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Will Credit Card Insurance Cover Back-to-Back Car Rentals?

Credit card issuers limit the length of a rental for which they cover collision damage to rented cars. But can you return a car at the deadline and immediately re-rent it? That depends.

Credit card issuers limit the length of a rental for which they cover collision damage to rented cars. But can you return a car at the deadline and immediately re-rent it? That depends on the card.

Visa says yes. Its most commonly issued cards include coverage for damage to a rented car. Visa limits coverage to 15 rental days in your home country and 31 rental days outside your home country. But Visa says it’s okay for you to return a car before the deadline and immediately re-rent it, as often as you wish, as long as the rentals are on different contracts. Of course, that means that you must either return to the originating rental office to re-rent the car or possibly pay two one-way fees.

American Express, on the other hand, says you may not return a car and then re-rent it. Most AmEx cards include rental-car damage coverage for 30 days in all valid locations (42 days on some cards). But AmEx is vehemently against consecutive rentals. “In no event shall coverage be provided when the Cardmember rents a Rental Auto beyond 30 consecutive days from the same Rental Company, regardless of whether the original agreement is extended, or a new written agreement is entered into, or a new vehicle is rented,” says its contract. “Additionally, no coverage will be provided when the Primary Renter rents a Rental Auto for more than 30 consecutive days out of a 45-day period within the same geographic market/location (75-mile radius).” Although some coverage varies by card, this limitation applies to Green, Gold, and Platinum cards uniformly.

RELATED: 10 Dirty Secrets of Car Rental Companies

MasterCard says maybe. In what may be news to you, MasterCard no longer includes rental car collision coverage as a uniform “core benefit” common to all cards. Instead, what coverage you get—and lots of MasterCards offer it—depends on the issuing bank. Rules are likely to be similar to Visa’s, but you can’t be sure: Instead, you have to check the fine print on your particular card.

Discover says … sort of. Like MasterCard, Discover benefits vary by issuer. But its most common benefits are substantially less inclusive than those of the other three issuing systems, and, of course, it covers far fewer foreign countries. All in all, you don’t want to rely on Discover unless you have no other card, and even then, to be safe, you should probably buy cheap third-party coverage.

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By Ed Perkins

A nationally recognized reporter, writer, and consumer advocate, Ed Perkins focuses on how travelers can find the best deals and avoid scams.

He is the author of "Online Travel" (2000) and "Business Travel: When It's Your Money" (2004), the first step-by-step guide specifically written for small business and self-employed professional travelers. He was also the co-author of the annual "Best Travel Deals" series from Consumers Union.

Perkins' advice for business travelers is featured on MyBusinessTravel.com, a website devoted to helping small business and self-employed professional travelers find the best value for their travel dollars.

Perkins was founding editor of Consumer Reports Travel Letter, one of the country's most influential travel publications, from which he retired in 1998. He has also written for Business Traveller magazine (London).

Perkins' travel expertise has led to frequent television appearances, including ABC's "Good Morning America" and "This Week with David Brinkley," "The CBS Evening News with Dan Rather," CNN, and numerous local TV and radio stations.

Before editing Consumer Reports Travel Letter, Perkins spent 25 years in travel research and consulting with assignments ranging from national tourism development strategies to the design of computer-based tourism models.

Born in Evanston, Illinois, Perkins lives in Ashland, Oregon with his wife.