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Q&A: RV and camping discounts that are right for you


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We are heading on a three month RV trip around America, spending most of our time on both coasts, with a little bit of time in between. There are so many different campground RV park discount clubs out there. Some give a percentage off, others offer free nights. Which ones work best?

Dear RVer,

Everyone loves saving a little bit of money on the road. Having a few dollars knocked off your campsite fee each night sure adds up! Doing the research to find the right discount programs or membership clubs, then filling in the nominal paperwork to entitle you to savings and camping perks before you head on the road makes a lot of sense.

Let's start with the basics

  1. Determine your camping destinations - Depending on where you go, there are national, state and even association based discount membership clubs. For example, if you are planning to spend a lot of time camping in Maine, then the Camp Maine Rewards card program would be suitable as it gives benefits like third night free with two nights paid stay, 10% discounts and free perks like ice or wood! Given you are pretty much covering the entire USA we would recommend that you join national programs and clubs.
  2. Estimate the number of nights on the road - Here's where a little bit of math (feel free to use a calculator) can save you a lot of dosh. For occasional RVers who may camp only five nights a year, it really isn’t worth forking out $40 for an annual membership with a camping club, when it only saves you $20 (Here's the math part...5 nights x $40 x 10% discount = $20 savings)! Given you are going for three months, that's just over 90 stays across RV parks and campgrounds, it actually makes it worthwhile to pay to join a discount club (or even multiple discount programs) as it will most likely end up paying for itself and more.
  3. Consider what types of camping you prefer - Different discount memberships tend to focus on different types of camping. For example, in our experience Passport America which offers the highest discount rate (up to 50%) tends to offer camping at the more 'rustic' end of the scale. It does have some higher end resorts in its catalog, however if you are a 'five star' traveler, you may want to veer toward more exclusive (read: more expensive) membership affiliations.

Bear in mind that there are too many discount clubs and offers to count! We've done our best to provide you with a brief outline of some of the major discount programs and membership clubs:

The 10% memberships

  • AAA - Each State has a local AAA chapter. Primary membership costs $58 which includes a $10 enrolment fee (Annual renewal in subsequent years is $48). AAA typically provides 10% off many RV parks and campgrounds listed in the AAA state guides. You can use your AAA card nationwide. Additional benefits include free campground books, touring guide books, other day to day discounts like shopping and cheaper movie tickets and roadside assistance, of course!
  • Good Sam - One of the original and most widely accepted RV park and campground discounts. It is $29.95 to join for a year, with special website and multiple year discounts available. Again applicable nationwide across 1600 campgrounds and RV parks, and in our experience even some campgrounds who aren't "officially" Good Sam parks will provide members a 10% saving off the nightly rate (matching other RV parks).
  • KOA - Value Kard Rewards are applicable only for the KOA (Kampgrounds of America) chain. It is $24 for an annual membership and can be used at all KOAs across the country. In addition to 10% of daily registration fees, you also earn points for qualifying stays at KOAs which you can redeem for savings rewards on your next stay with KOA.

The 50% memberships

  • Passport America - One of the most popular deep discount membership clubs, offering 50% off at 1600 campgrounds. For $44 a year, with a discounted price for multiple year memberships, you get a campground and RV park guidebook or CD of all participating places. Be sure to read the fine print before you book, and also confirm with the campground or RV park that the Passport America discount is still available. In our experience some of the printed information can be out of date, including terms and conditions. We've come across campers and RVers who have reported that some campgrounds will "massage the rules" and deny the 50% savings when they get busy. At the end of the day, there are still ample bargains to be had and well worth the effort.
  • CampClub USA - One of the newer discount clubs on the block. Annual membership is $49.95 and entitles you to 50% off at 1100 participating campgrounds and RV parks. Again, read the fine print and confirm at booking.
  • Happy Camper - This club has been around for a while. It costs $49.95 a year to join, and there are a good handful of campgrounds and RV parks (1200 give of take) that still participate in this program. We've personally found that Happy Camper is accepted at fewer locations than the other 50% clubs so it is worth checking campgrounds in your desired location before you sign up.

Affiliation and other clubs

  • Seniors Discount - For RVers and campers who are over 62, many campgrounds and RV parks offer varying discounts. It is worth asking when you book or check in to see if you qualify for a discount.
  • Best Parks Guest, Escapees, Thousand Trails - These are a small selection of campground and RV park specific clubs. You effectively buy a membership that entitles you to camp at a reduced prices (or in some instances for free) at places that belong to that particular group. Cost and benefits vary across these membership groups. Best Parks is complimentary to join, but benefits vary from park to park and are left to individual campgrounds to determine. Escapees $70 for the first year, and $60 for subsequent years, with a minimum of 15% discount on nightly rates for over 1000 Escapees affiliated parks, and preferred rates at Rainbow Parks and opportunity to purchase membership at SKP Co-Ops. Thousand Trails provides RV park 'gated communities', offering 80 destination resort style campgrounds across America. Costs vary significantly depending on the property you join, averaging around $1000 which includes enrolment fee and membership dues. This entitles you to unlimited camping (with length of stay restrictions) and rights to use other properties in the network. One key upside with these three affiliated memberships, and others like it, are that campgrounds and RV parks tend to meet "rigorous standards" which is good for destination camping.
  • FMCA - Another affiliation club where you must have a motorcoach to be eligible to join. More of a common interest club, with rallies, chapters and events, your membership also has the added benefit of some discounts and perks at FMCA participating campgrounds. Costs are $45 for the first year and $35 thereafter.
  • National Parks - America the Beautiful Annual Pass is a fantastic option if you plan on visiting and camping or RVing in the network of parks managed by USDA Forest Service, National Parks Service, USFWS, BLM and Reclamation across the US. Public lands such as Yosemite, Bryce Canyon, Smoky Mountains and other popular destinations are part of this network. To enter and camp in these parks you will have to pay an entrance fee varying between $5 and $50. Purchasing an Annual Pass membership for $80 (Senior and Disabled access passes are also available), you get free access to all parks managed by these authorities, across all 50 states. In addition, you are helping to fund the preservation and maintenance of our National Parks too! In our experience, if you plan to visit more than three parks in a year, and then plan to camp within them, this pass more than pays for itself.
  • State Parks - Similar to National Parks Annual Pass, you can pay for annual State Park passes. The cost varies across states, so it is worth contacting the State directly to find out more. Best for campers and RVers who are doing a stint of concentrated traveling within a certain state or region.
  • State Based Camping Associations - Some state associations offer discounts, free nights or perks to stay at campgrounds and RV parks. It is best to contact the individual State Camping or RVing Association directly and ask for details.

At the end of the day there is no right or wrong answer to which discount membership clubs to join. Figuring out the "best" memberships to join boils down to where you are going, how many days you plan to stay and what type of camping you prefer. Just do the math, read the fine print and go for it!

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