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Hopefully you never have to use it, but if you ever get into a car accident while traveling, primary rental car coverage could prove to be the most valuable benefit of your travel rewards credit card.
Most travel cards offer secondary rental car coverage, which only kicks in to cover costs after you’ve filed a claim with your personal car insurance company. While this can cover out of pocket expenses like your auto insurance deductible and any fees the rental agency charges, it does mean your personal insurance premiums will probably go up.
A small handful of cards though offer primary coverage, meaning you’ll deal with them before you have to contact your auto insurance company. While this is a relatively rare benefit, you will find it on three of the most popular cards out there, and the three we recommend people sign up for anyway: the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Sapphire Reserve, and Ink Preferred. We’ve covered the benefits of these cards ad nauseam, and they go far beyond car insurance, but this is a particularly potent arrow in their respective quivers.
To be eligible for the benefit, you’ll have to pay for the entire rental using one of those cards, and decline the rental company’s collision damage waiver or loss damage waiver. The insurance applies to the cardholder and any other eligible drivers as defined by the rental agreement, and it covers the entire cost of your car. However, you won’t be eligible if your rental extends beyond 31 days, or if you rent an exotic car, an ATV, a van, or a few other types of vehicles - check this page, or call the number on the back of your card for a complete list. Standard cars and SUVs shouldn’t present any issue though.
If your rental car gets stolen, or if you get into a single car accident, Chase’s primary insurance should cover all of your expenses. However, it doesn’t include any liability coverage, and it won’t cover any damage that you do to other vehicles or property. So if you’re at fault in a multi-car accident, Chase will cover the repair or replacement of the car you were driving, but you or your auto insurance company will be on the hook for any other property damage or medical expenses.
In researching this post, I did not rent a car and get into an accident to see what the claims process is like. I’m sorry. But this post from Ask Sebby has a pretty good rundown of what you can expect if you have to call upon this benefit.
Our other favorite travel card, the American Express Platinum, doesn’t include primary coverage by default, but you can add it to any rental for just $20 or $25 per rental period, compared to roughly the same price you’d pay per day for similar coverage from the rental agency. All you have to do is enroll your card through this page, and you’ll automatically be charged any time your card is used to rent a car. Some of the details vary a bit from the Chase coverage, and the more expensive $25 option includes accidental death coverage and some secondary medical expense coverage which Chase lacks. But then again, it’s not free.
Like all insurance, this is a benefit you’d probably rather not think about too much until you actually need to use it. But it sure is nice being able to confidently uncheck the Loss Damage Waiver box at the rental counter, knowing that you already have it.