I am an RV enthusiast with more than 50 years of experience owning, driving, traveling and living in recreational vehicles.
There are many clubs RV travelers can join, but the five most well known and popular are
- Coast to Coast,
- Thousand Trails,
- Good Sam Club,
- Passport America and
I currently belong to two of them, have had dealings with the others in the past and can tell you that some clearly are better for members both in pricing and the benefits they offer.
With the full retail price of a spot in an RV park these days ranging from $40 to $230 per night, many people have simply given up recreational vehicle travel, or have cut way back on it because they can no longer afford it.
However, joining the right camping club can make it possible to still be able to enjoy traveling in their motor homes, trailers and campers.
The key word in that last sentence is "right".
Things to Consider
If you are thinking about joining a camping club you should take the time to carefully research those that are available because no two are the same in terms of benefits and costs.
You should also ask yourself how much traveling you plan to do.
- If you won't be on the road much, belonging to a club may not be worthwhile, but
- if you travel often or for long periods of time, joining can really benefit you.
Another thing you need to consider is which club will best suit your personal needs.
- if one group has just a few affiliate campgrounds scattered around the country but you want to travel a great deal, the money you spend to join will be wasted, but
- if one or more of their parks is located relatively close to your home and you go camping without having to drive a great deal, then joining that group might be a good choice for you.
In addition to locations, you should also think about cost, limitations on use, number of affiliate parks and extra benefits.
Once you have a complete picture of what is available and match it to what you want or need, you are ready to make a choice.
Below you will find basic information on the five most well known and popular camping clubs so that you can get an overview of how they differ and what they offer.
Coast to Coast
Coast to Coast advertises that their facilities are not for private citizens, are highly secure, are extremely well maintained and have many amenities.
Before being permitted to sign up, people must join a home resort (which must meet the club's high standards). Since these parks are permitted to charge their own sign-up fees and finding those figures is impossible, one can only assume that they are very high.
Once people have paid up, they can then cough up another $99.95 per year to belong to CCC. After paying all of these fees, people still will have to pay $10 per night to camp at their parks! They also have sister parks where your membership will guarantee you a fee of $15 per night.
There are many limitations with regards to where members can camp, the most notable of which is that their membership is only good at affiliate parks that are located within 125 air miles of their home resort.
Furthermore, while they do have some parks that are as advertised, many are not. In fact, they are no cleaner, fancier or private than any other park. Some actually are substandard.
The point is that people who join pay a great deal of money and jump through many hoops to belong to a group that, in some instances, will not live up to their expectations and has significant use limitations.
We have stayed in many parks that are Coast to Coast affiliates, even though we do not belong. So their claim of keeping private citizens out of their parks simply is not true.
Thousand Trails is a true, member-use-only park except for those times when an affiliate allows outsiders who are considering purchasing a membership to stay for a night. They usually give these people a free night of camping and, if they agree to listen to the sales pitch, a present. They gave us a very nice clock radio, so they were true to their word!
As with Coast to Coast, this group presents itself as having affiliate campgrounds that are true resorts that are secure, clean and have many nice amenities.
From what I have seen, these claims are true.
However, buying in can cost as much as $6000, plus another $250 or so in annual fees. Members also have to pay minimal fees for campsite rentals.
What Thousand Trails fails to tell people is that
- stays generally are limited and require advance reservations,
- participating campgrounds are few and far between,
- access to all of the member parks can require the purchase of a second membership,
- many of their parks are poorly located,
- travelers may not be able to reserve spots for the time slot they desire and need, and
- the clubs make terminating a membership extremely difficult.
Although it costs a great deal to belong, people continue to do so because RV dealerships often "give" consumers memberships as a "thank you" for purchasing a travel unit.
This, of course, eliminates the initial cost, but the annual maintenance fees continue. The kicker is that one membership only covers part of the U.S. If you want to be able to use their facilities nationwide, you must buy a second one at full price as well as having to pay a second annual fee.
When my husband and I realized this was the case after having been given a "free" membership from a dealer, we decided to terminate the agreement. The club made it so difficult to do that it took months of our time and was extremely stressful. So be forewarned!
Read the fine print before you sign their contract.
Good Sam Club
Probably the most well-known group is the Good Sam Club. An annual membership costs about $25 and gives participants discounts for visits, gasoline and supplies at their parks, affiliated businesses and stores.
This may sound like a good deal, but the problem is their facilities are generally so costly that the discounts they give barely cover the taxes on their fees.
However, they do sell a guide that is loaded with great information. You do not have to be a member to buy one, but you should do so because it is packed with great information that will help you in your travels.
For example, Good Sam recently partnered with Pilot truck stops to give special price reductions on gasoline, fuel and propane to members. If you travel much, that alone is worth what you pay to join the club.
They also offer excellent road service and travel protection policies that are reasonably priced and provide outstanding service and assistance, but you do not have to belong in order to buy them.
So, for camping, I would avoid their parks, but I would definitely advise purchasing their guide, road service and travel protection policies because they will help you save money.
Passport America Campgrounds
Passport America and Escapees
Two great discount camping clubs are Passport America and Escapees. Both cost $50 or less per year to join, but the similarities end there.
- Escapees has about 1000 member campgrounds and offers 15% to 50% discounts to those who stay in them. (The great majority only offer 15% discounts).
- Passport America has more than 1900 member campgrounds and generally offers a standard 50% discount to those who visit, but there are many limitations.
The quality and security of each campground can vary greatly.
Some are beautiful, well-manicured resorts, while others barely meet decent camping standards. The majority, however, are perfectly fine, are well located and are reasonably priced if you use your discounts properly.
Each park has the option of imposing its own stay limitations. You cannot simply "move in" and stay on a year-round basis, nor can you expect to be able to get the larger discounts on either plan during peak tourist times.
In my estimation, Passport America is the better financial bet because if you plan carefully, you can save enough even on short trips to pay for your annual membership fees and still come out ahead on your camping expenses. If you take long vacations, you can easily save hundreds of dollars per trip.
It is a great irony that a fair number of parks that are participating members of the more expensive camping clubs, also accept travelers who belong to the less-expensive ones like these, so do not let the hype fool you!
A Nice Benefit of Belonging to Escapees
And the Best Club Is...?
My husband and I have been RV travelers for a very long time. Thus, we know what works best for us in terms of ease of use and financially.
We realize that one's reasons for joining a camping club may be different than ours, but for us, Passport America works best.
Logically, we cannot wrap our heads around having to pay thousands of dollars plus annual fees to join any group that has relatively few affiliate parks, requires reservations and/or severely limits usage.
With Passport America we mostly go where we want, when we want and rarely have to make reservations.
Although many of its parks limit their discounted fees to certain days, we are able to work around that by using free campsites and government park discounts, and it works great for us.
We like the fact that the club will pay us $10 for each new member we bring in and often offers special that give us longer memberships if we sign up early.
These things, coupled with the fact that they have so many facilities to choose from, save us money and make traveling easier.
However, what you choose to do is clearly up to you.
Now you've had the chance to read some reviews about the five most well-known camping clubs, so the rest is up to you.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: Why isn't KOA on this list?
Answer: KOA is not a camping club. It is a campground business that has high prices and gives very small discounts to people who sign up to camp there. It definitely is not a discount camping club, which is why it is not included in this article.
Question: I have a 96 that looks and runs like brand new. We plan on touring, but not camping, for any length of time at any one place. Will the 10 year rule be a problem for my RV?
Answer: It can be, depending on how strict a campground is and how badly they need the money. Most of the time you'll be OK, but always call ahead and make sure they understand that your coach is in top physical and cosmetic condition.
Question: Have you run into the 10-year rule at most RV parks? How does one handle this situation for nice looking RV's older than the 10-year rule?
Answer: Yes, as a matter of fact, I have. Usually, I'm able to clarify with park managers that although my coach is older (it's a 99), it's in better shape than most newer ones because it is of higher quality. They will usually say, well, we'll take a look, and once they do, we can stay there, but sometimes they won't bend. It all depends on who is on duty!
© 2014 Sondra Rochelle
Sondra Rochelle (author) from USA on March 02, 2020:
Things change from time to time and while your info may be accurate for your location and situation, it may well be different for others. Also, competition can make a big difference in what a group charges. If you are happy, that's great, but I can camp for far less and with fewer restrictions than with TT.
LandonP on March 01, 2020:
Your information on Thousand Trails is slightly off.
The Camping Pass is good for ONE of FIVE zones, and costs around $600 a year. You can add each additional zone to that pass for $59 a year per zone. You do not need to buy each zone at full price + yearly fee. In fact, there is no cost other than the yearly fee for a camping pass.
I am a member with the trails collection and 5-zone camping pass, and currently pay about $1,100 a year with taxes total, and wasn't required to buy any memberships to do it or pay any large amount up front.
Even the actual upgraded memberships, the ones you have to pay a large amount upfront for + yearly fees, are nationwide memberships from the start and do not only cover a portion of the country.
"Members also have to pay minimal fees for campsite rentals"
Not accurate. There are around 18 of the resorts nationwide that require an additional $20 a night on top of membership, but those are rare and are REALLY nice. Other than that, you might need to pay another $3-$4 a night if you want 50-amp vs 30-amp at SOME of the campgrounds. No other fees beyond those. I have been bouncing between TT and Encore parks for the last year with a simple membership, and never once paid anything more than my membership to camp.
Sondra Rochelle (author) from USA on September 22, 2019:
I have used them for years with only one issue which turned out to be one mechanic trying to take advantage of a situation. I reported it and GS dealt with him. I think much depends on where you are when trouble hits and the individual who is going to do the work. Please report these issues asap even if you resolved them.
Tedtuna on September 22, 2019:
Be careful of good sam roadside i have been burned twice in the last year. They would not send anyone before or after business hours
Sondra Rochelle (author) from USA on April 28, 2017:
climbr If you go to my profile page you'll find tons of articles that can help you with your quest. Most importantly right now? Make sure that your vehicle is weight rated to tow any RV you purchase! Doing this will require a bit of research, but it's important. Welcome to the great world of RVing and best of luck to you!
Tommy from CALIF on April 28, 2017:
Thx Time!! I am just an embryo in this new pursuit of living full time in a small travel trailer. This was a great article, I plan on getting the Sams Guide. But First I need to buy the trailer I want and get my 2003 Toyota Sequoia (200K miles, but running good) prepared to haul....Ill be following all your article faithfully.
Sondra Rochelle (author) from USA on August 15, 2015:
peeples: I also briefly worked for one of these outfits and was so appalled at the way they charged that I quit. I even contacted someone I had just sold a membership to and warned them to reneg on the deal. I've been RVing for more than 50 years and can tell you that full time RV living and travel costs nowhere near $10,000 plus fees per year. Furthermore, you don't have limits on how long you can stay at various campgrounds or have to fight reservations and are not limited as to where you can stay.. I actually can show people how to camp with hookups for free in various areas. A dealership gave me a "free" membership one time, and I had a heck of a time getting out of it...just as you said. If clubs like TT were dealing honestly with people, closing an account would never be a problem. Thanks for posting this. I was shocked to see how much prices had gone up!
Peeples from South Carolina on August 15, 2015:
I worked for Thousand Trails many years ago, in 2003-2005. I loved working there and I was a sales rep. The cost was no where near $6000 a year to join at our location. It was closer to $10,000, but that was a one time fee. The annual fee was $500 a year. You could stay for up to 14 days at a time, and come back to the same location in as little as 7 days. The one I worked at here in SC no longer has a sales department. However they did have 2 pools, one of which for adults only, a Huge club house, and put put, and lake frontage. The only downs I saw were misleading people to think they have larger spaces and more paved spaces than what they actually had. The spacing of locations was a bit much, but they also had other programs that were bought into with the membership allowing for discounts at other locations. Their reservation system was the same as anywhere else. Of course you can't always get the exact time or spot because other people already reserved it. Over all the program is a GREAT buy for full timers, but not so great for anyone else. The cost for being full time can be insane, so a one time fee of $10,000 (which camping could easily cost if doing it all year) and then only paying $500 a year really isn't so bad for someone who plans to retire and go full time. Just my thoughts. Oh one last thing. It IS nearly impossible to cancel. I always thought that was horrible. Even people who tried to back out in their 3 day window were given a hard time and often mistreated by corporate. The southeastern Regional Supervisor was a middle age lesbian who treated me poorly because I was pregnant. Requiring me to wear a baggy uniform to conceal my pregnancy. So I am not saying anything positive about this place out of loyalty. The second I gave birth and she felt like she was out of the window of law suit I was laid off even though I had a 3 in 5 sales ratio which was quite good. Just another perspective on Thousand Trails to share. Very informative article.
Sondra Rochelle (author) from USA on May 10, 2014:
MsDee Well, you need look no more...I've done your homework for you here. Good luck.
Ms Dee on May 04, 2014:
This is a very helpful start for me as I look into these RV clubs before we do some traveling with our RV.
Sondra Rochelle (author) from USA on April 16, 2014:
DDE Saving work and effort are just as important!
Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on April 16, 2014:
W ell-advised hub saving money is key to a good and enjoyable life