Credit Cards: Dented A Rental?

For years I've used my American Express Corporate Card whenever I've rented a car. After hearing all those AmEx ads ("Membership has its privileges"), I assumed it'd give me the best insurance coverage if I ever banged up a rental. I found out this summer when I dented a rented minivan.

Oops. Turns out that while personal American Express cards offer rental-car coverage, my Corporate Card doesn't. (NEWSWEEK would have reimbursed me if I'd been on business.) No matter what card I'd used, my personal automobile insurance would have covered any damage over my $1,000 deductible. What I needed was "secondary" rental coverage to cover the deductible, which most cards offer for gold, platinum or titanium card-holders. The rental manager offered a tip. Though I'd put the deposit on my AmEx, I could still use any card in my wallet to settle the bill. So I called around and found that one of my cards had coverage, flipped the bill to that card and then submitted the insurance claim. A month later I received a $1,000 check.

Technically it's not supposed to be that easy. American Express, Visa and MasterCard all have policies that their cards must be used to "initiate" and "pay for" the rental for the coverage to kick in (Discover Card is less strict). But my experience--and a Visa spokeswoman--confirm there's sometimes wiggle room. In my case, that wiggle went a long way.