Are Campground Discount Clubs Memberships Worth Buying?

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Oct 11, 2005
We (wife and I) are looking to travel extensively across the U.S. in a Casita travel trailer.  We are going to stay where feasible at BLMs, Nat/State parks, military rv parks.  In some posts I have read that KOAs are not a good value.  I have read that Passport America is a better buy.  It is hard to figure out very much in advance.  I guess the best thing to do is to post this, get input from all of you and then go out and get experience.
Passport America will get you 50% off at their member parks, while cards like KOA and Good Sam get you 10%.  In the case of KOA, most RVers think they're overpriced to begin with, so the card just gets the price down to something more normal.  Passport America will pay for itself in a very few nights and their network of member parks is sizable.  Every one who does any amount of camping should be a member.  I would also join Good Sam for the discount card, but be sure to tell them to keep you off the mailing lists or you'll get more mail from them than you would believe :)  Get the Trailer Life Campground Guide that shows which parks offer the Good Sam discount.

If you have a National Parks Pass, or if either of you is 62 or older a Golden Age Passport, you can stay for 50% off at the NPS, COE, and many other federal campgrounds.  The discount doesn't apply to BLM fee lands, but they're pretty cheap anyway.
Adding to Ned's comments, we've been disappointed with most KOA's we've stayed at. It's not just that they're overpriced, but most we've stayed at aren't nice parks and are often kinda cramped for a class A with slideouts, not to mention that many are busy and noisy. There are, of course, some exceptions.
IN addition to "discount clubs" there are campground memberships,  These are cases where you pay a bunch of front money, and a monthly or annual fee (Think condo maintance fees) and you use the parks either free for for very small change (IE: 5-10 dollars per night)

I have two of these...

Suggestion is you approach them with caution, Here is why

20 Years ago I bought my first one... Supposed to last as long as I did with free in-system camping and low-cost Assoication (Camp Coast to Coast) (in-system means the parks that are owned by the company I signed with)

Problem is that about 5 or so years ago they stopped being free, started charging $4.00/night for electrical hook up

And last month,, my "Home park" got siezed by the government for non-payment of taxes

I have to say however, in the 20+ years I've been a member... I feel I did get my money's worth out of it.

Now the 2nd membership which I bought earlier this year.. 1: Cost a bit more (Inflation don't you know)

But this park is kind of uniquie in the membership business as I can tell you exactly how much interest they pay on thier loans every month... ZERO.. they pay all their bills within 30 days and don't owe any bank anything at all.  Totaly Debt Free

Of course... There is a very good chance that they will become the new owners of the afoementioned "home park" once the government sells it
Be careful of memberships.  If the entry fee is below $100 and you are not contractually on the hook for annual fees you are probably OK.    Anyway you cannot be out all that much if it turns out a bummer. 

Frankly you may have some discounts already, if you are an AAA or AARP member.  Some CGs will discount for cash.  Ask.  Negotiate weekly or monthly rates.  If you are eligible for FamCamp you have the best deal going around.

KOAs may or may not be the most expensive CGs around.  I have seen CGs over $150/night and they weren't KOAs.  Yes, KOAs are tend to be noisy, they cater to families and car campers.    If you like a bit of activity they are fine.  Myself the quiet, 55+ parks, are not my cup of tea --- the sound of arteries hardening creeps me out.    When we walk out dawg, we like to see people out and about doing things. 

If one of you turns or has turned 62, get your self off to the nearest national park or monument and buy a Golden Age Passport.  It gets you in free to National parks and sites, and 50% off federal camping fees.  Best deal around.

Otherwise, relax.  Most RV parks are whole lot less than motels or hotels in the area. 
Carl Lundquist said:
When we walk out dawg, we like to see people out and about doing things.

You might not say that if you stayed at the West Yellowstone KOA when school is out. The place is just nuts and an accident waiting to happen. Scared the heck out of me just trying to drive in and out of the park with hundreds of kids running around unsupervised. Motorcycles/scooters racing around the blacktop made it downright dangerous to walk, not to mention making lots of noise.
Don't forget if you are any age and receive federal disability money you qualify for the Golden Access card which is free and works just like the Golden Age card for NPS, USFS and COE sites.

what Ned said

Don't even think of signing up for $n00/year until you've done this a while.
You might not say that if you stayed at the West Yellowstone KOA when school is out.

I have stayed at the park.  And it is a zoo of kids out of control.  But that is just careless park management.  At the time I was there, the damn fools were renting recumbent tricycles to kids to zap around the park roads on.  Deadly dangerous considering the size of the vehicles trying to manuever on those roads.

On the other hand, the KOA at Glacier West was superbly run with excellent sites for motorhomes, trailers, tents and cabins.  A loverly camp which even had a stop for the National Park shuttle service on site.  The difference -- the way the campground is managed.
I highly recommend Passport America but I cannot recommend GS junk mail generators or KOA.  While we do stay at KOA occasionally that only occurs if there is no other choice such as when visiting my sister in SLC VIP is now a KOA.
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