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Founded in 1901, the American Automobile Association, known to most people today as AAA, or Triple-A, was among the first member-based clubs to address the needs of a growing population of car owners in the U.S.. Their early focus was on building better roads, but they quickly expanded into various realms of motorist safety as well as publishing maps and guidebooks. With each element provided, the goal was to improve the driving experience for all members.
In 1912, AAA’s California branch, the Automobile Club of Southern California, began offering auto insurance to members. In 1969 AAA opened its life insurance company, and over time expanded to offer home insurance, travel insurance, and other types of insurance as well. Insurance is sold only to members of AAA, which requires an annual fee to maintain membership.
Known as CSAA since 1907, the auto insurance branch of the AAA family expanded throughout the past few decades to offer insurance in multiple states outside of California. Today, insurance through this company, and its subsidiaries, is available in 26 states. CSAA ranked at number 16 among the largest insurance companies in the United States for 2014, and writes insurance across these states in their entirety:
- New Jersey
- South Dakota
- Washington D.C.
CSAA also offers coverage in some areas, based on county, in the following states:
- West Virginia
- New York
AAA sells most other types of insurance through a variety of other companies, and does not underwrite many of the policies. Among the carriers in affiliation with AAA are Progressive, Foremost, MetLife, MAPFRE, Travelers, and more. This is a fairly common practice and even less surprising from a non-profit company that is not, at its root, a financial services company.
AAA has branches across the country and members belong to their local club, although the national headquarters is located in Heathrow, Florida. As a result members who move may need to shift their membership to the local group. Members receive a number of benefits of membership, including roadside assistance, discounts at hotels and attractions, free maps, guidebooks, and more.
As of 2012, AAA had reached the 52 million mark for membership and continues to grow today. Of course, not all of these members use AAA for insurance services, but rather for the other perks of membership, mainly roadside assistance.
AAA insurance products are sold through agents, and although there is no online quoting available, there is an online quote request form for auto insurance. They also offer a toll-free number for information and quote requests.
As previously noted, AAA doesn’t underwrite most of its insurance products, but rather uses the AAA Interinsurance Exchange. They offer a good range of products this way, through some very well known insurance companies.
Overall, the website seriously lacking in the kind of information that helps consumers compare insurance companies. The site offers very limited information on auto, and even less on other policy types. Visitors are directed to request a quote or speak to a representative. This is slightly disappointing in the age of Internet research.
Easily the insurance product for which AAA is best known, auto insurance policies include all of the basic coverage that would be expected such as liability, collision, and comprehensive. The company offers a list of other options that can be added to auto insurance, which can vary by state.
One option you won’t see on an AAA auto insurance policy is towing and labor/roadside assistance. This is because these things are covered by the general benefits of AAA membership, so unlike other policies, there’s no need to add it as an option.
AAA offers a list of discounts on their auto insurance policies similar to those available from other major companies. They also offer bundling discounts on auto/home as well as auto/life for those who take out more than one type of policy.
AAA also offers property insurance to protect several different types of homes. Their comprehensive policies are available for the following:
- Standard Homeowners Policies – covering structure, personal property, and personal liability
- Condo Owners Policies – provide for the specific walls-in nature of condo coverage, as well as personal property and liability
- Renters Insurance Policies – cover only personal property and liability for tenants who don’t need structure coverage
AAA also offers separate flood and earthquake insurance policies for added protection against risks not covered by the homeowners policy.
The AAA Life Insurance Company writes a variety of life insurance products, as well as annuities and even AAA’s travel insurance plans. More information is available on these policies than any other product, probably thanks to a separate company website.
The main three life insurance policy types are available: term, whole, and universal:
Term Life is available in two main types, traditional and express. The main differences between these two policies are that the express term requires less in terms of underwriting – no medical exam, and as a result also offers lower death benefit levels. Traditional policies go up to $5 million while express is capped at $250,000 maximum.
AAA has a Simple Whole Life policy offering permanent protection with level premiums as well as cash value benefits. They also offer a Guaranteed Issue Graded Benefit Whole Life plan that is easy to obtain without a medical exam.
Universal Life is offered as a flexible permanent life insurance option that allows for cash value accumulation as well as a guaranteed death benefit along with premium flexibility.
AAA also offers two types of annuities: deferred and immediate, to provide tax-deferred income for retirement.
AAA members can purchase travel protection insurance plans that are underwritten by AAA Life Insurance Company. These plans cover basic medical needs while traveling, including hospital costs and accidental loss of life benefits. The plans to not cover trip cancellation or any of the other common travel insurance options, only medical and death benefits.
AAA does partner with Allianz Travel Insurance to offer more comprehensive travel insurance plans. These plans include items such as trip cancellation and interruption, baggage loss, and trip delay among other coverage options.
AAA partners with top insurer Travelers to offer wedding insurance policies. These help protect the investment in a wedding, including deposits and fees, as well as providing liability coverage for the event itself.
While the AAA website is a little difficult to navigate and offers a slim amount of information regarding many of their products, it appears that they also offer coverage for vehicles other than cars – such as ATVs, RVs, and more – through affiliated insurance companies.
AAA products are only available to members, and membership requires an annual fee. For your fee you get a lot of perks, not the least of which is the roadside assistance (for which AAA is best known).
While plans differ depending on the state you live in, there are typically three membership levels:
- Basic/Classic Membership – the most affordable option, includes limited towing benefits as well as locksmith services, gas delivery, tire changes, bicycle service, and battery services.
- Plus Membership – increases the towing distance allowable, increases locksmith service benefits, and includes motorcycle and scooter coverage. Also available is the Plus RV plan, which adds coverage for an RV or trailer.
- Premier Membership – the highest level – includes the highest limits for towing and locksmith service, and also adds perks like trip interruption. Premier is also available with the RV option.
AAA members also receive a host of discounts at various locations throughout the world, as well as access to trip planning services and travel assistance. In some locations AAA even offers DMV services to allow members to skip long lines.
Certainly AAA membership has a lot of perks, which is why they have millions of members. The question comes up repeatedly, however, as to whether it’s worth it to pay for AAA membership when most insurance companies offer roadside assistance as an option for far less in terms of annual cost than an AAA membership.
If you are only looking to get basic roadside assistance, you may find it to be more affordable to add it to your policy through your auto insurance. That said, the membership fees for AAA offer a lot of perks, and if the auto insurance offered is a good deal, you may wind up paying less in the long run while getting more benefits. The only way to know for sure is to do a rate comparison while factoring in the cost of the membership. We’ll take a look at how AAA’s insurance rates stack up next.
Let’s start with the cost to become a member of AAA. In California, Classic level membership costs $56/year. Plus is $91, and Premier is $119. That’s more than most insurance companies will charge to add roadside assistance, but in the case of the higher-level memberships especially, AAA may offer much larger benefits.
Most insurance companies put a limit on how far they will tow a vehicle or a dollar limit on the cost for towing. This is true of AAA membership as well, although as previously stated higher-end plans offer much better benefits in this area.
The initial cost of becoming a member aside, do AAA insurance rates make it worthwhile?
In general, it seems that they do. Rate tests consistently bring AAA in at lower than average, based on our test sample. About 15% lower than average, which is good for an insurance company that relies on agents to sell policies.
Add in some of the discounts available if you have additional policies through AAA affiliates and companies, and odds are good that the rates are going to be quite competitive for most people. With the cost of a basic yearly membership included, AAA is still likely to come out on the savings side.
It’s important to note that our sample is for drivers with clean records – like most major insurance companies, AAA’s best rates are going to be for this type of low-risk driver. For anyone with tickets or accidents on their record, AAA may not be quite as competitive as some other companies specializing in higher-risk drivers.
Of course, the big concern with any insurance company is how they handle claims. Whatever the rates and benefits of the policy, an insurance company must step up to the plate when it comes to taking care of customers in a crisis. This is something AAA promises to do without fail, and their website makes a pretty big deal of driving this point home.
However, the J.D. Power claims satisfaction survey for 2014, CSAA, which handles most of the auto insurance for AAA, falls short in living up to the promise. They come in with an overall rating of 2 out of 5, or below average. The only particular area they seem to come out OK on is the Repair Process section, where they earn 4 out of 5. They get 3 out of 5 on the Settlement, which is considered average. That doesn’t make up for the fact that they’re rated below average on every other aspect of the claims process, including the customer experience when interacting with the company.
Claims with CSAA can be filed online via a claims form. There is also a 24-hour toll-free line available to make a claim by phone at 1-800-922-8228.
Roadside Assistance is handled through a different line, 1-800-AAA-Help.
The AAA website is generally lacking information on how claims are handled. There is a customer portal where it is possible claims status can be viewed, although there is little information.
The site does make it simple enough to figure out where to file your claim, but beyond that, offers very little assistance. This isn’t particularly surprising since the site is generally lacking in overall information regarding their auto insurance policies, instead directing the visitor to ask for a quote or contact a rep.
AAA is an extremely well known company, if not entirely for its auto insurance program. Since it’s primarily an auto club, most people know it as the place to call if someone breaks down on the side of the road. “Do you have AAA?” is a pretty common question in any roadside emergency.
AAA advertising often covers a broad range of their products rather than focusing on one particular product, such as this popular Super Bowl spot that covers how AAA products can help throughout many of life’s unexpected occurrences.
AAA is a sponsor for NASCAR racing, and they bring advertising together with that sponsorship while throwing in a connection with the release of How To Train Your Dragon 2 in this multi-layered bit of media. The ad presents AAA as a racing sponsor, gets attention with the movie tie-in, and manages to advertise their auto insurance without actually mentioning it, instead focusing on driving safety. It’s an approach that matches what AAA has stood for throughout the past 100 plus years.
AAA also utilizes radio, print, and outdoor advertising to get the word out about their additional services other than just tow trucks. Overall, their advertising is effective without being intrusive, as some auto insurance ads tend to be.
Since AAA (as a company) is a very different animal from CSAA and AAA Life Insurance, it can be a bit difficult to form a clear view of how customers view the company.
Looking at CSAA, we find a BBB rating of A+ with a relatively low complaint level – only 171 complaints in the past three years and 43 closed in the past 12 months. For a company that ranks 16th in the nation for auto insurance, that’s pretty decent.
CSAA did well on the J.D. Power 2015 Purchase Experience survey, coming out with a 4 out of 5 rating. As we’ve previously noted, however, the lower rating on claims satisfaction tends to carry a bit more weight, since that’s where you really need your insurance company to shine.
AAA Life Insurance Company also has an A+ rating with BBB and a total of 13 complaints in the past three years, six of them closed in the past twelve months. Low complaint numbers for a life insurance company are pretty common since claims don’t happen nearly as often as with a car insurance policy.
Looking at the ConsumerAffairs.com website, there are a lot of negative reviews and one-star ratings. Most reviews report good rates but poor service in the claims department. There are also a lot of complaints about agent service. Overall, the complaints are of a similar nature to what we see with most major insurance companies, and there really aren’t a huge number of them considering the size of the company.
Again, it’s important to separate the various arms of AAA from each other when it comes to reviews. Some of the reviews encountered are complaints about the roadside assistance arm of the company, which has no bearing on the insurance company in general. However, it can be argued that since these benefits are one of the added values to being a AAA member, anyone insured with them should be able to depend on good service.
AAA Insurance is among the more confusing companies out there due to the various branches and underwriting companies. Although there’s nothing unusual about having other companies underwrite policies, the setup of AAA’s insurance branches seems to invite confusion with additional differences when moving across state lines. Overall, the website offers very little information before requiring a quote request, which doesn’t allow easy comparison of policy coverage, perks, and benefits – the kind of thing people like to know before submitting a quote request.
AAA’s insurance programs seem pretty solid from what information is available. Even with the cost of AAA membership, rates still come out on the low side, which is likely to make them a good value. This is especially true for anyone holding more than one policy with AAA.
While overall negative reviews are pretty minimal, the ratings for claims satisfaction are definitely a matter for concern. That, and the lack of real information on the website, are the two areas AAA could make some improvements.
Overall, AAA is worth considering, especially for those who are already members of the club.
For a list of companies that we recommend, visit our Best Insurance Companies page.