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.
Read More from AxleAddict
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: 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!
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.
© 2014 Sondra Rochelle