Many American Express cards come with some car rental insurance benefits, and all Amex users have the option of getting premium car rental protection at an extremely affordable price. If you’re a road warrior, chances are that protection is worth considering.
Certain credit card perks are more exciting than others. But while access to swanky airport lounges or yearly travel credits are notable, chances are you’d pay a steep annual fee in exchange for these premium extras.
However, just because a perk is less luxe doesn’t mean it’s not worthy of taking into account when you’re shopping for a new card or looking to maximize one that’s already in your wallet. Though some credit card issuers have started rolling back fringe benefits in recent years, a few lesser-known freebies still come standard and might be more valuable than you think.
Rental car insurance is one such under-the-radar perk that could potentially save you hundreds of dollars. If you’re an American Express cardholder, here’s what you need to know about the network’s car rental loss and damage insurance benefit.
American Express car rental perks: Things to know
Secondary coverageIf you’ve ever rented a car for a business trip or a family vacation, you probably recall being asked to sign up for the rental agency’s optional insurance product. However, what they’re trying to sell you isn’t technically insurance, but rather a collision damage waiver (CDW). Purchasing a CDW essentially means you won’t be held financially responsible if the car is damaged or stolen while you’re renting it. A CDW usually costs between $20 and $30 per day, though the price can run lower or higher depending on the state, the type of car and other factors.
But if you have an American Express credit card in your wallet, chances are you can decline the CDW, because you’re already protected via Amex’s car rental loss and damage insurance benefit.
As with most credit cards, the car rental insurance Amex provides is similar to what you’d get with a CDW: You’re covered for damage to or theft of a rental vehicle at no out-of-pocket cost, so long as you are named on the rental agreement, use your Amex card to pay for the rental in full and decline the CDW offered by the rental company. Activating coverage is as simple as that.
Your coverage under this benefit is secondary, so it kicks in only after you file a claim with your primary auto insurance. That doesn’t make it any less valuable, though. Amex will pay for whatever your personal policy doesn’t cover, and it will also reimburse your deductible, which could be as high as $1,000 – not exactly chump change.
Premium car rental protection
If you find that Amex’s secondary car rental insurance benefit doesn’t give you the coverage levels you need, you might want to look into the card issuer’s premium car rental protection program. This optional insurance product provides higher coverage limits in exchange for a flat fee rather than a per-day rate. Perhaps most importantly, coverage is primary – you don’t have to go through the hassle of filing a claim with your own insurance first.
Activating coverage is as easy as navigating to this page and clicking on “Enroll Now.” After that, you’ll have to log in to your American Express account and choose between the two coverage options (more on that below). If you have more than one card with Amex, pick the one you’re most likely to use to pay for future car rentals. You can enroll other eligible accounts, but you’ll have to call 1-866-518-0259 to do it.
Once enrolled, you won’t pay anything until you use your card to pay for a rental vehicle, at which point you’ll automatically be charged the applicable rate for the premium coverage level you selected. Here’s a side-by-side comparison of the two coverage options available under Amex’s premium car rental protection program:
|American Express premium car rental protection|
|Lower option||Higher option|
|What’s not covered||Liability, uninsured or underinsured motorists and disability||Liability, uninsured or underinsured motorists and disability|
|Maximum coverage length||42 consecutive days (30 consecutive days for Washington residents)||42 consecutive days (30 consecutive days for Washington residents)|
|Cost||$19.95 ($15.95 for California residents, $12.25 for Florida residents)|
|$24.95 ($17.95 for California residents, $15.25 for Florida residents)|
|Maximum coverage limits|
Even if your Amex card offers secondary car rental insurance for free, paying for premium protection can offer you peace of mind at an affordable cost. It’s worth noting, however, that none of these options – a CDW, your Amex card’s secondary insurance, or Amex’s optional premium protection – provide liability insurance, which protects other drivers for bodily injury or property damage caused by an accident for which you’re found to be at fault. In that case, you’ll have to file a claim with your personal auto insurance.
Amex cards that offer car rental insurance
A whopping 60 Amex cards come with secondary car rental loss and damage insurance. Some of the best American Express credit cards of 2020 (based on CreditCards.com ratings) that offer this benefit are:
|Card name||Rewards||Annual fee|
|1.5% cash back on all purchases||$0|
|Delta SkyMiles® Gold American Express Card||$99, $0 first year|
Limits and exclusions vary by card. For example, the Gold Delta SkyMiles card doesn’t provide coverage for anything other than damage to or theft of the rental vehicle, while the Platinum card also covers you for AD&D, personal property and medical expenses.
You can view the current policy for your particular Amex card here.
How does Amex car rental insurance differ from a car rental agency’s CDW?
The biggest difference is that a car rental agency’s collision damage waiver (CDW) isn’t actually insurance. Purchasing a CDW just means that the rental agency waives its right to come after you if the vehicle becomes damaged or stolen while in your possession. Whether you’re involved in a minor fender bender or the car is totaled, the CDW covers the costs of repairs to or replacement of the vehicle itself.
However, CDWs don’t always cover associated expenses, such as loss of use (which is revenue the rental company loses out on when a car is undergoing repairs instead of being driven by another renter), towing charges and other administrative fees. So even if you buy a CDW from the rental agency, you might still be on the hook for those charges. What’s more, in many cases you’re still liable for the deductible, unless you purchased a “premium” CDW that offers a zero deductible (in exchange for a higher daily fee, of course).
Meanwhile, the car rental loss and damage insurance provided on many Amex cards is complimentary. And although the coverage is secondary – meaning you have to file a claim with your personal auto insurance first – it reimburses your deductible and some other costs (like loss of use and towing charges) that aren’t typically covered by a CDW.
How do you file a car rental claim with Amex?
You have two options for filing your car rental claim with Amex. You can either file online at www.YourCarRentalClaim.com or by phone at 1-800-338-1670 (1-216-617-2500 if international). Before you start the claims process, Amex suggests gathering your rental agreement or contract, your personal insurance information and a police report with information about related damage, vandalism or theft. (Amex requires you to notify the appropriate law enforcement agency of the accident “as soon as reasonably possible.”)
Filing your claim should take about 20 minutes, according to Amex, “depending on the complexity of your accident,” such as how many vehicles or other parties were involved. If you’re unable to finish your online claim in one session, you can save your progress and finish it later – though you’ll have to do so within 72 hours of when you started.
Once filed, Amex says it will work with the car rental company to obtain the information it needs to evaluate your claim. For domestic car rentals, it takes an average of 45 days to receive a decision; for international rentals, though, you may have to wait up to 90 days to hear back.
Most importantly, you have to initiate your claim within 30 days of the covered event or “as soon as reasonably possible.” You also have to submit any requested proof of loss, which may include documents such as an itemized repair bill, within 60 days.
Once Amex approves your claim, payment is made within 30 days, either via a credit to your Amex card or by check, if the first option isn’t possible.
A CreditCards.com survey conducted in February 2019 found that most cardholders picked rewards as their go-to credit card’s best benefit, particularly if those rewards come in the form of cash back. That said, many credit cards offer perks that go beyond spending rewards: 0% APR offers, extended warranties and purchase protections, free access to credit scores and, yes, car rental insurance.
At the very least, having an American Express card probably means you can forego a rental agency’s CDW in favor of your card’s free benefit. But even if your Amex card doesn’t provide secondary coverage, all Amex users have the option of getting premium car rental protection at an extremely affordable price. If you’re a business road warrior or plan on taking an extended road trip with your family, chances are that protection is worth considering.