When it comes to paying for a car rental, not all credit cards deliver the same way. Choosing the right credit card can mean saving money and racking up a host of perks and benefits.
Here's what to look for in a credit card when you pay for your next rental car.
Signs Your Credit Card is Not a Good Choice for Car Rentals
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Your card does not include car rental insurance. While most credit cards offer collision damage coverage on rental cars, not all of them do. This is a huge drawback, since over-the-counter car rental insurance can add $10 a day or more to your total cost. For example, Citibank recently dropped many travel rewards, including car rental insurance, for the vast majority of its cards. If car rental insurance is an important perk for you, then most Citi cards are not a good choice.
An exception is the Costco Anywhere Card by Citi, which continues to offer secondary rental car insurance for domestic rentals and primary coverage for international rentals, covering damages or vehicle replacement up to $50,000. Secondary car rental insurance kicks in only after your personal auto insurance coverage has been depleted. If you don't want to risk your auto insurance company getting involved, you should consider buying over-the-counter insurance at the car rental agency.
Your card does not offer primary car rental coverage. Most credit cards offer secondary collision damage coverage, which means it kicks in after your personal auto insurance coverage is depleted. Some cards—typically premium cards with higher annual fees—offer primary coverage, which is even better. If you pay for a rental car with one of these cards and have a damage claim, your personal auto insurance never gets involved.
Some credit cards offering primary coverage include:
- Chase Sapphire Preferred Card
- Chase Sapphire Reserve Card
- United MileagePlus Explorer Card
- United MileagePlus Club Card
Your card does not offer any travel rewards. If you're not using a card with plenty of travel rewards, you're leaving money on the table. The Chase Sapphire Preferred Card arguably boasts the best all-around value when it comes to travel rewards. You'll earn 60,000 bonus points after spending $4,000 on purchases in the first three months. That adds up to $750 that you can redeem and put towards travel, whether it be for car rentals, airfare, hotels, cruises, or more. Additionally, Chase Sapphire Preferred Card members also get two times the points on travel costs and dining—even internationally. Overall, the rewards stack up fairly quickly with this card, making it a great option for the average traveler.
Your card does not let you earn cash back. If you're looking for a good all-around travel cash-back credit card, it's hard to beat Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card, which lets you rack up rewards on a huge gamut of spending categories while paying zero annual fee and (for the first year) zero interest. You'll earn 3x points on dining out, ordering in, gas purchases, ridesharing, transit services, flights, hotels, vacation rentals and entertainment such as Apple Music, Hulu, Netflix, Pandora and Spotify Premium. Basically, you earn bonus points almost everywhere you go, so this card is a great choice for travelers.
Your card does not offer travel protections. A great credit card will not leave you high and dry if you run into trouble when you're traveling. Many cards offer a nice array of travel protections. For example, the Wells Fargo Propel American Express Card includes 24-hour emergency travel assistance, medical assistance and legal assistance. There's also roadside assistance and emergency towing. If you're flying, there's also insurance for lost and damaged baggage. Cardholders also get Worldwide Travel Accident Insurance coverage up to $150,000.