Best credit cards for renting a car

Your card likely carries some coverage, but you need to understand what's included and what's not.

By Karen Datko Jul 17, 2012 6:43PM

Image: Convertible (© Corbis)Have you ever been unsure at the car rental counter whether your credit card or your auto policy provides the insurance coverage you'll need for the trip? Should you buy the car company's insurance -- that oddly named and expensive collision damage waiver?


Confusion on this topic is rampant, according to a new report by Card Hub on the best credit cards to use for renting a car:

Indeed, 62% of consumers do not believe their personal auto insurance automatically covers rental cars, according to a survey conducted by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. Similarly, 24% aren't sure whether their credit cards provide any sort of coverage either.

Well, they usually do. But it turns out that credit cards are not created equal when it comes to providing this wonderful benefit.

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The Card Hub study includes these findings:

  • Visa's car rental insurance scored highest at 87%, followed by Discover (85%), American Express (82%), and MasterCard (73%) when the terms of these cards were compared with Card Hub's imaginery gold standard. Said Card Hub CEO Odysseas Papadimitriou in a news release: "In the end, Visa's policy won out, largely due to the ubiquity of coverage on network cards and the fact that it covers towing charges and a rental company's loss of use."
  • MasterCard does not provide car rental coverage for every cardholder, and it's the only network that fails in that regard. So don't assume your MasterCard will provide coverage when you use it to rent a car.
  • Coverage by MasterCard and Visa doesn't apply to accidents on roadways that are not routinely maintained or recognized by a government entity. MasterCard doesn't cover for damage on any dirt or gravel roads.
  • This is a must-know before you rent a vehicle: "None of the networks cover trucks, off-road vehicles, vehicles with open beds, or cars that are considered exotic, expensive, or antique; American Express is the only network not to cover certain SUVs, including popular models like the Toyota Land Cruiser, Range Rover, GMC Yukon, and Suburban and Tahoe from Chevrolet."
  • Discover is the only network that covers rental cars all around the world. The three others exclude some countries. For instance, none of the three covers rental cars in Ireland. (Maybe it's the combination of huge tour buses and tiny roads.)
  • Only Discover does not set a limit on the length of trip.

These are just the highlights from the study. The terms and conditions in all of these credit card agreements are exceedingly complicated and dense.


What should a smart traveler do? Read your card agreement (as well as the terms of rental car coverage included in your personal auto insurance policy).

And remember, for coverage to apply, you must use your credit card to pay for the entire car rental bill and you must also decline to pay for the rental company's coverage, Card Hub says.


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