There are a lot of camping club membership programs to chose from. Each RVer has to do research and soul searching to find what fits their current and future needs best. We spent years researching and deciding before pulling the plug to join the clubs we have so far to save $$ on camping fees and support.
I am not going to go into every club membership here in detail. A simple search of YouTube and the web will provide our followers with plenty of opinions by full time and part time RVer’s, and those who weekend (or vacation) camp only.
What I will focus on in this blog post are the decisions we made, that we felt worked best for us at this point in time. Each of you will have different needs, preferences, geographies to consider for traveling–so only you can make a decision that is best for you.
What we have in our “travel club kit” currently is the following:
Good Sam Club (regular membership, not the roadside assistance membership)
Why? for the discounts at Camping World and at participating campgrounds
AAA with RV Plus ( you MUST have the RV Plus to get adequate RV/towing covered)
Why? for roadside assistance, RV towing, and discounts at campgrounds, attractions, dining, hotels, general travel discounts at retailers.
KOA Membership: Small annual fee, you build points with stays but in truth you would have to do a lot of KOA nights to really make the points amount to much. Meanwhile we do get discount on every booking at a KOA we do with this membership. KOA’s are fairly consistent and we happen to have a few of them at points on our regular vacation travel routes- so why not stay a little cheaper? You can purchase these memberships directly at the campground or when making a reservation online they will ask you.
Jellystone RV Park membership: (basically same set up and reasons as KOA has)
Passport America: We made the decision to purchase the LIFETIME membership. This membership gives you discount at participating campgrounds all over the country. There typically are # of night restrictions and many parks do not offer the discounts peak season, weekends or holiday weekends- understandable. Discounts vary from park to park. The reason we bought our lifetime membership pass now is that while we are both still working and have good cash flow, and can purchase at 2017 rate…why not? Now its paid for, and one less monthly bill coming in once we are retired and our incomes are more stretched.
Thousand Trails: This is the big kahuna!
You can purchase an annual pass…currently on their website that is $599 per year for one “zone” e.g. Northeast.
We also chose to purchase the VIP lifetime, nationwide membership package. BUT we did not buy “new” and we did not by the annual zone type pass. We went through a resale broker who came very highly regarded by several full time RVers we have been following for years including RV Love who has an excellent video on this and other camping membership clubs.
By going through a re-seller, we used Campground Membership Outlet,located in Florida the process was pretty simple for us, but it did take a few months for TT to get their act together for the final processing and to send us our membership documents, etc. Campground Membership Outlet has been in business over 20 yrs and we felt far more comfortable going through them than purchasing from a private seller on Ebay or Craigslist. Yes, these plans are for sale on those sites too but buyer beware as there is a lot of fine print you need to be aware of and to be sure you are getting a legit membership. The staff at CMO, Kim & Chad were excellent to work with and sent us explanations of what currently plans they had in their inventory at the time we were looking. This inventory is going to change since it all depends on what current members are turning their packages in for resale. Our package originated from someone who bought in the 1990’s. We were able to purchase a membership package for $1,000’s less but actually with better perks and less restrictions on # of overnights, less restrictions on nights out of network before you can book again and a much better 120 day advance booking window. We felt it had advantages over the annual zone pass. Thousand Trails is a national network (though there is definitely limited participating campgrounds in the middle sections of the country. See the map graphic below and check out their link for more info.
There a lot of research and comparing that needs to be done when you are looking into Thousand Trails. We have heard their TT direct sales people are pretty high pressure…(another reason we liked going through the resale broker). And yes, depending on the resold club membership package you purchase- you can also resell your membership down the road if desired and recoup some of your initial investment.
With a Thousand Trails membership you do incur the initial investment, and you do pay an annual maintenance fee. Ours is right around $550-600 per year. This too is locked in with only up to a 3% raise after 5 yrs. Again, even before we go full-timing, right now if we do 8-10 nights of camping at a TT campground we have more than paid for our annual maintenance fee.
Why did we purchase the LIFETIME membership package now in a lump sum?
- We saved money compared to contemporary plans which are only going to go up in cost each year.
- We have the disposable income now while we are both working full time
- With inflation who knows what these packages will be once we do retire
- The longer we wait, the less of those more lucrative older plans that are available because they are being snatched up by many full time RVers.
- We live debt free now and want to continue that once we full time. Honestly, we have heard some folks who have purchased new plans paying upwards of $10-15K for their memberships. YIKES! P.S.Thousand Trails corporation does do financing but again, we did not want to have those monthly bills after we retire.
- We use our membership now to save overnight camping costs, but more importantly we crunched the numbers and once we go full time we will literally pay for our entire package (ours was $3500) by the very first year we are full timing after less than 100 days of overnights in participating TT campgrounds.
- Thousand trails participating campground fees for us now range from free to $5.00-$8.00 per night versus rack retail of $35-65 per night for the same park!
- With our package we can book up to 120 days in advance, stay up to 3 weeks at the same campground, get a newspaper and 2 free coffees per day
- Our children can use our membership to rent a campsite or a cabin rental with hefty discounts for up to 2 weeks each year.
- We can also gift this membership package as a legacy inheritance to our children when we no longer can be on the road- and then they have it for their lifetime.
There are add on packages (some are shown on map above as blue and gold) that also include the Trails Collection (gives you access to Encore RV Resorts). We have chosen not purchase this collection yet, but will as soon as we launch full time. Encore RV properties do tend to be nicer, with more amenities and are in some prime resort areas. There is one here in the Lake George Region (Lake George Escape Campground)- but even with our current plan we can stay there for a significant discount which is ok for us right now without having invested in the $200 per year additional cost for the Trails Collection.
Full disclosure…from what we have heard and experienced ourselves, not all TT participating campgrounds are equal. In the basic TT plan, many are older parks, some certainly not what we would consider a “resort” level by any means…but when you are staying in a full hook up site for free (our program they are free for us!) to under $10 per night..we are certainly willing to deal with some cobwebs in the bathrooms, some peeling paint on playgrounds (or no playground) and perhaps worn down gravel driveways. The way we look at it, once we full time we will plan to spend 2-3 weeks in a TT campground cheaply (do our laundry, take long showers, pump out our tanks, refill our water, perhaps dip in a pool or hot tub) then roll on out to either boondock a bit…or use the money we saved by staying in a TT campground to book a week at a luxury RV resort stay at a future date. Works for us!
In closing, again, this is our plan and may not be right for you. Only you can decide by doing the research needed.
This year, in 2020 we will also become life time members of ESCAPEES.
This is a national club with a lot of member support, great online forums and meet-ups, conventions with workshops, etc. It is not just for full timers, though many full time RVers belong to it and love it. Reason for this is they host rallies and RV caravan trips, club members get excellent discounts on certain RV equipment needs and they too have their own RV parks where we can stay for really cheap for a great stop off point along our wanderlust trail.
Once we know our full time launch date we will most likely add Coach-net RV Roadside Assistance membership since it is deemed the most comprehensive and best for national travelers. We plan to continue our AAA RV plus however, just to be sure we are covered in all geographies and to continue to get their travel discounts no matter how we are traveling.
We also are members of Tin Can Tourists and Harvest Host too….but those and others are for another blog post in the future!
Happy travels from Kevin & Luisa Sherman in the Pewter Palace!