Kevin Hunt: Credit-Card Insurance Covers Rental-Car Damage (Not This Time)

Credit-card coverage

Credit-card coverage (May 15, 2014)

When Janet and Bob Aronne of Rocky Hill asked Capital One Venture about their credit card's car-rental insurance coverage before a trip in February to St. Maarten, they say the response left no room for misunderstanding.

To paraphrase: "We've got you covered."

The Aronnes, like any smart international traveler, had called to let Capital One know they would be out of the country for 35 days, specifying the dates. They did not want to arouse suspicion, and a possible credit-card freeze, if a charge for Lobster Thermidor at Pineapple Pete's in Simpson Bay showed up on their Visa.

Then they asked about insurance coverage. So they booked a car rental, making sure to decline the rental company's coverage for collision and loss damage. When they returned the car, the rental company charged $180 for minor damage. The Aronnes, after returning home, asked Capitol One for reimbursement.

Except they weren't covered.

"I was told by a representative," says Janet Aronne, "that the charge would not be covered because [the rental] was over 31 days."

The Aronnes cited the description of the auto rental collision damage waiver on the Capital One Venture website that promised coverage "at no additional cost due to collision or theft."

Capital One says it has no control of coverage because it's administered by Visa.

"Visa and its administrators make the final determination of what's covered," says Amanda Landers, a Capital One spokeswoman.

Perhaps the Aronnes didn't see the fine-print link. An online search uncovered damage-waiver provisions that, when printed out, covered almost seven pages. Among the disclosures: the rental period cannot exceed 15 consecutive days within the card holder's country of residence or 31 consecutive days outside the country of residence.

A Visa supervisor told the couple that they could have retained coverage by renting the car for two weeks, returning it, then renting it again for three weeks, Janet Aronne recalls.

"That is so unfair," says Janet Aronne. "What is the difference?"

The difference, apparently, is in the fine print.

Major credit cards — Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express — offer auto rental insurance, but card holders must research restrictions and qualifications. Visa, for instance, is precise in what is not covered, where it's not covered (Israel, Jamaica and Ireland), what vehicles are not covered (high-end brands like Aston Martin and Lamborghini) and how to file a claim but nowhere in its online fine print does it list the amount, in dollars, of coverage.

Discover says it will not reimburse more than $25,000 for collision damage. Some credit-card coverage also includes vehicle theft, loss of use and basic towing charges.

Whichever card you use for car-rental coverage:

>> Use the eligible card for the entire rental transaction, from down payment to final payment.

>> Decline the rental company's coverage: collision-damage waiver, or CDW, and loss-damage waiver, or LDW.

>> Ask for details on the credit-card coverage. Also read the terms and conditions of the rental agreement.

To file a claim:

>> Take photographs of the damage.

>> Get a copy of the police report, if applicable.

>> Request an itemized repair bill.

>> Provide copies of any car rental agreement.

By the time Janet Aronne contacted The Bottom Line, she says she had called Capital One so many times that the credit-card company had stopped returning her calls.

"I feel like I am being swept under the rug," she says.

But not for long. Capital One says it reviewed the case and reimbursed the Aronnes $180 in the damage claim.

"In this case," says Landers, "we went ahead and reimbursed the customer as a goodwill gesture given [they were] only a few days outside of the stated time period."

The traveler can't always count on a credit-card company's goodwill. It's always better to know what the company really means when it says you're covered.

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