There are many RV membership clubs and web-based services that you can join for an annual fee - each offering something slightly different.
While club rallies and magazines are nice, for us the club needs to have some more measurable advantages.
The biggest cost of RV travel, other than fuel, is camping. Even consummate boondockers like us can't find free camping every night or every place we visit.
(UPDATE: That's going to get easier. We saw a need for a new club and created our own - Boondockers Welcome - it gives us access to a whole new avenue of free camping - on the private property of fellow members! )
Aside from Boondockers Welcome, we belong to three other RV membership clubs and are signed up for two other related services. To see which ones, scan to the bottom of the page.
Because they're all a little different, comparing RV membership clubs is like comparing apples to oranges - depends on what you're looking for. I decided, for our purposes, to compare only one aspect:
If you haven't noticed - we're frugal. We wouldn't join just for the social aspects or the incidental benefits like roadside assistance, which we've got coverage for elsewhere, or a free magazine, which we like but wouldn't necessarily buy.
Some years, when we travel to the southwestern states, we hardly ever camp in a campground. But it's harder to find boondocking options in some places than others - for instance, in densely populated areas such as the Eastern United States, Southern Ontario, and anywhere in the vicinity of large cities. When traveling in these areas, we sometimes end end up in more campgrounds than we prefer.
With the cost of camping in most of these areas rising to the point of crazyness, a 10% RV membership club discount is just a drop in the bucket. We'd rather spend the night in a parking lot (Walmart or otherwise) than fork over $30.00 a night to sleep in our own bed which is just as comfortable, no matter where it's parked. So, when we do use an RV membership club discount at a campground, we want it to be substantial -50% seems fair.
Most of the RV membership clubs have on-line directories you can view. Study the directories for the area you'll be traveling in and you will notice that many of the same parks appear in each and every directory. But the discount may vary...anywhere from 10% to 50%. If you join more than one RV membership club, do your homework, ask for the higher discount, and check to be sure that you get it.
There are three that I've found - All have campground directories that you can view on-line before you sign up.
By comparing these directories, I found that a large percentage, maybe as much as 75%, of the same campgrounds are listed with each of these clubs. It also stands to reason that the same restrictions will apply as to when the discounts are accepted. Not having to compare those aspects allowed me to compare the clubs a little easier.
Most campgrounds won't honour the club discounts during holidays and weekends and some block off entire weeks or months in peak season. You can expect good, well-run parks but not five-star amenities. You may have to drive five or ten miles out of the way and, sometimes, phone ahead for a reservation. However, if saving money is the objective, camping at $12.00 or $15.00 per night sure beats $25.00 or $30.00.
Of course, it will also depend on campsites being available but that would apply whether you're a member of a club or not. Chances are you stand a good chance of getting a site on the days (non peak times) when the discounts apply.
The following clubs offer 50% camping discounts:
$45.00 or $40.50 per year if you sign up for two years.
Camping Benifits: 10% dicount at camprounds in directory. (A higher discount up to 25% offered at some). Members get $10.00 off a Passport America membership. No indication of how many campgrounds are in the directory but it can be viewed on line before joining.
We have belonged to this Canadian-based RV membership club since we purchased our first RV eleven years ago. Although it has a few other advantages, the main reason we belong is because the $45.00 annual membership gives us a $47.00 discount on our RV insurance with Wayfarer Insurance who, after shopping around, has the best rate we could come up with anyway. So really, the membership is free and even puts us ahead by $2.00 a year. I like no-brainers like that!
Annual Cost: $70.00 ($80.00 for Canadians) and an additional $10.00 your first year. Note: Passport America members don't pay this $10.00 so, if you're going to join both, do it in the right order.
This club, the highest priced, still seems to be voted everyone's favorite RV membership club! Membership gets you a minimum of 15% discount and up to 50% off at approximately 1000 campgrounds in the program. (137 listings are at 50% off.) You are sent a directory guide after joining but there's no indication of which campgrounds are in the program before joining.
The club offers some unique benefits and is one of the only clubs that
encourages and offers advice for boondocking, but the main reason to join, as
far as saving on camping is concerned, is to have access to the 19 five-star RV
parks owned or co-operated by the club. These are spread across the mid and
lower states. Escapee members can camp with hook-ups in these parks for $10 to
$15 per night. Weekly and monthly rates are available with weekly rates at all
the parks under $100.00. All of them also offer a dry camping option for $5.00
a night (limited to anywhere between 3 to 21 days depending on the park).
Joining would easily pay for itself if you want to spend time in the areas
where these parks are located.
Day's End Directory
A list of boondocking sites and cheap campgrounds compiled by SKP members. The directory is only available to Escapee Club members and the cost is an additional $15.00 annually for a cd or $10.00 annually for a download. Contribute or update entries and you can bring your fees down.
Annual Cost: Membership is cheaper than the other clubs (other than Boondockers Welcome): 1 year $ 25.00 ($22.00 with automatic renewal) or 2 years for $45.00, and 3 years for $59.00 with a full refund guarantee if you're not happy in the first year.
Benefits include a 10% discount at 1600 campgrounds plus 10% discount at some RV parts and accessories outlets. The campground directory is available on line but prices are vague and restrictions not mentioned. (Maybe, at only 10%, there are none?)
Save between $3.00 and $16.00 on a Good Sam Club membership by clicking on the following image link:
Annual Cost: $44.00 ( or 6 months for $34.00)
You can choose between two different systems at different participating campgrounds: Some offer $10.00 camping (or slightly more) for members, others, a 25% discount. Perhaps the club is still in it's infancy, but the number of participating campgrounds is limited, with eleven states having no listings yet. You can view the directory before joining and restrictions are noted.
Annual Cost: $ 35.00
Modelled after similar programs across Europe, membership lets you spend a night parked at more than 340 locations across the USA - mostly at wineries and specialty farms, (likely to be a country setting). The program is fairly new (2010) so I expect the list of participants will keep growing.
Annual Cost: $24.95. Tell them who referred you ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) to receive an extra month for free.
A subscription to this on-line service for RVers might save you more frustration than money. If you're into "blacktop boondocking", it can keep you from driving out of your way to the nearest Walmart, Flying J, highway rest stop, or Cracker Barrel Restaurant, only to find out all the rules are different here and you won't be allowed to stay overnight. There are other guides on the market for this information, but I like this website because RVers themselves are encouraged (and rewarded by discounts on future renewals) to keep the information up to date.
The Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks is, of course, not an RV club but, if you qualify, being a member comes with RV parking benefits. There are 2000 lodges across the USA and many offer free (donation requested) RV overnight parking for members, (actually, we have used it as a non member and no one noticed - just make the donation!) Some lodges even have campgrounds with hook-ups.
Reasons: They have more campgrounds and are cheaper than the other two 50% off clubs. The directory is downloadable - a pdf document that we store on our computer or kindle and so we don't need an extra printed directory book in our small RV.
Reasons: As I mentioned above, for us, a no-brainer. The membership gets us only10% off at campgrounds which is why I felt we needed the Passport American membership too.
I joined this one just because I want to know why everyone loves it so much
and because, after months on end of boondocking, I like the idea of $5.00 dry
camping in 5-star resorts - at least once in a while.
Through the club, we also subscribe to the Days End Directory.
Reasons: The free wine tastings without having to worry about driving afterwards! Our favorite bottle of wine is bound to cost us less than a campground.
Reasons: Mainly because the website is a great idea and I want to support it. We don't prefer to stay in parking lots but, like everyone, we do it, in a pinch and usually have no trouble finding a legal option. I'll report back on how useful I found the site to be.
Add it all up and, yes, after years of RVing without, we are suddenly heavily invested ($136.00 this year) in RV membership clubs. Why? (Funny, Randy asked me that too) - It's so that I can figure out if it's worth it. I'll get back to you on that!
Two Years Later - CONCLUSION and an UPDATE:
We've used all of the clubs we joined, some more than others but each has been benificial for its own reasons. Of all of them, Escapees gets my vote as the best for boondockers; the annual fee is high but offers good value, especially if you use the SKP Parks and Days End Directory.
We have also created and launched a club of our own - one for all RVers, whether they consider themselves boondockers or not. Boondockers Welcome is a place for RVers to connect and exchange invitations to park on their respective private properties. Since it's our own creation, I may be biased and tooting my own horn but it is quickly becoming one of the best-rated RV membership clubs and the best value (it has the lowest annual fee)!