RV Memberships and Discount Clubs
Some people tend to love RV clubs and belong to everyone out there and some tend to hate them and avoid them. We belong to a few and I wanted to share a little bit about the couple we belong to, why we belong to them and what we think of them.
We budget on $600 a month (or approx $20 a night) which includes park stays, laundry facility costs, membership clubs, generator fuel. When you see that so many parks today are $35 – $50 per night you can easily see this is a tall ask. So how do we do it? We mix in boondocking, weekly rates, staying at cheaper campgrounds, using our Access Pass for national parks, staying in places during the off-season and other tricks to keep that bill down.
In this article I am exploring the discount club / membership side of that. There is a lot to cover here so this has become a long article. So grab your cup of Joe.
We have a few memberships / discount clubs:
- Good Sam
- Passport America
- Thousand Trails
- Coast to Coast
I’ll go through them one by one and explain the pro’s and con’s and what we use and why.
Good Sam – goodsamclub.com
The Good Sam club is owned by CampingWorld and is one of the go to clubs / memberships that most RVers have. It costs $27 a year to be a member but CampingWorld regularly has deals where they will send you a $25 gift card to CampingWorld when you sign up or renew, making it rather inexpensive.
Good Sam / Camping World touts a bunch of bonuses like discount propane, free dump station use etc. About the only two features that we use are 10% off Good Sam Member parks (which is most private RV parks). Not the best discount and not the first we go to, but if there is a park you like, or one that fits on your route and that is the only discount they offer it is better then nothing. We usually shop on Amazon, but have on occasion gotten some good deals at Camping World that were member only deals.
So all in all it’s worth the price, but only because it is so cheap.
Passport America – passportamerica.com
Passport America is a discount club. They tout that you get 50% off of your stay at thousands of participating RV parks. While that is true the actual deal ranges from park to park. Many parks only give you the discount for 1 or 2 nights. Some parks only offer the discount during the off season, or have a lower discount (like 15% or 20% off) during prime season. If you only stay in a park for 1 or 2 nights at a time this is going to be your best bargain out there. We typically stay 5 – 10 days and are going to start staying 7 – 14 days in most parks, so if we only get a discount on 1 or 2 days it helps but it doesn’t necessarily get us to the price we want to be. For us that means spending a little more time on their website or via their App reading the fine print on what parks offer.
We have gotten some great deals though. We stayed in one park in Klamath, CA during the off season for 8 or 9 days and they honored it the entire time which brought down their $36 a night rate to $18 a night.
Passport America touts that it pays for itself in your first two nights of use. Since the club is is only $44, I think they are spot on, and you are silly not to have this one in your arsenal.
Thousand Trails – thousandtrails.com
This is the park that people tend to love to hate, and I must say that I am probably right up there. I don’t need to go into a ton of details as there is a lot on the internet if you want to do your research but the quick down and dirty is this: It was a nice series of parks back in the day, but overtime they stopped investing in their parks and opened it up for non-members to stay (upsetting lots of members that paid $5k – $15k and more for their memberships) and the parks went downhill quickly. Apparently Thousand Trails has been put into a REIT and part of that REIT requires that they make significant park upgrades within the next 5 years or so. I haven’t stayed at any of the overhauled parks so I can’t really speak to how nice those are.
There are a lot of legacy memberships out there that you can buy on the secondary market. We picked ours up cheaply off someone that was stopping to travel full time. The dues are the big thing for us. We pay about $720 a year in dues (I use that number as it easily works out to $60 a month and is easier then dealing with an odd number…but it is within a few bucks). Our membership doesn’t give us access to all parks in the system, but for the parks we have access to we can stay in them for up to 14 days at a time with no charge at all. The big caveat is that if we stay 4 or more nights then we have to be outside of the system (i.e. not staying at a Thousand Trails park) for 7 days before we can come back into another park.
Since we budget $20 a day for stays, if we stay just 3 nights a month, or 36 nights a year in Thousand Trails it covers our costs. Anything over that and we are saving.
However we have run into a few problems. First they don’t have parks everywhere so lots of times there is no park around that works for us. Second their parks are first come, first serve, you pick your own space when you get there. So we have shown up to mostly full parks that have taken our reservation (since they have openings) to find that no openings were large enough for our rig. We are 35 ft long, but I am talking places where they only had spaces left for a 20 – 25 ft rig. They tend to be out in the boonies, or on the fringe of an area, which in all honesty we actually like but it means that a number of their parks have bad cell signals, or no cell signal and most have poor wifi that is only available at the rec center or office. For people that work full time that is tough. Also many parks are power and water hook ups only. We don’t mind not having a sewer hook up for under a week stays, but for longer stays we usually like a sewer connection.
Our first year on the road, 2015. We used a lot of nights of Thousand Trails as we were in the Pacific Northwest along the coast where there are a decent amount of parks, and it was a net benefit / savings to us to have Thousand Trails.
Last year, 2016, not so much, we are at a net loss as we only stayed a handful of nights. We will see what we do with Thousand Trails in 2017 to determine if we keep that membership past 2018. The contract we took over locked us in for 3 years, after that it is year to year. So next spring we can cancel. I’ll discuss more on why we may cancel in the section further below where I outline the RPI Clubs.
Coast to Coast – coastresorts.com
Coast To Coast or C2C as many people call it for short, is another Camping World owned company. All over the country RV parks offer memberships, where you can pay a membership fee (one time buy in with annual dues usually) to belong to the park. These parks are typically member only so you can only stay in them if you are a member, and you get benefits like free nights, etc. Many of these membership parks increase their value by belong to Coast to Coast. So if you become a member at one of these parks AND also pay the Coast to Coast membership fee you are allowed to stay at other Coast to Coast parks (even if they are normally membership only) and stay at them at a discounted rate.
We signed up to be members of a park on the east coast that we will probably never visit, but they have a cheap annual fee $99 and are in the Coast to Coast system. So for $224 a year (our Coast to Coast fee is an additional $125 a year) we have access to Coast to Coast parks.
I am a pretty big fan of the Coast to Coast system. They have a nice tool online to look up parks, check availability to and book your stay online. It’s a two stage process, you have to buy what are called Trip Points and then you use your Trip Points to purchase your nightly stays. 1000 Trip Points cost $10 and if you buy enough trip points at once you even get some bonuses (32,000 Trip Points for $300 and 55,000 Trip Points for $500).
Most parks are full hookup, 50 amp spaces, and most cost 1000 trip points (or $10) a night…which is a heck of a steal. I have seen parks that cost 1500 and 2000 Trip Points ($15 and $20 a night) but that is rare.
In the details on the parks some say that there is a resort fee of $2 – $5 a night, but I have never once had a park charge me this. And occasionally you will see where the notes say the park will charge an extra few dollars a night for 50amp vs 30amp or for cable, but again I have never had a park actually charge us these fees.
We aren’t big at planning ahead, so the biggest downside we have found is that the Coast to Coast website only works 2 days out and further, i.e. if it is a Friday the soonest you could book a nights stay at a park is Sunday. Parks have the ability to manually book you through earlier if you call them, but we have found most park employees don’t know how to do this. Sometimes you can call Coast to Coast and they will call the park and work it out, but in short it is a hassle to stay at many of them last minute. So I do prefer to book ahead when using Coast 2 Coast.
In our first year our travel plans didn’t have us going through many Coast to Coast parks, and we were kind of “eh” on the whole thing, but we used it a lot more in 2016 and are really impressed. We’ll see how we use it in 2017 but I think we are hanging onto this one. For us we need to stay at least 23 nights a year to pay for itself. Since we budget $20 a night for park stays and we usually pay $10 a night at Coast to Coast parks we figure that the membership saves us $10 a night. In reality most parks are $35 and $40 a night or more but if it wasn’t for the membership we wouldn’t stay there at all. So we value the membership at $10 saved a night. With our annual membership fees being $224 it takes 23 nights to pay for the membership.
There are other benefits as well, like discount condos and cruises, but we don’t use those and thus haven’t learned enough about those benefits to share them with you.
RPI – resortparks.com
RPI is an almost identical program to Coast to Coast. Like C2C you join via a park you are a member of, and can book into RPI parks online. The big downsides are that RPI stays are $15 a night and up rather then $10 and up, and they have a $4 reservation fee. I.e. if you stay somewhere for 4 nights you are looking at $64 (4 x $15 nightly = $60 + $4 booking fee).
If you use RPI enough, you can pay $50 a year’s worth of reservation credits (i.e. no reservation fees).
The majority of RPI parks are also Coast 2 Coast parks, something like 90% of the parks in one system are in the other and vice versa. If staying at a park that takes both it is almost always cheaper to stay via C2C. We signed up with RPI originally but let it lapse for that reason. We found that every RPI park we wanted to stay in was also a C2C park and it was cheaper to book as C2C, so we never used RPI.
RPI is cheaper then Coast 2 Coast though at $89 a year.
That being said there is one caveat that actually has us reconsidering joining RPI. Almost all Thousand Trails parks are in the RPI system and this even includes Encore Parks. Our Thousand Trails membership doesn’t include any Encore Parks and only gets us 20% off Encore Parks. Most are $40 – $50 a night, so even though we are TT members, if we want to stay at an Encore Park our cost is between $32 and $40 a night, whereas we could stay there via RPI for $19 a night (RPI charges $15 a night + a $4 a night resort fee to stay at TT parks).
So for how little we use Thousand Trails, we are thinking it might be cheaper to cancel that next year, and then join RPI again and still be able to stay at Thousand Trails Parks, especially their more high end Encore parks, when it makes sense. Dropping Thousand Trails and picking up RPI in place will save us $630 a year in dues. Whether it is worth it or not all comes down to how many nights a year we stay at Thousand Trails via our TT membership and how many nights a year we feel we would like to stay at Encore properties if the price was a bit cheaper.
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