Friday, August 21, 2009

Campground Membership Programs....Yes? or No?

The issue of campground memberships is a hot topic on the web forums. Most of the folks posting answers to the question on buying one is a resounding NO. I'll use this blog posting to explain the ones we have and why we like them. This photo shows the campground directories we use, including the Trailer Life Directory, which is not a membership directory but one that is heavily used by RVers. First off, I have to back up to 2001 when we got the first portion of our membership programs. We had bought a new motorhome in 2001 from Poulsbo RV in Kent, Washington. Along with the purchase came a "free camping membership" through K/M, a local Washington company. We had always been turned off by the idea of membership programs and never thought we'd buy into one. To validate this "free membership" we needed to go to K/M in Fife and listen to the talk.

As usual there was a catch. The "free membership" (value: $1,995.00 so the coupon read) was only good for our home park. The home park had to be the K/M park closest to your residence. For us that was the Travel Inn in the town of Elma, which was about 25 miles from our home. Yippee, we get to travel all the way to Elma to go camping for free. So, we listened to the rest of the talk and it sounded so much better if we'd just opt for the deluxe membership. We decided to go for it and we bought the deluxe membership with Coast to Coast privileges included. This allowed us to camp at all 8 K/M parks (7 in WA and 1 in OR) for free, up to 2 weeks at a time, with no out time. It included the C-2-C Deluxe plan, which allowed us to camp at resorts within the 125-mile limit if it was a "Deluxe" park. It also included annual dues that were frozen, which is the only way to go if you ask me. The extra purchase was $2,537.00 out of our pocket. Within the next couple of months we used this membership....once. Fact is, my mom got very bad with her cancer and all of our activities came to a grinding halt as we helped her cope with this and help my Dad take care of her. Then Bruce's mom got sick a year later with terminal cancer. We were able to put our membership on hold and that included our annual dues. No money on dues was spent for 3 years while we dealt with all of our responsibilities at home.

In between our two mom's illnesses we got an offer from K/M to upgrade our membership. Hmmmm. Let's go see about this we thought. OK, cut to the included the Platinum Plus upgrade and the addition of AOR, ROD, ACN parks. We took it. Cost: $2,994.00 out of our pocket (and we still weren't camping)

Fast forward to 2005: Both of our mom's had passed away by this time. We were now able to resume camping (actually get started camping is more like it). My widowed dad was living with us and we just took him out traveling with us. He had a fantastic time and enjoyed the RV life...which he had never participated in before. We reinstated our campground memberships and paid our annual dues. We were good to go. RV's seem to be made for 2 adults, but if we didn't include dad we just weren't going to go. It was better for the 3 of us to get out together and see new places. I called us the "Three Musketeers". In 2005 we took dad to Alaska for 7 weeks and in 2006 we took him to Nova Scotia for the entire summer.

The big question for people is "Are campground memberships a good deal, and are they worth the money they cost?" The answer is really an individual one as no two people have the same circumstances. Just speaking for ourselves, we think we like it. Here is how it all breaks down for us in real numbers:

Total paid for entire membership: $5,531.00

Annual dues (frozen): $667.58 inc. K/M, C 2 C, ROD, ACN, AOR

Daily camping costs:


Coast to Coast = $10.00

Good Neighbor Parks (C 2 C system) = $15.00

Resorts of Distinction (ROD) = FREE

Adventure Outdoor Resorts (AOR) = $9.00 + $3.00 reservation fee

ACN Resorts = $10.00 + $3.00 reservation fee

When figuring the true cost of camping, you must take the camp fee and factor in the daily cost of the annual dues you are paying. For instance, with Coast to Coast we pay $10.00. Then we have to figure we pay what amounts to an additonal $1.83 per day for the annual dues cost. (That $1.83 is for ALL of our annual dues). A total then of $11.83 per day. Even if we don't stay at a membership park, you are in essence still paying the $1.83 per day no matter where you park it.

Also, you must factor in the original cost of buying into programs in the first place. You can amortize that over the length of time you own the membership, but we can't know the number of years for that yet as we aren't done with it. But for purposes of this post, let's take the number 7, since that is the number of years we've had the full membership. Purchase price of $5,531.00 amortized over 7 years equals $790.00 per year. Divide that by 365 days in a year and you get $2.16, which must be added to the cost of daily camping. Of course, every year you keep your membership that cost diminishes. If we keep our membership a total of 17 years it will then amortize to 89 cents per day. Confusing, I know.

We are currently staying in a private park in Tumwater which has no membership benefits. The cost here is $395.00 per month. Divide that by 30 days and that is $13.17. We must consider annual membership dues (because we still pay that) so add another $1.83 per day for a total cost per day here of $15.00. Still a bargain in my book.

Our camping costs for this last RV journey broke down like this:

Total days away from Tumwater = 160

Free camp spots = 10 days

Trailer Life Directory parks = 13 days (various cost from $20 to $32 per day)

Salem Village in Virginia = 45 days ($10 per day)

ROD parks = 7 days (free)

Coast to Coast parks = 16 days ($10 per day)

Good Neighbor parks = 33 days ($15 per day)

Walt Disney World = 25 days (an arm and a leg)

Winnebago factory (free) = 11 days

We wanted to visit my cousin in Salem, Virginia and there were no member parks there. We stayed for $10 a day at Salem Village. The Winnebago factory parking was free and included electric hook-up with 50 amp. Disney World is way over the top in expense, but we bite the bullet always stay there.

When we are out on the road, we always try to find a membership park to stay at first. If we can't find one, we will check out the Trailer Life Directory and look for the least expensive choice that suits our needs. We also look for casinos with free overnight parking, a truck stop like Flying J, or WalMart if it is for a one-night stopover.

There can be some restrictions on length of stay at all the member parks. At K/M we can stay for 2 weeks at a time, but can go to consecutive K/M parks without penalty. So, if we never wanted to pay rent, I guess we could go from K/M park to K/M park for quite a while. Individual programs for our other member parks have varying restrictions. The program you purchase will determine what those restrictions are.

NOTE: we were uninformed on the availability of purchasing a membership program in a secondary market. We paid full retail price. We could have saved a lot of money if we had known about a resale market for time shares and camp memberships. We didn't...paid full retail....but it's money spent long ago and nothing we can do about it now. I would suggest that anybody searching for a member program look first at a resale market deal.

We have no idea on how many years we will be fulltiming or "camping". We hope it will be for a long, long time. We do have one other type of camp membership and that is with Pismo Coast Village down in Pismo Beach, California. This is a different deal, a time share plan that only includes the one RV resort. For this resort you buy a share of corporate stock. (limit 3 shares per family) These are all purchased on a secondary, resale market now, as the number of shares was limited and they have long ago been sold out. We inherited 1 share of stock from Bruce's parents who bought it back in 1984. After we sold our house in 2008, we decided to purchase a second share of stock. Now we have 2 shares. The deal here is you are allowed 45 days a year to camp free for each share you own. So, we are allowed 90 days a year of camping for free. No annual dues at all and you never pay another cent to camp there. Of course, we laid out a chunk of cash to buy the stock. In over 25 years of business, the shares of stock have only dipped once in price on the resale market. We aren't looking to make a profit on the second share we bought. We know we will at least get our purchase price back when we sell it in the future. There is always a waiting list of new buyers since no new shares can be sold by Pismo Coast Village. It was regulated in the original corporate charter. Of course, we will make a big profit on the one share that we inherited since it sold originally to Mom and Dad long ago and we never paid a penny for it. Pismo Coast has 400 campsites and they reserve 2/3 of them for shareholders. The remaining 1/3 are rented out to the public for about $40 to $50 per night. That is how they get the funds to maintain the resort and keep camping free for shareholders. We have reservations at Pismo in January and will stay for about 5 weeks; I'll blog about our time there when we get there.

I hope this wasn't too confusing. I tried to incorporate all of my thoughts on the topic, plus give real dollars and cents figures on what it all costs us. Now, you need to decide for yourselves....YES? or NO?

Until next long for now.


squawmama said...

Hi Margie, I don't know... Like you say some like it & some don't... I have Thousand Trails & Rod... We also have Passport America, Enjoy America... and a couple of others. We hardly use the membership parks because they are either too far from where we want to visit or there are none at all... So far I am not thrilled but have hung on to it because we will be out west next summer and we hope to use them out there. I have not thought any of the ones I visited were very nice... They could be with some upkeep but most of them are run down... If we find the ones out west are not nice I will be selling my membership and stick to COE parks, State Parks & Passport America...

Have Fun & Travel Safe

Jerry and Suzy said...

For us it's yes, even though we aren't traveling right now. Not counting the buy in costs (and we have Thousand Trails, ROD, C2C, AOR, Passport, etc.) we figured we were paying a total of about $11 a night, including dues, 365 nights a year. We bought THousand Trails many years before we retired, then got Coast to Coast early also. We counted those memberships as a down payment on retirement. Yes, some of the parks we visit are a little tacky, others are first rate. Some of the tacky ones are a lot of fun, some of the first rate ones are way over done. Each of us has our own preferences, and we're happy with our program.

NWlambear said...

Whew.....thanks for the rundown Margie. Sounds too complicated to me...At this point in time I think my husband and I are going with Passport America. We are retired Navy so will be utilizing military facilities when feasible....also we have our (senior and disabled) *America the Beautiful* Nat'l Parks and Federal Recreational Lands) access passes. We will be roaming around "frugally". Once we pay off the new Ford-250 and new 2010 Cougar 5th Wheel...things will be much easier. We are sill holding on to our home/property in WA for now.....its our "investment...since we got hit pretty hard with our other investments...groan. But..we have each other and we are going to follow our dream and see how it goes! Safe travels to you... ~Tricia

Anonymous said...

Everything is very open with a very clear description of the challenges.
It was really informative. Your website is useful.
Many thanks for sharing!

Also visit my site; psn Code generator