Going into this full time RV life, I knew that one of our largest ongoing expenses would be our camping costs. As I researched the lifestyle, I also looked for ways to reduce those expenses, such as investing different types of campground memberships. Since we’ve been at this for almost a year, I thought I’d share how the various membership schemes have panned out for us.
Passport America Billed as the “original 50% discount camping club”, we find its utility to be somewhat limited. Many of the campgrounds we’ve stayed in either don’t accept PA or accept it only within strict limits (such as, not in high season, or only for a few days). However, we did find a couple of places so far that have taken PA; one near Boerne TX and the other near Durango CO. Both of those parks were fantastic, and the discount rate made the stays total bargains. In fact, just ONE of those stays fully justified the $44/year cost. And, if you spring for a 3-year membership, the current cost is $109 or about $33/year. I will definitely keep Passport America in my wallet because it only takes one use per year to pay for itself and then some.
Good Sam: We have found that many of the campgrounds we’ve visited do give a Good Sam discount. It’s only 10%, but that 10% can really add up over time, especially at the higher priced parks. The membership cost is a modest $29 for one year. Good Sam often provides incentives to join; right now a 2 year membership is $50 and they give you a $25 Camping World gift certificate! (3 years for $75 / $50 gift certificate). Other Good Sam perks that we take advantage of include discounts on Camping World merchandise and Pilot / Flying J fuel. We may also switch to their mail forwarding service next year at a discounted rate. This is definitely another discount card that pays off for us.
KOA Value Kard: This membership is specific to KOA campgrounds only and I have a bit of a philosophical problem with paying $30/year just to get a 10% discount. In general, I find KOA’s to be expensive for what you get and variable in quality. I stay at a KOA when it’s the only campground in the area I want to be. I sprung for the Value Kard last year when I had KOA reservations and knew the card would pay for itself. The 10% discount price plus small rebates you rack up with accumulated points almost brings the KOA cost down on par with similar resorts. The good news is that if you rack up enough points in a membership year, the card is renewed automatically (free) for an additional year. So far, I haven’t had to pay to renew it, and I’m not sure I would. I suspect we’ll end up staying at KOA’s just enough each year to get the renewal for free.
Harvest Host: I really like the Harvest Host concept. Basically, you pay an annual fee ($49) for a listing of wineries, farms and museums that allow you to park overnight at their facility for free. The host facility hopes you’ll patronize their amenities, and you get a safe and interesting dry camping parking space. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able take advantage of any Host locations yet. We only need an overnight spot when we’re in transit to another area and there has never seemed to be a Host location where we need it. They are usually a bit off the beaten path, and we don’t want to travel out of our way. Also as a very big rig, many Host sites can’t accommodate our length. I paid for a multi-year membership so I haven’t given up on it yet, but it’s unlikely that I’ll renew.
Thousand Trails Thousand Trails is a general name for a portfolio of complex and confusing camping membership contracts. The most basic membership is an annual $575 Zone Pass which allows you to camp “for free” at certain campgrounds within a geographical zone. You are limited to 14 days at a time, then out for at least 7 days, then you can stay again for 14 days. You can pay up to $thousands more and get more campground choices, more days in, no days out, and earlier reservation windows. There are myriad flavors of these contracts, each with their own stipulations, up front costs and annual fee rates. My biggest objection to their campgrounds is that all are “find your own site” places. You don’t reserve a space type guaranteed to fit your needs, you take your chances on finding a suitable site upon arrival. Since most of these campgrounds are older, finding a big rig site is chancy. Not to mention that their largest network is still limited, and not necessarily where we want to stay. We tried out one TT campground in Arizona, and were not favorably impressed. No thanks – not for us.
Coast to Coast Owned by the Good Sam parent company, C2C memberships are another abstruse and confusing membership scheme. First, you have to buy a membership at a C2C campground, which becomes your “home” resort. That usually requires thousands of dollars up front, plus annual fees (total cost depends on the resort). Then you “add on” the C2C network for an additional annual fee. That entitles you to stay at other C2C facilities for $10/night. Just like Thousand Trails, I find that these campgrounds are typically older and not in our desired locations. And they also subscribe to the “find your own” site philosophy, which is very risky for a Big Rig like ours. I much prefer to get to a campground confident that we’ll fit into a site! We stayed at one C2C campground in Mississippi and suffered through the high-pressure sales pitch. (We declined) At least we stayed for free!
We could probably get more out of these memberships if we planned our travels around their campground networks – but we don’t. We decide where we want to go, and look for suitable campgrounds near that location that are easily navigated, highly rated, and suitable for our bus. Whether or not they subscribe to a specific discount scheme is way down on our list.
I truly wish we could find a campground membership for higher end resorts, but one simply doesn’t exist. We are finding that the simplest way to control campground costs is just to stay longer to take advantage of weekly / monthly discounts. So, that will be our best strategy for now.