Sunday, September 07, 2008

I (heart heart heart) Amex

I rent cars a lot -- probably ten-to-12 times in a typical year. (Living in Brooklyn, I've never owned a car.)

I'm a klutz.

At some point, these two data points were bound to collide. Literally.

In July, they did. David and I rented a car for a day trip to Pennsylvania, to photograph a friend's wedding. The car pickup went smoothly. Traffic was good. My nifty and much beloved GPS got us to Bangor, Pennsylvania, with no trouble. We were early. We stopped to get lunch. We got a parking spot right bang outside the pizza parlor, and I managed to parallel park. Lunch was tasty. Birds were singing, the breeze was soft, the sky was blue, etc etc.

Then we went to pull out of the spot, and our day went to hell. I misjudged just how big the car I'd rented was, and pulled out of the spot in such a way that I managed to a) smack the hell out of the passenger-side mirror, which promptly fell into a dead-mirror slump, and b) totally annihilate the left taillight of the SUV parked in front of me.


To our credit, David and I didn't kill each other with blame and recriminations (him over my clumsy driving, me over his criticism of my clumsy driving). We Exhibited Teamwork and managed to stay rather calm throughout the afternoon, even through the "I can fix this with Krazy-Glue!" segment of the escapade, which is really better left unexplained. (A proper rendition of it requires many alcoholic drinks to cushion the horror. Note for future Krazy-Glue Experimenters: Did you know it's not recommended for use in 105° heat?)

Eventually accepting that both the sideview mirror and taillight were irrevocably smashed, I left a note for the SUV's driver and proceeded grumpily on to the wedding. (The bride, K, was gracefully sanguine about our ill-disguised crankiness and wish for a do-over of the entire day. The ceremony was beautiful and incredibly touching; I'm glad even the inevitable calamities that ensue when you throw together family, friends and Momentous Occasions didn't detract from the loveliness of the very happy occasion.) Driving back to NYC, mentally tallying the cost of fixing the rental car and the sideswiped SUV, I braced myself for our excursion to PA to cost $800 or so more than budgeted.

The next morning, returning the car, I sheepishly recounted my sad saga at the rental counter. "Something in the air today," the guy at the desk said. "You're the third one to come back with an accident this morning." Since it was 7:20am, I was pretty impressed.

As I always do, I'd rented the car on my In NYC Amex credit card. And as I always do, being cheap, I'd declined all additional insurance coverage.

In the back of my mind, I knew that my Amex, like many credit cards, came with some kind of rental-car protection. I'd never dug into the details -- and frankly, I assumed that in the event of an actual accident, I'd face some deductible or fine print that would render the Amex protections virtually worthless. The one previous time I'd had a rental-car issue (the hubcabs got stolen) and called Amex to ask about coverage, I'd been told that since I'd used a corporate card for the rental, sorry, I had no coverage, and would be eating the $40 for the hubcaps.

But on the off chance my Amex coverage could help get me out of my mess, I Googled for details on my Amex coverage -- and found actual, helpful info. In fact, what I found online suggested that my little smash-up would be 100% covered. No deductible. No cost. Completely, 100% covered.

Disbelieving, I rang the insurance customer-service number (1-800-338-1670) and asked about details of the card's coverage. "Fully covered," the saintly person on the other end of the line said. "You can file a claim online."

And so you can! And, wonder of wonders ... I did, the car-rental company sent an estimate straight to Amex, and Amex took care of the whole thing. After filing that online claim, I did not lift one finger further. Amex paid the $397 Thrifty charged for the damages, and the whole mess went away without any further intervention or expense on my part.


I actually have warm, fuzzy feelings toward a credit-card conglomerate.

One of the things I'll have to figure out with my new Amex Blue card (grumble grumble) is whether or not it has the same rental-car coverage as my In NYC card does. I dearly hope so. I'm not planning to make a habit of smacking around rental cars, but it's pretty awesome to know that if I do, the damage is 100% covered. (Up to $50,000 or so cap -- which, since I don't rent Mercedes, is fine by me.)

Epilogue: The bill for the SUV's taillight totaled $47, since the person-I-hit had a husband willing to replace the light himself, and I only needed to cover the cost of the actual light. I remain amazed I got out of the whole thing with a total bill of $47. And I am never again in my entire life parallel parking.