Best credit cards for car rentals: Coverage and benefits
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We’ve all experienced it before. You go to rent a car and you’re handed a laundry list of coverage options — all with a price tag attached. You want to ensure you’re covered, but you also aren’t looking forward to spending even more on your car rental. Fortunately, there’s often a different option: your credit card travel insurance.
There are many credit cards that will actually provide you with car rental coverage as long as you use the card to pay for the rental. This largely unknown perk could, in fact, save you a decent amount of money on your next car rental. Additionally, some credit cards even offer special perks, such as car rental elite status and discounts.
But not all credit cards offer coverage, and some offer better coverage than others. So before you rent your next car — whether it’s on vacation or just around town — make sure you have the best credit card in your pocket to ensure you’re covered.
First and foremost, when renting a car, you must pay for your rental with the specific credit card that offers car rental protection. And, if there are multiple drivers on the rental contract, the primary renter must be the card holder. Additionally, for the credit card coverage to take effect in the unfortunate case that an accident occurs, you must decline the Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) — sometimes called Loss Damage Waiver (LDW) — in your rental agreement. You might find that some car rental companies automatically include this extra insurance — and cost — into your agreement, so you’ll want to double-check your paperwork.
Once you rent the car, you’ll then be covered if your rented car incurs theft or damage from a collision. This coverage will protect you from the financial responsibility of covering the cost. However, the included policy will not protect you from the cost of damage or injuries to another car if you’re found at fault. Typically, your personal car rental insurance will cover you in these situations or you can purchase separate policies from the car rental company.
You’ll also notice that there are two different types of credit card car rental coverage: primary and secondary. Primary coverage means that if there’s a covered accident, the claim will go directly through the credit card company, allowing you to avoid the hassle of involving your own auto insurance policy. This will not only save you time but will also avoid any premiums to your own policy.
If the credit card offers secondary car rental insurance, you’ll have to first make a claim with any other policy you have. Once the claim is settled, you can then file a claim with your credit card and you’ll be covered for anything that wasn’t initially covered with your primary policy, such as your deductible. However, one thing to note is that many credit cards that offer secondary coverage switch to primary coverage if you don’t have car insurance or if you’re renting outside the United States where your personal policy won’t cover you.
You’ll also find that many coverage options are slightly different from one another. Some policies will only cover you to the maximum value of the car you’re renting, while others have higher limits. Many policies will also only cover you for a certain time period — 31 days is very common. So if you’re renting a car for a few months, you might find that your credit card coverage will not actually apply.
Additionally, there are some car types that aren’t covered, such as luxury cars and pick-up trucks. You’ll also find that some countries are excluded, and while the list changes depending on the card issuer, Australia, New Zealand, Italy and Jamaica are some common countries to look out for.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at our seven picks for the best cards for renting cars. Whether it’s because of the card’s insurance protections or additional benefits, some cards are better than others.
Best card for car rental insurance
When it comes to car rental benefits, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a card better than the new Capital One Venture X. The card offers the whole package with elite status opportunities, increased coverage and the ability to earn a ton of rewards every time you rent. With the Capital One Venture X Card, you’ll receive primary rental insurance and up to $75,000 in coverage if you use the card to book your car.
The Capital One Venture X is also one of the few cards to offer complimentary Hertz Gold Plus Rewards President’s Circle elite status. While some cards offer status or savings with Avis and National — or even a lower level with Hertz — it’s hard to beat this particular status level.
With this status, you’ll be able to skip the car rental counter and head straight to your car. And, at select airport locations, when you book an intermediate car or higher, you can choose any car you desire in the President’s Circle aisle. At most other locations, you’ll receive a guaranteed car-class upgrade.
Additionally, when you rent your car through the Capital One Travel Portal, you’ll earn 10 miles per dollar spent on your car rental. This effectively gives you a 10% return on your rental toward future travel — a huge earning potential every time you rent.
And since you can add up to four authorized users to your Venture X Card for free, this allows four other friends or family members — who you trust with your credit card — to reap these benefits as well.
The Capital One Venture X Card currently comes with a generous sign-up bonus of 100,000 bonus miles after spending $10,000 on purchases in the first six months after opening the account. And for a limited time, as part of the sign-up bonus, card holders receive up to $200 in statement credits for vacation rentals like Airbnb and VRBO. The card carries an annual fee of $395.
Read CNN Underscored’s complete review of the Capital One Venture X.
Best earn rate for renting cars
The Chase Sapphire Reserve also offers primary rental insurance and up to $75,000 in coverage. The coverage truly doesn’t get better than this when it comes to credit cards, so if top-tier insurance is a key element when deciding on a credit card to use, this is a great option, along with the Capital One Venture X.
Additionally, the Chase Sapphire Reserve card offers discounts and special offers with various car rental companies. For example, you’ll receive National Car Rental Emerald Club Executive status, which will allow you to choose any car in a set executive area while only paying the midsize rental rate (in the U.S. and Canada), earn free rental days faster and add a second driver onto the rental for no additional cost. You’ll also receive special pricing and offers.
You’ll also earn discounts and upgrades with Avis — thanks to the complimentary Avis Preferred status — and special car rental privileges with Silvercar.
When booking a car rental directly through the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal, you’ll earn 10 points per dollar spent. However, if you book directly with the car rental company or a third-party booking site, you’ll still earn 3 points per dollar. Frequent flyer website The Points Guy values Chase Ultimate Rewards points at 2 cents apiece, meaning you can get up to a 20% return on your car rental.
While this card comes with a hefty annual fee of $550, you can easily offset this cost with future car rental reservations. The Sapphire Reserve card comes with a $300 travel credit annually that can be used on any travel-related purchase — including car rentals. With just a few car rentals throughout the year, you’ll most likely be able to receive the full statement credit, which means the card effectively costs $250 for the year. You’ll then also receive complimentary airport lounge access, purchase protection and travel protection benefits, up to $100 in statement credits for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck and much more.
The Sapphire Reserve currently comes with a sign-up bonus of 50,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 within the first three months of holding the card.
Learn more and apply for the Chase Sapphire Reserve
Best low-annual-fee card for renting cars
The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card will also give you access to primary car rental insurance — while also allowing you to earn travel rewards — but at a significantly lower annual fee than the previously mentioned Sapphire Reserve. The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card is just $95 per year, which is a bargain compared to some of the other options on this list.
The main difference when it comes to coverage is the reimbursement amount. With the lower-annual-fee Sapphire Preferred, you’ll be reimbursed up to the actual cash value of the vehicle, which should be more than substantial for most accidents, but not as high as the $75,000 coverage you’ll receive with the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
While the card doesn’t provide any car rental elite status benefits, you’ll receive a complimentary 12-month DoorDash subscription (must activate by March 31, 2022), up to $60 back on a Peloton All-Access Membership or Peloton App Membership (through June 30, 2022) and $50 in statement credits each account anniversary year for hotel stays purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred also earns 5 points per dollar spent on travel, which includes car rentals, when purchased through Chase Ultimate Rewards. You’ll earn 2 points per dollar on all other travel purchases — so you’ll still be earning a solid amount of points every time you rent a car.
The Chase Sapphire Preferred currently comes with a sign-up bonus of 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 within the first three months of holding the card.
Learn more and apply for the Chase Sapphire Preferred
Best no-annual-fee card for renting cars
With many credit cards costing up to hundreds of dollars in annual fees, it’s nice to know that you can still receive car rental perks with a card that charges no annual fee. With the Chase Freedom Unlimited card, you’ll still receive primary car rental insurance for car rentals outside of the United States.
The only caveat to using this card internationally is that you’re charged a foreign transaction fee. You’ll have to weigh the pros and cons on the fee charged with the savings you’re receiving by declining the car rental company’s own insurance options.
For car rentals within the United States, you’ll only receive secondary insurance. This means coverage only kicks in after you have already exhausted any other insurance options you have, such as your own personal insurance.
The Chase Freedom Unlimited comes with a sign-up bonus of an additional 1.5% cash back on all categories on up to $20,000 spent in the first year.
Learn more and apply for the Chase Freedom Unlimited
Best for car rental elite status
With a single card, you’ll receive complimentary benefits with three different car rental companies: National, Avis and Hertz, though enrollment is required.
With National, you’ll receive National Emerald Club Executive status. For select locations in the U.S. and Canada, you can simply pay for a midsize car rental, but when you show up to rent the car, you’re able to choose from any full-size (or above) car in the Executive area. You’ll also receive free rental days faster, waived second driver fees and member-only promotions and discounts.
With Avis, you’ll receive Avis Preferred Plus status. This allows you to save time by bypassing the car rental counter in most locations and going straight to your reserved car. You’ll also receive complimentary upgrades, bonus points for every paid rental and exclusive discounts.
The Hertz benefit doesn’t offer an elite tier level, but you’ll still receive a special corporate discount code, which could potentially save you money on your next rental
Unfortunately, this is the only card on the list that doesn’t extend primary car rental status automatically. Instead, the card offers secondary insurance, which means you must go through any other insurance provider you have first. (For residents of Utah and Vermont only, the insurance is primary.)
However, if you want to use your Amex Platinum card to pay for your next car rental and prefer primary coverage, you can purchase “Premium Car Rental Protection.” You’ll pay a flat rate for your entire rental — up to 42 consecutive days of coverage (however, if you live in Washington, you are only covered for up to 30 consecutive days). Coverage is available worldwide — except for vehicles rented in Australia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica and New Zealand — and there are two different coverage options to select from.
The current welcome bonus offer on the Amex Platinum is 100,000 Membership Rewards points after spending $6,000 in the first six months of holding the card. The card comes with an annual fee of $695, but it features a long list of alluring benefits (see rates and fees).
Learn more and apply for the Amex Platinum Card
Best for travel credits to use toward renting cars
The U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve offers the exact same elite status benefits as the Amex Platinum card, where you’ll receive National Emerald Club Executive status, Avis Preferred Plus status and select Hertz Gold Plus Rewards benefits. You’ll also receive a 30% discount on Silvercar rentals with no restrictions.
But there’s one big advantage of this card over the Amex Platinum — you’ll receive primary car rental insurance.
The card carries a high $400 annual fee, but that can easily be offset with numerous perks. Right away, you’ll receive up to $325 in annual credits, which can be used toward eligible travel purchases and dining. Since receiving the reimbursement is extremely easy, this effectively brings your annual fee down to a much more palatable $75 per year.
Additionally, the card offers up to $100 in statement credits toward Global Entry or TSA PreCheck application fees every four years; a 12-month Priority Pass Select membership, which allows you to visit an airport lounge (or participating restaurants) four times; no foreign transaction fees; and more.
Learn more and apply for the U.S. Bank Altitude Reserve.
Best card for renting cars for small businesses
If you’re looking for a credit card to cover you while traveling for business, the Ink Business Cash Credit Card is the perfect pick. For a card that charges no annual fee, the Ink Business Cash offers an impressive benefit where you’ll receive primary rental car coverage when renting for business purposes.
Best of all, the card also extends primary coverage for international rentals, even when renting for personal reasons.
This is one of the few no-annual-fee business cards that will truly cover you when renting a car, so if you’re a small-business owner, this is an ideal card to have in your wallet.
Read CNN Underscored’s complete review of the Ink Business Cash.
Learn more and apply for the Ink Business Cash.
Want a credit card that covers you when you’re traveling? Check out CNN Underscored’s guide to the best credit cards with travel insurance protections.