One of the best ways we have of keeping costs down for overnight stays is the use of Membership Campgrounds. We belonged to Western Horizon Resorts (WHR) as our ‘homepark system’, which has gone out of business leaving only Blue Mesa in Gunnison, CO as our Home Park, and have Resorts of Distinction (ROD), Adventures Outdoor Resorts (AOR), and Coast-to-Coast (C2C) as our affiliated park systems. The costs range from $0/night in ROD parks, to $10/night in AOR and C2C parks.
We added the Thousand Trails (TT) Zone Pass (for Southwest and Northwest) as they are no longer part of the ROD affiliation, but have lots of parks in areas that we frequently visit, currently we get 30 nights at no charge with our yearly dues at TT then $3/night after that. Sometimes there is also a charge for 50 amp, sometimes, not.
First, some terms:
Membership Park. A RV Park that sells memberships allowing members to spend a certain number of days each year in the park for a predetermined amount as long as yearly dues are maintained.
Park System. Two or more parks owned by the same person/company, with the same rules covering your stay in any of the parks. Some common ones include Thousand Trails (TT), K-M Parks, Sunrise Parks, Outdoor World.
Affiliate Parks. A reciprocal arrangement between membership parks to increase the number of places that their members can stay throughout the country. Coast-to-Coast is probably the most well known of these affiliated system. Each member park designates a certain number of sites that are set aside for affiliated use. You first have to belong to a home park that is a member of Coast-to-Coast (for example), then you buy an affiliated membership to be able to use other C2C parks. We have found that it is advantageous to have more than one affiliate as one may have only a few sites at each park (ROD for example) and another will have more sites (C2C as an example) and if you can’t get in under one affiliate membership you often can under another one.
Commonly Used Abbreviations:
AOR* Adventure Outdoor Resorts (Owned by WHR)
C2C * Coast To Coast resorts
ROD * Resorts of Distinction
TT Thousand Trails
RPI * Resort Parks International (Owned by TT)
* -- Affiliated Systems
Buy New Or Used?
Look into buying a used membership to save money. There are usually several different ones advertised on eBay, advertised in the advertising section of the Escapee forum, as well as other places, including the back of most of the RV magazines. When you have found one that seems right to you, get the membership # and call the company's office to make sure you know what is or isn't include with that particular contract. Every contract is different. Do not assume that the affiliates that an individual has (ROD, AOR, C2C, RPI) come with the park membership. Often you will need to purchase those after you have purchased the used membership and that could significantly affect the price, again depending upon the specific contract. There may be times when a new membership will be cheaper than a used one, especially if you are the second or third owner of the contract and it can not be resold, just dropped. Make sure that you know what the surrender terms are if you just decide to drop the membership.
If you are reading on the various RV forums you will undoubtedly read several posts by people who are ferocious in their opposition to membership parks. Some of these people have had unfortunate experiences in the past, some of them did understand how to use their memberships, and for some, they just keep perpetuating misinformation such as:
•You can only go where there are membership parks. This is so obviously untrue that it is laughable. You stay where you want. Of course if a membership park is near where you want to go, you would be foolish not to use it.
•You are forced to keep paying dues until you die or you sell the membership. This is partially true, in that if you purchase a membership on a time payment schedule, you have to keep paying off the note. However, if you purchase a resale, or pay up front for the membership if new, then you can either give it away, sell it to someone else, or in writing inform the owners of the park/system that you wish to terminate your membership at the end of the current year. The membership contract will have the information in it as to the specific way to terminate your membership - make sure you highlight that for future reference. There was a time when membership parks did try to make people keep paying, but they were sued and the courts ruled for members against the parks/systems.
•All membership parks are in areas where there is nothing else around and it is hard to get to them. While some parks are in remote areas and are destinations themselves, others are located near major cities or other major tourist attractions. This is especially true when you add in the parks available to you through affiliated systems (ROD, C2C, AOR, etc.)
There is no easy way; you have to read, read, read the contract to make sure you understand what you are and are not getting. But, if you do it right, you will find that it will save you significant amounts of money provide that you USE it. If you are fulltiming, then using membership parks for 100 or more nights a year can significantly lower your per night costs.