General Information, Income and Budgeting, Recommendations

Budgeting on the Go: Campground Memberships, Clubs, and Loyalty Programs

Everyone loves to save money. For many, this becomes even more true when they take up full-time RVing. In fact, a good number of us full-timers—my family included—work hard to slash our budgets and make this lifestyle affordable on a relatively small income.

As I’ve mentioned before, one of the ways we save the most is by putting reciprocal attractions memberships to use. However, I have yet to tell you our other great money saving tip: campground memberships.

Our family utilizes a few different campground memberships and discount programs in order to make our lodging incredibly affordable. In fact, some months we spend as little as $50 in dues for our lodging. For this reason, we highly recommend campground memberships to everyone looking into this lifestyle.

That said, not all memberships and clubs are made equal, and what works well for one family might be terrible for the next. Therefore, it is incredibly important that you carefully consider your options before making any big investments. After all, any unused campground membership is money down the drain and accomplishes the exact opposite of what you set out to do.

Unfortunately, these memberships can be quite confusing, and often leave new RVers scratching their heads and unsure where to begin. That’s where this article steps in.

That’s right, I am going to do my very best to walk you through the various types of campground memberships and discount programs in the hopes that you will find a solution that works well for you. Read on and thank me later.

Thousand Trails

Some people love Thousand Trails and swear by it; others are not so gung-ho about the system.

We fall into the former camp, and use our Elite Thousand Trails membership for nearly all of our campground stays. However, because so many people hold such strong opinions on this system, I recommend doing some research before you invest in an expensive membership.

If you are looking to try out the Thousand Trails system without making a huge commitment, you’ll want to look into getting a zone pass. This pass allows you to stay in all of the Thousand Trails campgrounds in a particular region for a full year. Your first 30 nights will be free, after which you will be charged a small nightly fee. This fee is typically $3, but some have reported being charged $5 a night if they requested 50-amp service.

The zone pass can be canceled after one year, so it’s a short-term investment that doesn’t need to cause a huge amount of stress. The pass costs $565 for the year, and the company often runs promotions offering two zones for the price of one or a discounted pass.

Even if there isn’t a promotion going on when you purchase, you should ask for an extra zone or a discount; many people receive what they request, and the worst that can happen is a “no”.

If you are happy with Thousand Trails after you have tested the waters with a zone pass, I highly recommend upgrading to a full-blown membership. In general, these memberships allow unlimited “free” nights in the Thousand Trails campgrounds. However, they do require a rather large upfront purchase plus yearly dues (which can also be paid monthly). As an example, we spent around $3000 initially and currently pay about $50 a month in dues.

New memberships can be purchased directly from Thousand Trails, but purchasing one used can save you thousands of dollars.

That said, purchasing a used membership requires a lot of research because there are so many options out there when it comes to contracts. Therefore, it is best to go through a used campground salesperson. We used Campground Membership Outlet and were very pleased.

Passport America

Passport America is a great option no matter who you are. The club is very inexpensive at just $47 a year and offers cardholders 50% off hundreds of campgrounds all over the country. This means the pass pays for itself after only a couple nights of camping.

There is no long-term commitment involved in purchasing a Passport America membership, but I am certain it’s one you’ll renew year after year.

Coast to Coast

This is another club with a large buy-in cost but incredibly inexpensive camping thereafter. However, Unlike Thousand Trails, Coast to Coast requires that you join a member campground before enrolling in their system.

Joining a campground generally costs thousands of dollars upfront, with yearly maintenance fees in the hundreds. Additionally, there is a fee to become a Coast to Coast member. That said, I have heard of people getting a full setup for under $500 by buying used.

This membership allows users access to over 200 members-only campgrounds for just $10 a night, and a good many “good neighbor” parks for just $15 a night, making it a decent value if you play your cards right. This is something I would look into further if I didn’t already have a Thousand Trails membership.

Resort Parks International

Resort Parks International (RPI) works in basically the same way as Coast to Coast, meaning you must first join a “home” campground and pay their membership fees and yearly dues. However, there are far fewer campgrounds included with this membership and the nightly cost ranges from $10–$15 depending on where you want to stay.

I would say that this membership is not worthwhile, but there is one instance in which I do recommend it: If you decide to purchase a Thousand Trails membership or a Colorado River Adventures membership, it is highly likely you will be given the option to add RPI. If this is the case, the low yearly price of just $89 (for a basic membership) could very well be a good investment.

KOA Value Kard Rewards

This is more of a loyalty program than anything else, but it’s a way to save money if you plan to stay at any KOA campgrounds. This card gives the user 10% off all KOA stays and lets them earn and save points for rewards such as free nights.

This card is only $30 for an entire year. That said, most KOA parks are a bit pricey, so even with the discount program, you aren’t likely to find very many great deals.

Good Sam Club

The Good Sam Club card is a super cheap membership that almost every RVer I know has had at one time or another.

The cost for one year with Good Sam Club is $27 and includes 10% off at thousands of campgrounds. It also gives the cardholder other exclusive benefits, such as a 30% discount at Camping World, discounted gas at Pilot and Flying J stations, and free dump privileges at Camping World locations.

This club is worth the small investment if you will be shopping at Camping World, fueling up at Pilot and/or Flying J, or regularly camping outside of another discount or reciprocal system.

Escapees RV Club

Another low-cost option, the Escapees RV Club is just under $40 a year. It includes 15%–50% discounts on hundreds of parks, and is a good option for many. The membership also includes other great perks, such as special classes and events, discounted mail forwarding service, and an active discussion forum.

This is the ideal membership for those looking for community, but many members are older, so younger families could feel out of place.

Family Motor Coach Association

Very similar to Escapees, Family Motor Coach Association offers a number of amazing benefits. These include mail forwarding, educational programs, and even a Passport America Card. The campground discounts offered through FMCA are great, and the people are friendly.

Both FMCA and Escapess have loyal followings, so it’s up to you to decide which you prefer.

Happy Camper 50% Off Club

Happy Camper is a little known club that offers 50% off at select campgrounds. Their website seems quite unprofessional, and I haven’t heard much about the company. Therefore, I recommend skipping this one unless they offer something you absolutely need and can’t get elsewhere, such as a discount at a specific park. For this one, I recommend being extremely wary going in.

Harvest Hosts

Okay, this is a really cool membership that I will likely invest in at some point.

Unlike traditional memberships and clubs, a Harvest Hosts membership doesn’t give you access to campgrounds. Instead, cardholders are given the opportunity to “dry camp” on farms, vineyards, and other large, beautiful pieces of land. Many times, guests are invited to help out with the chores or to enjoy other parts of daily life.

While guests are expected to show their thanks by purchasing something from their hosts, these dry camping experiences are absolutely free with the membership card, making them a budgeter’s dream come true.

How much is the card? Only $44 a year!

Boondockers Welcome

Though not quite as cool as Harvest Hosts because it generally doesn’t involve a vineyard or a farm, Boondockers Welcome is another great option for finding free dry camping options. The initial cost is under $30 a year, and it includes a directory of hundreds of free boondocking campsites offered up by friendly RVers just like you and me.

Federal Lands Senior Pass

Considering this is a roadschooling site, it isn’t likely that many of my readers will find this particular pass useful. However, I did want to include it in case someone could put it to use.

The Federal Lands Senior Pass is an amazing tool for anyone who qualifies. The card currently sells as a lifetime membership for just $10. However, on August 27, 2017, the price of a lifetime membership will increase to $80 and a new $20 annual senior pass will become available.

All of these passes provide users with free entry to all national parks and other federally owned lands. Additionally, it provides the cardholder with a steep discount on a number of campsites throughout these lands.

LTVA Seasonal Pass

If you don’t mind rather primitive camping, the LTVA Seasonal Pass could be for you. There are a few LTVA campgrounds scattered around the BLM lands in Arizona and California, and some are popular places for snowbirds in the winter.

A permit to camp in an LTVA park is a mere $40 for 14 nights, or $180 for seven months, making it an extremely cheap lodging option. That said, there are no electric hookups available, and amenities such as water, dump stations, and restrooms may or may not be available at any given campground.

State Park Pass

A number of states offer state park camping passes. Generally speaking, these passes provide the cardholder with a decent discount on all state park camping.

The discount depends on the state, but from what I’ve found, New Mexico offers the best deal. Their state park camping pass is $180 per year for residents ($225 for non-residents) and includes free dry camping in any of their state parks.

Don’t like dry camping? Electric hookups are only $4 a night for passholders, and a site with electric and sewer will run you $8 a night with this pass.

I’ve also read that some state parks offer loyalty programs, so be sure to check on that when making plans.

RV Golf Club

If you’re a golfer, you may find the RV Golf Club membership works well for your family. This pass costs $99 a year and allows the cardholder to dry camp at numerous golf courses and private country clubs all over the country. Additionally, it provides the user with free or discounted two-night stays at quite a few private RV resorts in various states.

If you don’t mind dry camping much of the time, and golfing is a pastime you enjoy, this could potentially be a fantastic deal.

Club Yogi Rewards

This is another loyalty program similar to the KOA Value Kard Rewards. The Club Yogi Rewards program is free to join and allows users to earn points every time they stay at a Jellystone Park.

This is great if your family enjoys staying at these fun resorts as a getaway, but I’d never recommend making Jellystone Parks your main source of lodging. This is because these parks are quite expensive, and the rewards earned on this card would never cancel out the price paid.

Fulltime Families

Let’s face it, most organizations geared toward RVers market themselves almost exclusively to retirees. Fortunately, Fulltime Families is around to offer something to the younger RVing crowd, and I love it.

Fulltime Families cardholders have access to an entire directory of campgrounds that will waive their “extra person” fees for members of this club. Additionally, the membership provides the user with a vast assortment of discounts, lower fees for Fulltime Families rallies, and access to their exclusive scout program geared toward full-time kids.

This membership is just $45 a year, and is well worth the cost for families on the road.

Travel Resorts of America

This system works almost exactly like Coast to Coast in that you must first join a “home” park to become a member. While the resorts are nice, there are only 8 of them, and they are all on the east side of the country.

That said, from what I can find, it looks like Travel Resorts of America members may be eligible to add RPI and/or Coast to Coast in order to expand the number of parks they have access to. Joining a “home” park is of course a huge upfront cost, and there are yearly maintenance fees. However, it is possible to find used memberships. This is what I recommend doing, as it sounds like the sales pitches given by this particular company are incredibly pushy.

Resorts of Distinction

Also similar to Coast to Coast and Travel Resorts of America, Resorts of Distinction provides members access to a number of in-network parks after they pay thousands of dollars to join a “home” park. However, there are far more resorts in this system than there are in the TRA system.

Camping in these resorts is free as long as you keep a designated balance in your “travel account”. Otherwise, there is a $10-per-night charge. This is another membership that you might want to buy used in order to save thousands. There are stay limits, so be sure to do your research.

Recreation USA

Recreation USA is another discount club similar to Passport America. The card is $44 per year and gives the user access to campgrounds in 38 states. The cost to stay at each campground varies, but may be discounted to as little as $10 per night.

Personally, I would skip this one and go with Passport America, but it may work for some.

Adventure Outdoor Resorts and RV Adventures

These membership networks have quite a bit of overlap and seem to be owned by the same people. Both networks require users to belong to a “home” park within their system, and both give members access to a good number of in-network parks for just $9 a night.

Members of both Adventure Outdoor Resorts and RV Adventures also have access to all Adventure Camping Network parks, but I was unable to find information on the cost of staying at one of these parks or any more information on the network in general. AOR and RVA both come with a number of restrictions, so be sure to check them out before taking the leap into their system.

Colorado River Adventures

This membership is most similar to Travel Resorts America. It requires members to join and maintain membership with a Colorado River Adventures “home” park and then allows them to stay in their ten California, Arizona, and Mexico area resorts.

That said, I’m having a very hard time finding information on how much it costs to stay in the resorts, and though I assume it is free, I recommend any interested individuals make a phone call to find out for sure. The membership does also give the user the opportunity to join RPI, which gives them access to many more discounted parks and there are plenty of used CRA memberships on the market.

North American Camping Club

Yet another discount camping club, North American Camping Club comes with a slightly higher price tag of $99. It also doesn’t seem to have a very large campground directory, which severely limits where you can travel with the club card discount. This one isn’t high on my list of good options.

CampReward.com

This is a loyalty program that includes campground in four states. It works just like most other loyalty programs, and is free to use. Members of campreward.com earn points each time they stay in an affiliated campground, and can then apply those points to future stays.

This, my friends, is a list of every campground membership, club, and loyalty program I have ever found.

Do you have one you’d like me to add? Please send me an email.

Have you had an extremely negative or positive experience with a membership listed? Let readers know by leaving a comment below! 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s