NAVIGATING CAMPGROUND MEMBERSHIPS
Summer is now here and you can already smell the scent of pine forests and campfires. Excited for another season of RVing, you are already thinking about finding your AWAY.
In a recent conversation anticipating the upcoming season, a fellow RVer mentioned she just bought a campground membership. She excitedly told you that her new membership is going to save her hundreds of dollars in campground fees. Curious, that evening you googled “campground memberships” and came up with lots of websites using terms like “home park,” “reciprocal”, and “zones.” It didn’t take long for you to find out that there are many different types of campground memberships and you asked yourself, “Should I buy one? If so which one?”
Considerations When Purchasing a Campground Membership
Location – Most camping clubs have campground directories and online maps. Take a look at the directory or map to see where the parks are located. Are they near you? Are they near places you want to visit? If not, you may end up you spending more money on gas to get to the places you want to visit than you will save on camping fees.
Usage Rules and Restrictions – Each membership or club has different usage rules. For instance, some allow so many weeks in a particular park a year or so many consecutive days in a campground before you must leave the system for a set amount of time. Rules also often vary by season and affiliations with other networks. Many of the campgrounds in the discount clubs also have restrictions when using the discounted rate as to how many people the discounted rates includes or when it can be used. To be sure you understand don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions, take notes, and read the fine print. Making sure you understand the usage rules and restrictions now will save you a headache later on and for most RVers joining a club or two or even more is worth the effort!
Sunshine Key Resort and Marina in the Florida Keys accept Passport America.
Understand the Contract and Fees – Contracts differ between each membership or club. Some contracts are yearlong commitments and others last many years. Some have a one-time fee and others offer monthly payments. Again, read the fine print and be sure to understand the cancellation policy should your circumstances change. You want to make sure you are comfortable with the contract terms before you commit.
Will You Use It? – It’s easy to read “free camping” or “50% off camping” and think it’s too great a deal to pass up but the truth is it’s only a great deal if you use it. If you don’t use it, it’s money that would have been better spent elsewhere. Figure out the average camping fee in the area or areas you will be camping and then see how many nights you will have to camp in the membership or club campgrounds to at least break even and preferably save. The more you use your membership the better a deal it becomes. Being honest with yourself about how much you will use it is one of the most important questions to ask.
South Jetty Campground in Florence, OR – Photo Courtesy of Thousand Trails
An Overview of Different Memberships and Clubs
Thousand Trails – Thousand Trails is a membership campground system of over 80 campgrounds around the country. Members buy one or more “zone passes” (there are five zones) and gain access to all the campgrounds in their zone or zones for one price. In addition, members receive discounts on stays at Encore RV Resorts. There are different levels of membership and each has its own set of rules regarding length of stays, time out of the system, etc., so be sure to understand the membership you are purchasing.
Harbor Village Resort Campground in Sturgeon Bay, WI honors a few different memberships.
Resort Parks International (RPI) – RPI is a reciprocal camping membership with hundreds of campgrounds across the US and Canada (and a few in Mexico). Currently, fees are generally $10 a night for members in qualified resorts. To join, you must be a member of an RPI affiliated resort, which is why it’s a reciprocal camping membership.
Coast to Coast – To become a Coast to Coast member you must join one of the affiliated (reciprocal) resorts which becomes your “home resort.” Members receive discounted camping rates within the network and an array of other benefits and savings.
Resorts of Distinction – Like the other reciprocal memberships, one must be a member at a home resort to join Resorts of Distinction. Members can camp at affiliated resorts for as little as free as long as certain guidelines are followed.
Lake Monroe Jellystone Park™, Bloomington, IN – Photo Courtesy of Jellystone Park™
Club Yogi Rewards – Club Yogi Rewards is a rewards program for Jellystone Park Camp-Resorts frequent campers. For every qualified dollar spent, Club Points are earned and can be redeemed for free nights and select merchandise. Members also receive additional benefits like coupons and special offers. Membership to the program is free.
KOA Value Kard Rewards – Members in the Value Kard Rewards program save 10% on daily registration fees and earn points that can be redeemed for more savings a KOA Kampgrounds. In addition to Kampground savings, there are discounts with KOA partners.
Passport America – Passport America is a discount camping club where members get 50% off of camping fees at participating campgrounds. The membership fee typically pays for itself in one or two nights!
Badlands Interior Campground, Interior, SD
Escapees RV Club – Escapees is a support network for RVers offering many services and discounts to members. There are 19 Escapees parks and nearly 1000 additional commercial parks that offer discounts to members. In addition the discount, Escapees members receive a host of other services and support.
Boondockers Welcome – Boondockers Welcome is a different kind of RV membership that connects RVers with hosts (many who are also RVers) who offer boondockers, a free place to park for the night. Members have access to a list of potential places, all on private land, to stay. When RVers find a listing on their route where they would like to stay, they message that host through the securing messaging system to work out the details.
Photo by T and K Battaglia – Courtesy of Harvest Hosts
Harvests Hosts – Not your traditional camping membership, Harvest Hosts aims to be a unique experience for RVers. Members receive a directory to the Harvest Hosts which include wineries, breweries, museums, and various types of farms. In exchange for a free place to park for the night in a unique location, RVers are asked to purchase something to show appreciation for the host. It’s a great way to experience something unique, support a small business, and meet interesting people.
Fulltime Families Family Friendly Campground Directory – Again, not one of the traditional camping clubs or memberships. Full-time Families is an organization created to support families who live in their RVs, who dream of living in their RVs or families who just love RVing. Members gain access to a variety of discounts and services including the Family Friendly Certified Campground Directory. These private campgrounds have agreed to waive the additional per person fee for members, which can really add up for large families.
Do you have a campground membership that you like to use when you Go RVing? Any other memberships we should be aware of? Please share your experience in the comments!