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credit card rental car insurance

Whether you use a Visa, Mastercard, American Express or Discover card, chances are you can get some free auto insurance coverage when you rent a car. Generally, in order to snag this feature, you have to use the credit card to pay for your rental car. You’ll also have to forgo the rental company’s own insurance. Beyond that, there are some exceptions and situations you should be familiar with. Let’s take a look at rental car insurance basics and which cards offer this feature.

Rental Car Insurance Basics

Let’s start by taking a general look at car insurance. If you already have personal auto insurance, you’ll want to check how that covers you when you rent a car. While collisions and theft are usually covered, that often only reaches to a certain extent. Usually auto insurance won’t cover fees from the rental company, which can amount to hundreds of dollars.

When your personal auto insurance won’t cover your rental car completely, your credit card can provide the answer. When credit cards provide rental car insurance, it will come in the form of either primary or secondary coverage. Primary coverage kicks in in the event of collision or theft of your rental car, even before you need to file a claim with your personal car insurance. Primary coverage will fully cover the damages.

Secondary coverage, on the other hand, tends to cover much less in damage and administrative costs. This is largely due to secondary coverage kicking in after you’ve already filed a claim with your own personal car insurance company. However, if you don’t have your own personal car insurance, a credit card’s secondary coverage becomes your primary coverage. This can also be the case if you rent a car in a foreign country not covered by your insurance. No matter which credit card you have, you’ll always want to double check how much coverage you have before you use it to rent a car.

Visa Credit Card Rental Car Insurance

credit card rental car insurance

If you have a Visa credit card, you’re in luck! All Visa Standard Credit, Rewards Credit, Signature®, Signature Preferred®, Premium Rewards cards offer secondary rental car insurance. This means that it comes into effect after your personal insurance coverage. If you’re renting overseas, your Visa coverage will act as your primary coverage. In order to use Visa’s rental car insurance, you’ll need to waive the rental company’s insurance and use your Visa card for the rental.

Visa covers up to 15 consecutive days of an auto rental in the U.S. and 31 consecutive days outside of the U.S. Visa does not cover rentals in Israel, Jamaica, Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland. Most passenger cars, minivans and sports utility vehicles are covered but trucks, some luxury cars and certain vans are not. Any vehicles valued above $50,000 aren’t covered.

Without personal auto insurance, Visa’s auto rental collision damage waiver can help reimburse you for the covered theft and damage to the rental car. Any valid administrative, loss-of-use and reasonable towing charges related to damage can be covered, too. If you do have personal auto insurance, Visa’s rental car coverage will pay for the deductible portion of your insurance, plus the above administrative and towing costs.

In the event of collision or theft, you need to report the incident to Visa within 45 days. You then have another 45 days in which you must file your claim. When you file your claim, you’ll need to include a copy of an accident report and claim form indicating the amounts you are responsible for. You also need to produce copies of your rental car contracts, a repair estimate and its itemized bill. Visa also asks for two photos of the damaged vehicle and a police report, if those are available. You can file a claim online at https://www.eclaimsline.com/.

If you’re not sure what your Visa credit card will cover, you can reach Visa’s benefit advisor at 1-800-348-8472. You can also contact your credit card issuer. That way, you won’t be stranded at the rental car counter on your next business trip or family vacation.

Mastercard Rental Car Insurance

Not all Mastercard credit cards provide secondary rental car insurance. The cards that do offer this feature are the Gold, Platinum, World and World Elite credit cards. If you have any of these cards and use them for your auto rental, Mastercard can pay for any covered physical damages to and theft of a rental vehicle. You will have to waive the rental company’s own insurance and list yourself as the vehicle’s primary renter for coverage to apply.

You can generally rely on Mastercard rental car coverage for up to 15 consecutive days with a rental car if you’re using a Gold or Platinum card. Mastercard World and World Elite credit cards offer longer time periods – up to 31 consecutive days. Similarly to Visa, cars with a value of up to $50,000 are covered. Any cars over that price point are considered luxury and won’t be covered. SUVs and full-size vans will also disqualify you for coverage.

If you’re traveling abroad, be aware that Mastercard doesn’t cover auto rentals in Israel, Jamaica, Northern Ireland or the Republic of Ireland. Mastercard advises contacting the rental company in advance if you’re traveling to Australia, Italy or New Zealand, as the benefits may not apply in those countries.

In the event of an accident or theft, you will need to report the claim to Mastercard within 30 days. You must file the claim and a number of supporting documents within 180 days. This includes your car rental agreement (front and back), your credit card statement that contains the car rental transaction, your rental transaction receipt and all other rental company paperwork. You will also need to provide details and documents of the incident, whether an accident or theft, including a police report. The company also asks for a copy of your driver’s license (front and back) and an itemized repair estimate. Luckily, Mastercard will also work on your behalf to obtain the necessary paperwork from the car rental agency.

You can file a claim or check the status of an existing claim online at www.mycardbenefits.com or by calling 1-800-MASTERCARD. Once the claim is approved, MasterCard will notify you of the reimbursement amount.

American Express Credit Card Rental Car Insurance

credit card rental car insurance

All American Express credit cards come with rental car insurance. If you have a basic AmEx card, you’ll receive secondary coverage up to $50,000. If you have a Platinum credit card from, you’ll get secondary coverage valued up to $75,000. You will have to decline the rental company’s full coverage and use your American Express card to take advantage of the card’s rental car insurance.

American Express credit cards cover damage, theft and related towing, storage and loss-of-use costs. You’re are covered for rentals lasting 30 consecutive days. You cannot use your American Express rental car insurance in Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Australia or New Zealand. Additionally there may be some further differences depending on the state you rent in. As always, you’ll want to call American Express if you’re unsure of what and how much is covered.

If you need to file a claim, you must do so within 30 days of the incident. You can file a claim with American Express, or check on an existing claim, online or by calling 1-800-338-1670. To file a complete claim, you will need to include a number of documents. This includes copies of your rental car agreement, insurance information, repair bills and any police/incident reports. You will receive a decision on your claim within 45 days of filing.

Discover Credit Card Rental Car Insurance

Luckily, all Discover credit cards offer rental car insurance. You can gain secondary coverage for rentals of 31 consecutive days, or 45 days for employees using a business credit card. Discover’s rental car insurance covers theft and damages. It does not cover personal liability, injury or damage to other vehicles. Also note that while Visa, Mastercard and American Express typically offer coverage up to $50,000, Discover’s maximum coverage is $25,000.

Interestingly, Discover will cover rentals in any country that accepts Discover cards. You also do not have to waive the rental company’s insurance coverage to use Discover’s. On a call with SmartAsset, a Discover representative recommended reading over the rental company’s insurance terms and conditions to determine whether you want to waive or accept the coverage.

To file a claim with Discover, you’ll have to do so within 90 days of the incident. You can call 1-800-347-0213 to file your claim or ask a representative more about your coverage.

Credit Card Rental Insurance
American Express Discover Mastercard Visa
Cards That Offer It All AmEx credit cards All Discover credit cards Gold, Platinum, World and World Elite Standard Credit, Rewards Credit, Signature®, Signature Preferred®, Premium Rewards (May also be available on other cards; call issuer to confirm)
Rental Period 30 consecutive days 31 consecutive days; 45 consecutive days for employees using business card 15 consecutive days for Gold or Platinum; 31 consecutive days for World or World Elite 15 consecutive days domestic; 31 consecutive days abroad
Insurance Type Secondary Secondary Secondary Secondary for domestic; primary for international
Vehicles Covered Most passenger cars valued under $50,000 Most passenger cars and minivans Most passenger cars and minivans valued under $50,000 Most passenger cars, minivans and sports utility vehicles valued under $50,000
Vehicles Not Covered Trucks, pick-ups, full-sized or cargo vans, commercial minivans, off-road vehicles, full-sized sport utility vehicles, antique cars, limousines Trucks other than four wheel drive, antique cars, recreation, motorcycles, campers, trailers, exotic high performance vehicles, off-road vehicles Trucks, pickups, certain vans, campers, off-road vehicles, antique cars, limousines, motorcycles, trailers Trucks, some luxury cars, certain vans, antique cars, limousines, motorcycles, mopeds
Time Frame for Filing Report Within 30 days Within 90 days Must report claim within 30 days; Must submit claim within 180 days Must report incident within 45 days; Must file claim within 90 days
Maximum Coverage $50,000 for basic Amex; $75,000 for Amex Platinum $25,000 $50,000 $50,000
What It Covers Damage, theft, loss-of-use charges, towing charges Damage, theft Damage, theft, loss-of-use charges, related towing charges Damage, vandalism, theft, loss-of-use charges, related towing charges
What It Doesn’t Cover Liability, injury, personal property, damage to other vehicles Liability, injury, personal property, damage to other vehicles Liability, injury, personal property, damage to other vehicles Liability, injury, medical expenses, loss or theft of personal belongings, off-road damage
Countries Not Covered Australia, Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, and New Zealand Coverage extends to all countries that accept Discover credit cards Israel, Jamaica, Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Possibly Australia, Italy and New Zealand. Israel, Jamaica, Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland
Contact/ More Information 1-800-528-4800/ website 1-800-347-0213/ website 1-800-MASTERCARD/ website  1-800-348-8472/ website

Bottom Line

Before your next road trip, reach for a credit card that comes with free rental car insurance. It can save you money at the rental car counter and give you some peace of mind in the unexpected event of a collision or theft. If you don’t have a qualifying credit card, you might want to rethink that especially if you find yourself renting cars more than once a year. Plus, travel credit cards can come with even more travel benefits like access to airport lounges or free flights.

Credit Card Tips for Traveling 

  • A travel credit card could really come in handy. Even if you don’t find yourself on a flight every weekend, earning miles or points on your credit card can snag you a free flight.
  • If you’ve ever traveled abroad, you’ve probably run into pesky foreign transaction fees on your credit card. Unfortunately, those fees can really pile up if you don’t have a foreign transaction fee-friendly credit card. Credit cards without these fees will really come in handy when you find yourself traveling abroad or making foreign purchases.

Update: Have more financial questions? SmartAsset can help. So many people reached out to us looking for tax and long-term financial planning help, we started our own matching service to help you find a financial advisor. The SmartAdvisor matching tool can help you find a person to work with to meet your needs. First you’ll answer a series of questions about your situation and goals. Then the program will narrow down your options from thousands of advisors to up to three registered investment advisors who suit your needs. You can then read their profiles to learn more about them, interview them on the phone or in person and choose who to work with in the future. This allows you to find a good fit while the program does much of the hard work for you.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/Martin Dimitrov, ©iStock.com/NoDerog, ©iStock.com/adamdodd

Lucy Lazarony Lucy Lazarony has been writing about personal finance for more than a decade. Lucy's a credit card expert. She is a freelance writer and award-winning journalist living in South Florida. Lucy earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Florida. Her work is featured on Credit.com, CardRatings.com, MoneyRates.com and Art Hive Magazine.
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