Are discount camping clubs for real? Can you save money on campground fees using them? How much? Frugal RVers often ask these questions. Let’s take a closer look at the advantages and disadvantages of discount camping clubs.
There are lots of ways to save on camping fees. Many frugal RVers boondock or dry camp on BLM or Corps of Engineers land, Walmart parking lots, casinos, and some even stealth-camp residential neighborhoods to save money. Discount camping clubs offer an alternative — not free but not full price. Are they worth the membership costs?
First, how do these discount camping clubs work? They sign up campgrounds to offer discounts to club members with some restrictions. The restrictions depend on the club, the campground, the time of year, and other factors. The most popular campgrounds in vacation destinations are more reluctant to offer discounts (beyond AARP, AAA, Good Sam, and other small discounts). Campgrounds sign up because they are not always full and getting a discounted tenant is better than having the space sit empty. For offering the discount, campgrounds get free advertising and referrals.
Passport America typically offers a 50% discount on camping at 1,800 participating campgrounds after paying an annual dues of $44. Happy Camper RV Club offers up to 50% discounts at more than 1,000 campgrounds with an annual membership of $40. Recreation USA offers deeply discounted camping at participating campgrounds; membership is $44 a year. Explorer RV Club has a similar package and rates. Resort Parks International and Enjoy America! also offer camping discounts to members. In addition, there are RV timeshare programs from Coast-to-Coast, Thousand Trails, and others.
Choosing a Discount Camping Deal
Which discount camping deal — if any — should you consider? Much depends on how, when, and why you camp as well as what your camping budget looks like. If your budget is higher and you don’t want to mess with choosing campsites based on available discounts, these packages may not make sense. If you’re on a stricter budget (remember: travel more and spend less), you can reduce the average per-night costs by selecting a package that fits your travel plans. They make much more sense for campers who are on the road more than a couple of weeks a year. Here’s how to choose:
- Define how, when, and where you camp. Some discount camping deals are a better bargain if you travel in a specific region or prefer off-season camping. Others are more economical for longer-stays such as snow-birders or full-timers.
- Ask your favorite campgrounds which of these discount camping groups they participate in, if any.
- Check with each of these clubs to determine if there are limitations (first-night-only discounts, stay limits, off-season discounts, etc.)
- Buy it when you need it. Don’t purchase membership and let it languish until you’re ready to travel. Sign up just before you plan to use it.
- Quit when you no longer use the discounts.
- Ask for a trial campsite or period. Many participating discount campgrounds get a small commission if you purchase membership through them.
Bonus tip: If you or someone in your RV is 62 years of age or older, consider purchasing an America the Beautiful Senior Pass ($20 annually or $80 lifetime) that offers a 50% discount on admissions and camping. If you visit or camp at national parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests and grasslands, or federal lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, or U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, these and other passes can help you travel more and spend less. (Military personnel also get discounts and citizens with permanent disabilities get passes for free.)
>>Dan Ramsey, FrugalRV.com
Travel more – spend less!