John and I knew that campground fees were going to be one of our biggest costs as we set out on this adventure. We don’t mind the occasional night of “boondocking” but we do love having full hook ups. One of the things that we wanted to make a decision on the first year was wether or not to get a campground membership. We purchased our Passport Americamembership but the savings on this are limited. Passport America is great for the times when we are traveling to our destinations vs. longer stays. The decision to purchase this membership was easy, at a price of just $35 for the year it saved us a ton. The decision about Thousand Trails was not as easy. Thousand Trails has many different memberships so it is pretty confusing when you first start out to figure out what is going to work for you and if it is going to work for you at all. There are 80 Thousand Trails resorts spread throughout the USA with most of them being on the West Coast and the East Coast. When we purchased our RV we were given a “trial” zone pass. There are 5 zones and we opted to activate the Southwest zone. The zone pass allows you to camp for 2-weeks at a time and then you need to be out of all Thousand Trail parks for a week and then you can go back in for another 2-weeks. You can repeat this all year during your membership. You get the first 30 nights of camping for no additional costs. Once you get past the 30 nights you pay $3-$5 per night. We decided we would utilize our first year with the trial membership to figure out if Thousand Trails was going to work for us and spend some time talking to other campers to figure out what kind of Thousand Trails pass might be the best. This first year we got as far as the Palm Springs- Thousand Trails and fell in love with the area.
We decided to just pay the monthly fee and stay put. We used our time there to explore other Thousand Trail Parks within a few hours commute to see if there were others we might like to stay at in the future. We decided Thousand Trails works for us. They are not the most luxurious campgrounds but they are clean and they have several that are in great locations for us to use as home bases to spend warm winters. If we had decided to stay with our zone pass we would have to renew yearly for a cost of $549. When you think about it, it’s pretty reasonable to be able to camp all year for just $549. So we had to make the following decision:
- Stay with our zone pass- we actually had a bonus zone of the Southeast as well. We had renewed the initial free pass for an additional year for $299 and were given a “free” extra zone
- Friends of ours had a nationwide pass that they were no longer using and they had offered to give it to us. There would be a $750 transfer fee and a yearly dues of $650. This would have given us access to all 5 zones. The 2-weeks in and one week out rule would still apply. There would no longer be an additional charge of $3-$5 per night after 30-nights. Our booking window would increase from 60-90 days. This is important when you are trying to get into really popular resorts.
- Buy a new Elite Pass- This gives you access to all zones and 3-week stays with no time out of a Thousand Trails Park. This means you can camp 3 weeks at one Thousand Trails resort and move right into the next resort. These new passes are pricey but Thousand Trails allows you to finance them, so if you don’t want to put up the full purchase price all at once these might be a good option of you
- Buy a “used” pass through a broker. We discovered Campground Membership Outlet at the FMCA show in Indio as well as having read about them on RV Love’s blog. We decided to give them a call to explore the possibility of purchasing a used membership. Chad and Kim Hoel from Campground Membership Outlet are absolutely fantastic to work with. They patiently explained all the different packages to us and answered all our questions. Once we spoke with them we decided that a used membership was going to be the best option for us.
The next decision was which one. This really came down to a decision between 2 different membership levels.
- Full Elite Membership-
- 120 day booking window
- Access to all 80 parks
- 3 weeks in a park and no time out of the system
- No fees for additional nights
- VIP Membership-
- 120 day booking window
- Access to only 60 parks- we would loose access to most of the parks on the east coast but would keep all those on the west coast and the 2 in Florida we were most interested in.
- No high use restrictions- this one was very important to us. We plan on using the pass to keep our camping costs down in the winter. The parks in Florida and Palm Springs put high use restrictions in place for most passes during the winter months. That means you can only stay in their resort for 2-weeks and you have to be out of that park for 28 days not 7 days. We know that in the winter we will want to be in Florida or Palm Springs and we want to be able to stay 3 weeks at a time.
We made the decision to buy a used VIP membership for around$2500 (we got a discount for seeing Campground Membership outlet at the FMCA show) and a yearly fee of $549
When we bought our “used” camping pass for Thousand Trails we received a membership to RPI (Resort Parks International). We just needed to activate it by paying the annual fee. This is a great complimentary membership to our Thousand Trails membership. You have a choice between activating RPI or RPI preferred. In addition to the RPI resorts you get discounts at Encore Resorts and membership in Enjoy America. The price for camping nights range from $10 and up per night. We are currently enjoying a discounted rate at Narrows Too in Trenton, Maine. The off season rate with this membership is $15 per night + a resort fee. The price per night without this membership is usually $50 per night. The current stay will pay for the $119 annual RPI preferred membership for the year.