Primary or Secondary Car Rental Insurance Coverage – Forbes Advisor

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Some flashy travel perks, like reward points, are highly sought after by consumers of all stripes. The other benefits are ignored until absolutely necessary. Unsurprisingly, rental car insurance tops this second list.

While it is increasingly common for travel rewards credit cards to offer some form of policy, customers may not always be sure how useful the coverage is. To further muddy the waters, card reviews and advertising generally refer to insurance as “primary” or “secondary.”

Before applying for a card, it is worth knowing the differences between these, as they can be significant. Luckily, we’ve got you covered.

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How rental car insurance works

Before we dive into the differences between primary and secondary coverage, let’s briefly take a look at rental car insurance in general. First, and perhaps most importantly, the renter must pay for the car with the credit card that offers the protection. The cardholder must also be the primary renter, although other drivers are also covered as long as they are listed on the rental agreement. Finally, the conditions generally require the renter to decline the car rental company’s collision damage free (CDW) insurance.

The CDW covers damage to the car in the event of an accident or theft during the rental. Using a smart tactic, rental companies often offer cheap sticker prices for their cars, as they can often make a pretty dime selling CDWs. These policies can cost anywhere from $ 5 to $ 30 per day, depending on the agency and the level of coverage provided. With strong credit card insurance, however, you can decline CDW and be sure you are covered.

Liability coverage

While credit card insurance can replace CDW, it does not provide any type of liability insurance. The CDW covers the driver’s car, not other cars or people. So, if you were to cause an accident that damaged another vehicle or injured its passengers, you would be personally responsible, even with credit card coverage.

To get full liability protection, you must purchase the rental company insurance over the counter (typically $ 15 to $ 20 per day), be covered by your auto insurance at home (typically does not cover than domestic rentals) or purchase a separate policy. Some countries (eg Mexico and most of Europe) require liability insurance with a relatively low maximum coverage to be included in the rental price.

The difference between primary and secondary coverage

For starters, it should be mentioned that most credit cards offer secondary insurance for rental cars. This means that the card insurance will only pay the amount not covered by another driver’s policy. Therefore, you will need to file a claim with your other insurance first. As anyone who has dealt with insurance companies knows, it can take a long time.

In contrast, with primary credit card coverage, personal auto insurance is unimportant. As the name suggests, primary insurance applies first, regardless of the tenant’s other coverage. Conveniently, this means that you can start the process of submitting a claim by calling the number on the back of your card.

Why is this important

A card with primary coverage eliminates the need to file a claim with your personal auto insurance, a process that would typically subject you to a deductible payment and monthly premium increase. Primary coverage is also more likely to have generous terms and cover the full cost of the car. In contrast, secondary policies sometimes have lower limits for total coverage, a shorter rental period allowed, and fewer countries in which rentals are covered.

Cards providing primary coverage

After establishing the value of the primary car rental insurance, what credit cards do they offer? As the list suggests, premium cards are your best bet.

chase away

Chase provides primary rental car coverage on the following maps:

The small Chase business cards below also provide primary coverage, but only when the rental is for business purposes:

American Bank

  • Visa Infinite® Reserve US Bank Altitude® card*


  • UBS Visa Infinite Credit Card*

American Express

American Express cards do not include free primary coverage, but cardholders have the option of purchasing it for an additional charge of $ 20 to $ 25 per rental. This can be done on the American Express website. Many American Express cards offer secondary rental car coverage.

As you might expect, because the policy comes at a cost, the terms are even more generous than the insurance offered by the cards of the other issuers listed above. For example, the American Express program includes $ 15,000 medical coverage for you and your passengers on a secondary basis (after any other medical or travel insurance) and provides coverage on rentals up to 42 days, which is longer than most other cards. . While this may be better than the terms of some other cards, note that liability coverage is still not included.

Other options

While we are big supporters of using the insurance that you can get at no additional cost through your credit card, you can also purchase major car rental insurance from companies such as Allianz, Bonzah, and more. ‘others.

Where you rent can matter

Some cards offer secondary coverage in the driver’s country of residence (where you may be covered by your regular auto policy) and primary coverage abroad. Typically, secondary overseas coverage will serve as primary coverage, since most personal auto insurance policies will not be applicable outside of the United States. Likewise, if you don’t own a car and therefore don’t have auto insurance, even the secondary coverage will essentially act as primary coverage in the United States.

While the rental of a normal sedan in most countries is covered by a credit card insurance policy, there are some notable exclusions: usually expensive or exotic cars. Your policy may also not be valid in certain countries (Jamaica, Italy, Australia, and New Zealand, to name a few), and rental length may also be a factor. Rentals longer than two to four weeks may not be covered. As always, check your card’s terms and conditions for exact stipulations.

Final result

Primary rental car insurance is a valuable benefit offered primarily by leading cards. This can provide peace of mind when you decline rental company coverage and save you quite a bit of money. This will make your life easier by eliminating the need to file claims elsewhere if you ever need to file a claim. This is especially beneficial in the event of an accident that damages the car, as it will not result in a rate increase on your normal auto policy. However, as mentioned above, it is not a substitute for liability coverage.

If you value the freedom of having a car when you travel, the insurance provided by your credit card can offer you fantastic value. Be sure to study these benefits before applying for a card or going to the rental counter.

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Justin D. O'Neill