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Consider the following scenario.

A group of five people needs to rent a car (in California) for two weeks. Four people live outside the US (they came on a B1/B2 visa) and the fifth (temporarily) lives in the US (on an F1 visa). Two people (from those on B1/B2) are going to take turns driving. They are over 30 y.o. and have licenses from their country as well as IDPs. Let's call them A and B. The fifth person (the one on F1) is 24 y.o. and has only a license from their country of citizenship. Call this person C.

Assume that the drivers want to get full insurance. As far as I can see, many aggregator websites require US (or at least Canadian) credit card if one wants to purchase some insurance together with the booking. Of course, Person A and Person B don't have US credit cards. Person C does.

I see two options for renting a car:

  • Person A makes a car reservation on their name (with B being a second driver), presumably without the insurance since they don't have a US credit card, and then they get charged at the counter some unknown sum of money for the insurance as well.

  • Person C makes a reservation in their name (with A and B being secondary drivers). They can purchase insurance at the time of booking, and the insurance they purchase need not cover everything, as they will be paying with a card like Chase Sapphire Preferred, which already includes a primary CDW.

Above, I'm assuming that if the rental contract is signed by a person X, then the payment must be made by X's credit card.

(Are my descriptions correct? I may misunderstand something.)

So the question is which option would be cheaper. (If it's neither of the above, feel free to share other options.) I don't know how to compare the prices because in option 1 I'm not sure how much Person A will be charged for insurance. Also, not all aggregator websites have the option "the driver is under 25", and for some that do have it, it doesn't reflect on the price.

  • Does anyone have a (non US) visa or mastercard? – Kate Gregory Oct 14 at 18:09
  • Can you book with the company directly, instead of using an aggregator? Also, I would look for aggregators that don't have this requirement. Have you tried rentalcars.com ? – mdd Oct 14 at 18:09
  • @KateGregory Yes, A,B, and C all have non-US visas or mastercards. – user77409 Oct 14 at 18:10
  • @mdd Booking through the company seems to be more expensive. As for rentalcars, that's one of the websites I was referring to. Some cars there do not include insurance, and for those they're asking for a US/Canadian card. But now I see that some offers do include insurance. – user77409 Oct 14 at 18:37
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    This question is a bit confusing to me. When I've booked US rental cars as a UK resident, insurance/CDW has invariably been included. My last rental with Avis included "loss damage waiver" and "additional liability cover" without any additional fee, and without any option to remove it. – MJeffryes Oct 14 at 18:52
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The credit card is mostly a red herring here, but to understand why we need to discuss how rental car insurance works in the US.

For the most part, when making a booking via a "US Point of Sale" (we'll come back to what that means shortly), insurance is NOT included in the rental. This is because most people in the US have personal car insurance which covers them both when they are driving their own car, as well as when they are driving a rental car. For those without relevant coverage, the rental companies will offer additional coverage, for a price.

When using a non-US point of sale, insurance is generally INCLUDED in the base rate. This is because the rental companies know that these people will not have person car insurance that covers the rental, so coverage is included in the price.

Now, what does a 'US point of sale' mean? Basically it's any travel agent, including online travel agencies, or any rental car companies website, that is targeted at US customers. For example, if you go to Hertz.com you will see a country selection box at the top of the website for which country you are a resident of. Set that the US and you will get rates that do NOT include coverage. Set it to (say) the UK and the rates will INCLUDE coverage - although at a different price to the US rate. Alternatively go directly to the UK website at hertz.co.uk and it'll default to the UK rates.

For other sites, it may actually ask for your country for residence. For example, Avis ask for your country of residence during booking, and based the rates (and insurance) on that :

Avis

For other website, it might depend on the exact website you go to. For example, Expedia.com will give you US-rates (with no coverage), whilst expedia.com.au will give you Australian rates (including coverage).

Other sites may do this based on the address on your account with the website, or potentially based on the country the credit card being used is issued for (although I've never seen that for rental companies - but I have for airlines).

In your specific situation, the best option is almost certainly for either "Person A" or "Person B" to book the rental, using a non-US point of sale (eg, a website in their country) - which will most likely include insurance coverage (I can't say with certainty without knowing the country).

(Note that whilst I'm only referring to the 'US', many other countries in North America and the Caribbean will also NOT include coverage - although exactly which will depend on the specific companies involved).

  • If I change the language from "English (US)" to say "Italiano" on rentalcars, will the rentalcars website automatically become an Italian point of sale? – user77409 Oct 15 at 20:33
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Aside from the fact that I have never heard of the requirement of a credit card being a US credit card - they are international, and the country should not matter at all - you are probably better off by not paying some company to make the booking for you, but do it yourself.
All larger car rentals have websites where you can investigate and book what you want, and compare the prices for the rental and any insurance added.

Usually, car rental companies want to see a credit card from the main renter for securing the rental; you can however pay with any other credit card (or debit card or cash), if you want. The driver renting the car must show a credit card in his name when leaving the lot, and he will probably get a pending charge over the full amount. That will disappear after three or four days (though there needs to be enough limit on the card for the charge).
When you return the car, you tell them you want to pay with whatever method, and they will charge accordingly - this can be your friends, your neighbors, or your grandma's card, it doesn't matter, the card holder just has to be present with his card for the payment (he doesn't need to be a driver or even come inside the rental car)

  • 1) I've seen aggregator websites with the property that when you purchase insurance through them together with the car rental, the billing address only has two countries, the US and Canada. And in some cases (e.g. Expedia) the terms of insurance depend on the US state which you live in, which is not applicable to those who don't live in the US. 2) What company are you referring to? Do you mean aggregator websites? Prices shown there are at least 40% cheaper than directly through a rental agency. 3) Regarding adding insurance, as I said many insurances assume that the renter resides in the US. – user77409 Oct 15 at 1:38
  • 4) I thought you have to pay at the time you rent the car. Do you actually pay when you return it? Anyway, I assume this doesn't allow one to use credit card benefits like CDW (if you only use the card to pay, while using some other random card for the deposit). – user77409 Oct 15 at 1:42
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Usually being a non-US resident and having non-US credit cards will give you much better offers with all insurance already included, while as US resident you have to pay a hefty fee to include those insurances. So not sure, on what sites you have seen better offers with US credit cards. This is especially the case when persons A and B live in Europe (the european websites of rental companies very often offer pretty good package deals).

  • I doubt that seriously. Online bookings at US car rental agencies are typically 30-50% cheaper that 'prepaid' bookings made through European agencies. – Aganju Oct 15 at 0:48
  • The reason why extra insurance is expensive for US citizens is that they normally have it from their personal car insurance (which covers the person, not the car, no matter in what he/she drives). So if you show up and want extra comprehensive insurance, you got either kicked out of your insurance's coverage, or you are illiterate about the rules - both good reasons to milk you for tons of extra money. – Aganju Oct 15 at 0:51
  • @Aganju The answer is for the case that the overall price of the rental is to be minimized when a full insurance package is needed. And then the European websites indeed give you good offers than the US-based ones plus the walk-up insurance fee. – DCTLib Oct 15 at 4:54

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