand in a few days and want to rent a car with my United Explorers Mileage Plus. I believe it includes “Primary coverage”…but not liability. Should i decline collision and buy liability???? Please advise!!! Any and all info will be greatly appreciated

    1. James Powell

      Be careful about NZ (and maybe Australia…) really check to make sure they’re not countries where the benefits are excluded… NZ is on some companies as is Ireland one or two other places. Not sure why.


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