Nearly all campgrounds offer discounts of some type—the most common 10%. There may be so many discounts offered that, often, you are not even asked if you qualify—you just automatically get it when you register at a campground. There are discounts for belonging to some RV clubs, for other non-RV-related memberships (AARP, AAA, etc.), Military status (active or retired), and the list goes on. There is one
campground (and I believe it had a discount) if your motorhome had a Cummins engine!
These campground discounts are so common you may be able to pay your membership dues from your discount savings over time. It’s your money. Just ask. However, you will have to pay up front for some discounts (sounds like an oxymoron) but read on.
- Discount Campgrounds… There are numerous discount programs for campgrounds. Several companies offer discounted camping. You sign up, pay the annual fee (usually less than $100.00 annually and we paid as low as $29.00 recently), and when you stay at one of “their” member campgrounds, you may get a substantial discount—but it’s not guaranteed!
The typical arrangement is that when you pay your membership fee, you get a directory of their member campgrounds. It may also be available online or as a CD. When you call for a reservation, you always ask if they honor the discounts. If they say “Yes” and if a discounted site is available, you can overnight for a reduced campground fee—usually 50%. We visit relatives in central Florida and there is a discount campground very close to them. We stay there up to a week just about every year and I end up paying $15.00 per night (normally, the site is $30.00 per night). This gets me full hookups and 50-amp service.
The tricky part is that the discount campgrounds all have different “rules.” For example, the discount may apply to just the first night, not on the weekend, only on Tuesdays, or the first three nights, and on and on. You have to call and ask.
Get specific with campgrounds when you call on what and how much will be discounted. Interestingly, we have used one of these discount companies and our best consistent savings was in Canadian campgrounds traveling through the Maritimes. They sort of tossed out the “rules” and just discounted the sites. This
wasn’t something we negotiated for but they just offered it.
- Membership Campgrounds… There are a number of membership campgrounds with the two largest being Coast to Coast and Thousand Trails. Both are quite large and each have a number of member-parks. These memberships may be purchased for a fee (sometimes in the thousands of dollars) and then you can use any of the respective parks (exclusively) for free or a reduced nightly/weekly fee. There are other limitations such as limits to the time you can stay in one park, some companies require you to identify a “home” park, and there may be various levels of membership. There may also be some type of annual “maintenance” (or some such term) fee you will be required to pay.
My recommendation is that you approach this like any “business” deal. That is, if it will pay for itself in savings (really save you money within a reasonable amount of time), then it may be a good purchase decision. For new fulltimers, I always recommend that you travel for a year or two before making a decision this costly. Your lifestyle may actually change through your newfound freedom. You will discover new ways to enjoy your time.
There are vendors/companies that resell these memberships (remember, there is a significant up-front fee for some). If you find that the membership campground will work for you, I recommend checking with a reseller. You will find them at RV Shows and rallies. As always, remember your Latin… Caveat Emptor: “Let the Buyer Beware.”
My strong recommendation is that you not purchase any discount camping programs (no matter how cheap) until you know they will work for you. You can easily determine this on a “normal” trip by asking any campground you call if they are a membership or discounted campground. If they say yes, then keep track of this accumulated potential savings. If you find that you could have saved money (and paid for the cost of the membership) over some reasonable time, then it could be a good deal for you prior to your next extended trip. However, only experience will verify this.
Another negative associated with member-parks is that you typically feel that you need to stay in them—even if they off your route and out of your way to some degree. My personal bias is that I want to go where I want to go—not someplace else because it’s cheaper. Therefore, if a member-park is on my route, great! But if it is a few miles off my route or farther away from my destination, I don’t want to deal with it.
Although not specifically a discount, boondocking (camping with no hookups) is an easy method to save money—instantly—thus allowing you to have more money to spend on other things. The cost savings with boondocking can be significant. Assuming an average nightly campground cost was $30.00, if you average boondocking just one night per week, that is an annual savings of $1,560.00 ($30.00 X 52 weeks = $1,560.00)!
We fulltime and averaged boondocking 11 nights per month during 2006, 12 nights per month in 2007, and 12 nights per month in 2008. So, for the year 2008, that calculates to 3 nights per week on average. Let’s multiply (3 X $1,560 = $4,680). So, by boondocking that number of nights, the savings was significant—$4,680 would buy a lot of stuff. This savings, like the results from driving slower, is instant. You keep the money in your pocket. Yes, there is a fuel cost to running the generator when boondocking but that is minimal when compared to campground costs.
We boondock primarily for the convenience but realize the savings, too. At the end of the year, we total our actual campground costs and then divide by 365 to get a true average nightly cost. For example, in 2006 that average nightly campground cost was $12.21. This included paying for a few nights (on the ocean) at $90.00 per night down to zero (boondocking costs).
For our purposes, the convenience of boondocking totally outweighs the cost savings. Simply being able to pull off the highway and stopping is the epitome of convenience for us. Please note that we always ask permission at commercial stops Read our several articles in the Boondocking Topic section.