Save Money on Campgrounds When You Travel: Discounts
Be Aware of Campground and Campsite Discounts
Whether you are planning on camping in the peak season or the off season, discounts are available at almost every campground you plan to visit.
The smart camper needs to take advantage of every discount they can get to maximize their savings.
While the first article in this series discusses how the cost of campsites varies with the seasons, this second article explains why camping discounts exist and how to take advantage of them.
This article is a follow-up to that one but covers discounts.
Campground Expenses and Site Pricing
A full campground is a profitable campground, so every campground owner strives for a full campground.
You see, a campground has certain core expenses that are the same every month regardless of the number of campers who are on site. For instance, utilities, such as electricity, water, and sewage.
In order to guarantee the availability of these utilities for their customers, the campground usually pays a core fee to the utility companies to reserve their maximum potential usage for the campground year-round, regardless of how much they actually use at any one time.
On top of this core charge, the campground also pays for the total utility usage by the campground. You can see what the campground has to pay just to operate, and this is on top of their other expenses for staff, maintenance, and more.
Campground Discounts Help Draw More Customers
You can see from this that the profitability of a campground is at its highest when it is full of campers.
Every campground has a break-even point where the number of campers onsite takes the campground from losing money to being profitable.
This basic financial fact means most campgrounds will offer a discount to a potential camper if they feel the camper might actually make their reservation with another campground.
Of course, getting a discount at a campground that is almost full is a lot harder than getting one at the campground that is only 50% full.
But most campgrounds, especially during the off seasons, will recognize numerous campsite discount systems and companies, and the prepared camper can save a little more money on their camping costs.
Free Discounts Almost All Campgrounds Will Offer
Some discounts cost the camper nothing if they meet the campground's requirements. These free discounts can be as much as 10% to 20% of the campsite rental rate.
You need to develop the habit of asking for discounts at every campground you contact as you make your travel plans.
And, be nice! That person on the other end of the phone is dealing with customers all day, every day, and a cooperative and friendly voice on the other end of the phone can often make the difference in whether you get an offer of a discount.
Here are just a few common free discounts a camper can ask for:
Active Duty, Veterans, and Retired Veterans can often get a discount if they just ask if one is available, but they will often be required to provide a copy of their DD214 document.
Police and Firefighter's Discounts
Often, if asked, some campgrounds will give a 10% discount to these public servants as a way to say "thank you for your service." This discount is not as common as the one for Veterans but it doesn't hurt to ask.
Some campgrounds will give a 10% discount to members of the AARP and similar organizations, hoping to draw more customers by signifying their support of retired people.
Smooth Talker Discounts
And there is always the situation where when you call a campground and you want to stay there for a few days during their off season, you can sometimes talk them into giving you a small campsite discount.
Always keep in mind that they aren't going to make any money off of you if you don't stay there, and it doesn't hurt to ask, as they say.
There are a number of low-cost camping membership clubs where a camper pays a small annual fee to join and affiliated campgrounds who recognize your membership allow you a small discount, typically 10%.
These membership clubs also provide other services to their members such as books and websites listing the affiliated campgrounds, contact information, maps and directions, and even campground rating systems.
Major Membership Clubs
Good Sam Club/Camping World
Camping World owns the Good Sam Club, and as a Good Sam member you get a 10% discount at a large number of affiliated campgrounds around the country, as well as convenient local information as mentioned.
KOA or Kampgrounds of America is an organization of affiliated campgrounds which are individually owned, or leased and operated by individuals.
All KOA Kampgrounds are required to meet a long list of corporate standards for campground quality and services.
KOA has over 500 well-maintained campgrounds conveniently located near major highways around the country. For an annual fee of around $45 you will be able to get a standard 10% discount on all of their campsites.
I don't use KOA as my primary source of campsites, so I often let my membership lapse if I am not using them soon. They are good enough to sign me up again when I do contact them for a reservation.
A Passport America annual membership only costs around $45 and provides you with discounts of up to 50% off the regular campsite fee on over 1500 campgrounds around the country.
The hitch is that typically this discount is only available for two nights at a time and during certain times of the year.
In fact, I recommend that for every campground on their list you look at, make sure to read ALL of the fine print to make sure you can actually get the discount they advertise, as some campgrounds put additional restrictions on the PA pricing.
On the other side of the equation, though, if you are staying with a campground during their off season, then if you ask you can often get them to give you one or two more days at this great 50% discount. You just need to ask!
And, Passport America has a very easy-to-use app for your smart phone.
Other Membership Clubs
FMCA or Family Motorcoach Association is an organization for motorhome owners whose annual membership is relatively cheap.
The club is more of a social organization, but they do have a list of some affiliated campgrounds around the country that will give FMCA members discounts, so if you are a member you should make your traveling plans to take advantage of those campgrounds.
Coast to Coast RV Resorts
Coast to Coast is another relatively cheap camping membership club that is owned by Good Sam and theoretically has an exclusive list of higher-end campgrounds available for members to rent. The typical C-to-C RV site cost will be $40-$60 a night.
Escapees RV Club
Escapees is another club that costs around $50 a year for a membership and offers discounts at a limited number of campgrounds.
They have a few discount offerings such as Passport America, Costco, and other clubs and they do have certain campgrounds, mostly in the central part of the country where you can get discounts on campsites. More details are available on their site.
Thousand Trails (TT) is now owned by ENCORE RV Resorts.
Over the years TT members have had several hundred different membership packages offered to them. The older memberships were lifetime ones but the ones offered now are limited to ten years.
You pay an upfront fee and for the life of your contract you can camp for free, again within the bounds of your contract with TT.
There are over 190 exclusively TT campgrounds in 9 regionl zones around the country. A member can camp for free at the TT campgrounds in the zones they have in their contract.
Different TT memberships may offer the following choices;
- Free camping at all TT campgrounds within their nine zones.
- Weekly reservations can be for 1 to 4 weeks.
- Campers may be able to move from one TT campground without any required "out time."
- Lockdown option on making reservations for up to 30, 60, 90 or even 120 days in advance.
- Campgrounds offered in from 1 to 9 (or all) of the TT zones across the country.
- Discounted campsite reservations at Encore campsites (using RVontheG) of around 20%.
- Addition of select Encore campgrounds to your TT contract, for a price.
- Other features include some seasonal campground limits, adding an emergency week for a small fee, 30-Amp or 50-Amp service, and more.
RPI or Resort Parks International
RPI is a camping membership club with approximately 285 affiliated campgrounds, all private members-only resorts. They have a set of reciprocal rules for campers who have a site and want to travel to other affiliated resorts and use a member's site there.
Other Exclusive RV Resorts
Numerous other RV resorts have members who prefer to stay in higher-end campgrounds.
Some RV owners buy sites in certain resorts that they own and share on a reciprocal basis with other member resorts.
Some of these resorts even have a small home on each site, with the amenities members want even when they travel: a bedroom, a living room, a laundry, a patio and more. Some resorts have a concierge service and a kitchen where members can preorder their favorite meals to be ready before they arrive.
A full-timers way of saving on campsites
Discounted Camping of all types
There is no limit, it seems, to what an RV traveler can have at a campsite if they are willing to pay.
So, regardless of whether you want a simple campground site with electric, sewer, and water available for you to hook up to, or if you want to be coddled with special services, you can find a way to save a little money on the reservation if you try.