Which RV Memberships are Best?
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Which RV Memberships are Best?

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Before we started RVing, I didn’t know RV memberships were a thing. Really, I didn’t know full-time RVing before retirement was a thing.

We jumped into full-timing with little knowledge or experience in the RV world. Our goal was not to be RVers. Our goal was to visit all fifty states. Turns out, buying an RV was the most affordable way to make this happen. And so we bought a fixer upper off of Craigslist, planned our route, and took off four days after our wedding.

Because it took us so long to pack up the RV and hit the road on that first day, we knew we wouldn’t end up arriving at a campground until after camp offices closed at five pm. Instantly we were faced with an unforeseen problem: How do you check into a campground if there is no one there?

Before we left Texas to head west, we joined only one RV membership at the suggestion of a friend: Passport America. We had no idea how to use it or how it all worked.

I found a campground near our destination using Passport America’s app and gave them a call. The woman in the office told me to find any open site and set up camp for the night. She said to drop by in the morning after the office opened and pay for our stay. We were shocked by this for a few reasons:

  1. She wasn’t worried at all about us not paying.
  2. She accepted our Passport America discount (50% off) without asking for a member number.
  3. This campground with wifi, a heated pool, and a hot tub cost $19.

Instantly, I fell in love with Passport America. (Really I’ll fall in love with any campground that offers a hot tub).

I’m all about saving money on the road, so RV memberships are high on my list of things worth paying for each year. In this post, I’ll break down the most popular five RV memberships, their benefits, how much they cost, and if I think they are worth it.

The Top Five RV Memberships (based on popularity)

Good Sam Club

Website: http://www.goodsamclub.com/

Good Sam Club is Good Sam’s reward program (a separate fee from their insurance, roadside assistance, and any other services).

Nugget RV Park in St. Regis, Montana

Benefits

  • 10% off camping fees at participating campgrounds
  • Over 2,100 participating campgrounds
  • Up to 30% savings at Camping World
  • 3¢ off the gallon at Pilot and Flying J

Cost:

  • $27 annually
  • $50 for two years
  • $69 for three years

The Problem with Good Sam

Good Sam is one of those companies people love to talk crap about. This is especially true with RV park owners. As a user, I’m grateful that most RV parks right off the highway are part of Good Sam. The discount isn’t much, but having the little Good Sam icon on their RV park makes me more likely to choose that park over other nearby campgrounds.

However, here’s what I’ve heard from park owners: RV park owners pay thousands of dollars to be listed on Good Sam Club’s website and in their phone book of listings. Not even for big ads promoting the park, just to have their name as part of the database. That’s RIDICULOUS amounts of money parks are conned into paying–especially since most RVers do not go to GoodSamClub.com/travel/campgroundsandrvparks to search for a place to stay.

Here’s where it gets worse: GS assigns a three-part ranking to every participating park. It rates the facilities, the restrooms, and the appeal. After talking to multiple RV park owners, these numbers directly correlate to how much the RV park pays Good Sam for advertising.

Take the ratings at a recent park we visited, for example:

rv memberships good sam club

Good Sam says this park should be super awesome, but the reviews by actual RVers are terrible. Basically, Good Sam is the Yelp of the RV world.

Oh, my other problem with Good Sam: they send you mail. Like, a TON of mail. All of which are trying to upsell you on their other services–even services you already use. They send me mail at least once a week trying to sell me products of theirs that I already own and trying to convince me to buy more. SO ANNOYING.

Is Good Sam Club worth it?

If the average price of an RV park is $35, you save $3.50 per night with Good Sam. This means you’ll need to use your GS membership discount for at least a week of camping to make back your investment before you actually start saving money.

We used our Good Sam discount for less than ten nights this past summer–most notably for a week-long stay at Nugget RV Park. While we loved this particular RV park and have stayed here twice after leaving Glacier National Park, when it comes to saving money on the road, Good Sam isn’t a great investment.

We’ve used Good Sam for nearly three years and I highly doubt it’s saved us more than $5 in that time frame. The 10% discount isn’t enough to make a huge difference. (However, I definitely recommend Good Sam’s Roadside Assistance which has saved us hundreds of dollars.)

Passport America

Website: https://www.passportamerica.com

Passport America is the 50% Discount Camping Club.

Benefits

  • 50% off camping fees at participating campgrounds
  • Nearly 2,000 participating campgrounds
  • Easy-to-use mobile app
  • Affiliate referral program

Cost:

  • $44 annually
  • $79 for two years
  • $109 for three years

Arizona Oasis RV Park off I-10 on the AZ-CA border 

The Problem with Passport America

Passport America parks have a reputation for not being very nice. We’ve definitely stayed at some trashy $12 parking lots that call themselves RV parks.  However, we’ve also stayed at a bunch of RV resorts with pools, hot tubs, good wifi, game rooms, and all the perks that come with resort RV parks. The good thing about Passport America is that you can really easily view amenities. You cannot however see real reviews like you can with Good Sam.

Here’s Passport America’s webpage for Valencia Travel Village, the RV park where we always stay when we visit LA:

passport america los angeles rv memberships

I can easily see on their website (or on their app) that this park has a pool, hot tub, golf, tennis, a playground, and more. They even offer security, so I know this will be nicer than most RV parks out there. If you pay attention to these icons, you can get a good idea of what an RV park will be like before you arrive. But again, PA does not have any reviews or any way to directly read real customer reviews to give you a better sense of what the RV park is like.

Is Passport America worth it?

Passport America pays for itself in two nights, or even with one use if you use it in California where it pays for itself pretty much instantly. Hands down, every single RVer should join Passport America. We’ve saved hundreds of dollars over the past 2+ years because of PA.

But you shouldn’t just join Passport America to save money. PA is also a great way to make money on the road.

Passport America offers $10 affiliate commissions for all referrals. So, if you use my link to sign up for Passport America, I earn $10 for referring you. For Heath and I, this is a great way for us to promote a product we use constantly and also make a little extra cash. Plus, if you sign up a campground for Passport America, you can earn up to $100 for the referral (but Heath and I have never done this).

If you want join Passport America and start saving money on camping fees, I’d be over the moon if you used our referral link here.

Escapees

Website: https://www.escapees.com/

Escapees RV Club is a support network for Rvers.

Perks

Cost:

  • $39.95/annually
  • $850 for lifetime

The Problem with Escapees

I joined Escapees thinking that it was another RV park discount program. They do have some RV parks that offer Escapees members discounts, but Escapees is more about community and life on the road than about saving money.

If you’re looking for another discount program, this is not the place to look. Here’s what their website says: There are nineteen Escapees parks located from Washington State to Florida with unique options and nearly 1,000 commercial RV parks that offer a 15-50% discount.

However, I couldn’t easily find a place where these RV parks are listed and found this confusing.

Is Escapees worth it?

Finding community and connecting to other RVers on the road is not easy. We are often asked how to meet other RVers and how to combat loneliness on the road.

Escapees offers meet-ups and rallies all across the country as a way to help connect RVers. There are 11 rallies being hosted this month alone. Here’s a picture from our friend Melanie (who runs Escapees) from their last big rally at the annual Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta.

Plus, they have hundreds of articles and videos on their website to answer all of your RV-related questions–which is great for new RVers. This is especially helpful when it comes to needing quick maintenance advice you can trust.

join escapeesIf you are new to RVing, Escapees is a great membership for helping you learn more about the ins and outs of RVing and connect with other full-timers.

Plus, they also have “Xcapers” for younguns like Heath and I. If you’re a “young” RVer (basically if you’re under 50, you’re young) then this is another great way to meet RVers who are not retirees. No offense retirees, but it’s nice to meet working-age RVers too 🙂

*If you join Escapees, will you let them know we referred you? When signing up, just choose “Heath and Alyssa Padgett” from the drop down menu.

You can snag an Escapees membership here.

Thousand Trails

Website: https://www.thousandtrails.com/

Thousand Trails offers a slightly different kind of membership club. For a larger upfront fee, you can camp without charge for up to 14 or 30 days at a time (depending on the level of membership you purchase) at one of the participating Thousand Trails campgrounds.

thousand trails zones

Perks

  • 86 campgrounds in five “zones” across the country
  • “Free” camping in your selected zone

Cost:

  • $545 annually

The Problem with Thousand Trails

Just to upfront here: I’ve never heard a good thing about Thousand Trails. I’ve heard it can difficult to work with, confusing, poor customer service, and not great parks, since these parks are more designed for families with kids.

Is Thousand Trails worth it?

Probably not. The idea behind Thousand Trails is awesome. You pay an annual fee, you can at their locations for free all year, you save thousands of dollars on lodging and save time researching campgrounds.

It sounds like a great way to save money, and if the company was more well-run, then it might be. However, I do not recommend buying Thousand Trails, just based on the reviews. Not worth the hassle!

Here is more in depth review on Thousand Trails from some friends at Ditching Surburbia who we know and trust.

Harvest Hosts

Website: https://www.harvesthosts.com/

What a view to wake up to, Finger Lakes winery with #Harvesthosts.

A photo posted by Don Greene (@harvesthosts) on

Harvest Hosts is a unique RV membership that allows campers to park their RV for free (for one night) at select wineries, vineyards, breweries, farms and museums.

Perks

  • One free night of camping
  • Good way to meet locals
  • 500+ locations

Cost:

  • $40 annually

The Problem with Harvest Hosts

When you’re parking at HH sites, you likely won’t have hookups of any kind. Plus, in accordance with Harvest Hosts setup, participating business owners typically will only allow you to stay for one night.

However, I know from lots of friends that the nicer you are (and the more wine, beer, etc. you buy), the more likely it is that you’ll be allowed to stay longer.

Is Harvest Hosts worth it?

In one night, Harvest Hosts theoretically pays for itself.

However, the idea behind HH is that you camp for free (saving yourself at least $35) in exchange for purchasing products. Since most participating HH businesses are wineries or breweries, this is a great way to immerse yourself in the local area and try local flavors. However, buying a couple bottles of wine will easily run you more than the cost of campsite.

For saving money, this isn’t the best membership. However, for meeting people, exploring a local area, and having a good night of food and drink, HH is awesome! Plus, with HH you can escape from being in a parking lot surrounded by other RVers and actually park somewhere with space and a view.


As far as RV memberships go, Heath and I actively use Passport America, Good Sam, and Escapees (in that order). After wintering in Texas, we plan on buying Harvest Hosts for our tour of the east coast in 2017.

Which RV memberships do you use? Share with us in the comments below

Follow Alyssa Padgett:

Travel blogger

Second half of Team Padgett and full-time traveler in our Winnebago Brave. I blog about our travels, how I run our production company from the road, and the ridiculous things Heath does on a daily basis. My husband thinks I'm funny.

  • Lensming

    We belong to three [that I can think of]: 1. Passport America-completely agree with your assessment. We got an excellent lifetime membership deal by getting in on the ground floor. We use it whenever we can, and the phone app makes it VERY easy to search for their campgrounds. 2. Good Sam-sure, it’s only a 10% discount, but it’s better than paying full price. People your age, if you’re committed to the lifestyle, should go ahead and get the Lifetime Membership, then get their Pilot/Flying J CHARGE card [not a credit card] because you then save 6¢/gallon for gas and 8¢/gallon for diesel. And yes, you do get a ton of mail. 3. Escapees-we are Lifetime Members and have not really received much value from it yet, but that’s our own fault. We thought we were going to be able to full time and planned on using their mail service and using them to establish residency. 4. Freedom Resorts-we’ve only belonged for a few years but have yet to be able to receive any benefit from it. We also agree about Thousand Trails. Not only do you have to subscribe to more than one region if you travel the country, I’ve never heard anything good about them, either. And I’ve also heard that once you’re in, you can never get out. They will come after your estate after you die to get their fees.

    • Jerry Dickinson

      I have found that the Flying J/ Pilot thing is tricky. Some are called Super Centers or Travel Centers and they are the only ones that accept the card. There are a lot of smaller stations the have the name but do not accept the card. At least that is the way here on the east coast and in the mid west.

      • Hey Lensming, great to hear that you’ve had a similar experience. The app for Passport is definitely one of the few apps in the industry that we’ve found really helpful.

      • Agreed! We never use that perk because they make it too difficult to use.

      • Lee Ensminger

        Jerry, I’m sorry you’ve had trouble. That has not been our experience at all, and we’ve used it all over the U.S. with the exception of the northeast. We haven’t been up there yet. I think we’ve only had one station refuse the discount…and I wish I could remember where it was. When we’re traveling in our Class A diesel pusher, it just makes it so much easier to go into the truck stops for fuel, with the added benefit that it’s always fresh, since they sell such a large quantity of it.

        • Jerry Dickinson

          I agree the travel Centers are a great place to stop, they have dump stations and RV parking. But when you head east you may find your card says “see cashier” or just ignores the card. Just try to look for Travel Center instead of what looks like a gas station. Maybe it is just the Southeast. Hopefully that is true because I plan to head west in the spring. Happy Trails

    • Haha Thousand Trails is like the mafia of the RV world! That’s terrible. I didn’t know about getting 6 cents off per gallon with the charge card for GS. That sounds like it would be worth it!

  • Jerry Dickinson

    I have a life membership to Good Sam being a veteran. You are right about the up sells. I don’t even look at the crap that comes in the mail, I just drop it in recycle. It seems like the road service was $69 last year this year $129. I have a 2 year old class c MH. Not going for road service this year. I guess in the spring when we head out on our next adventure I will do Passport America (through your site). Glad to see you guys are heading for the east coast. Visit Myrtle Beach area in South Carolina and I have a hookup at the house. We are retirees and travel frequently but still like the homestead to come back to. Thanks for all your valuable info,

    • Hey Jerry! Thanks for reaching out man. We’ve heard so many awesome things about Myrtle Beach and definitely plan on making a trip to that area. That’s a bummer to hear about the road side increase in spending… we haven’t looked closely at that lately (but it’s come in handy for us).

      Thanks for reading and also for getting your Passport through our link! You rock and have a Happy Thanksgiving!

  • We’ve been using Thousand Trails as our primary campgrounds since we started RVing. I’ve always heard great things in person from other campers but I’ve also read a lot of negative online. We’ve stayed in over 25 of them usually for 3 weeks at a time and have LOVED it. It took awhile to figure out how to get the most out of it but once we dialed in our process of vetting sites, campgrounds, things to do, etc it’s been seriously incredible.

    • Good to know! How much do you think y’all have saved using TT?

      • We’ve never thought about it as saving, Danielle originally wanted thousand trails cause it was easy and you know you’re getting a good site with amenities at a fair price. If you add up the days we’ve spent at TT over the past two and a half years and assume a rate of $35 per night (I’m not actually sure what most people spend per night), it comes to around $22,000. We’ve spent around $1,800 for 3 years and an initial investment of $1,600 by purchasing a used nationwide membership online. By that calculation it would have saved us just over $18k. We’ve been able to stay at some insanely awesome campsites!

        • Jessica G

          @shorelooksnice. I would love your list of great TT campgrounds and ones to avoid! We haven’t left yet out on the road yet but have found our truck and fifth wheel. Just researching health insurance and best ways to find campgrounds without paying $20,000+ in campground fees.

        • Sounds like a good deal to me! It’s good to finally hear someone that has had a good experience with it. It’s one of those memberships that I would love to have because it sounds like such a great deal, but everyone said it wasn’t worth it!

        • Eric!

          Thanks for the in depth explanation of Thousand Trails. That’s the best part of having comments on a blog is to have other people chime and offer up suggestions/advice.

          Excited to interview you on the podcast tomorrow!

          Heath

  • Thanks for the link! That page on TT gets more search traffic than just about any other on our site. Keep expecting TT to contact us saying “can we talk”?

    • Whoa now, that seems like waaaay too 2016 of a response for the RV industry. They will probably reach out in 5-10 years once they’ve caught up to current times.

  • Geri Ventura

    What are your thoughts on RPI (Resort Parks International)? They seem to have nicer campgrounds and facilities than TT – but have a similar membership plan…We will be starting our Full Time adventure this spring …

    • Never heard of it or encountered it out on the road!

      • Geri Ventura

        We were given a sales pitch from “Neskowin Creek” Reps at Camping World in Wood Village (Portland) Oregon after purchasing our new mini McMansion (Winnebago Vista 36y). A Membership – or purchase – into this program provides free (7-14 night interval) stays all year long to your “home park” and optional membership benefits (7-14 night interval stays for $10 per night) at RPI and “Coast” Parks. Online Reviews at the parks seemed much better than TT and some TT and Encore parks are also part of the RPI group. Up front fees/memberships vary from $1500 – $8000 and annual maintenance fees are $100-$700 depending on which membership you go with – (as with dealing with a car salesman – the membership and annual fees seemed to vary depending on your eagerness to purchase.) We have not joined – but have not discounted a membership yet…We expect to be hitting the road for our FT adventure in the early spring, once our house sells. We are fortunate in that we also have a property on a lake in central CA that we can call “home” if we run into any unforseen health issues or unexpected expenses on the road.

  • Interesting comparison, but Thousand Trails isn’t the same kind of membership as the others. It’s apples and oranges.

    I think it all depends on the type of traveler you are. For example I have a Thousand Trails Elite Membership and a Passport America membership. With TT I paid $5,000 for the Elite membership and have to pay a yearly maintenance fee of around $500. This allows me to stay at any TT park nationwide for up to 21 days at a time, and then I just move on to the next TT park for another 21 days and so on. It also allows me to stay at any RPI campground for $10 per night. I RV full-time and I like that most TT “preserves” are off the beaten track. It’s true that a lot of them can use some renovations, but a lot of them are very nice. And while there are plenty of TT campgrounds on the coasts and Texas, there are few in the middle states and that’s where the $10 per night RPI part comes in. Since most of the year I travel from one TT campground to the next, the membership fee is more than fair. Before going full time I paid $1300 in rent per month. That’s over $15k for the year in rent. $5500 beats that hands down.

    I love PA, but I can’t always get the 50% off, and if I do the discount is often only for two nights. I like to stay at one spot for at least a week or two. But if you are one that likes to boondock a lot and stay at the occasional RV park then PA makes sense. Plus, it’s accepted at so many RV parks which is nice. Really, for $44 there is no reason not to have a PA membership card.

    Financially, if you want to stay hooked up with water and electricity all the time but still travel, it would look something like this…

    Thousand Trails Elite – First year is $5500 and after that it’s only $500 per yr

    Passport America – 50% off of a typical rate of $40 per night = $20 x 365 = $7300 per yr every year

    And that’s why I say that it depends on what kind of RV traveler you are. Again, if you boondock or want to stay at national parks, etc. then PA is the way. All that being said, TT is not for everyone. It’s best to stay at a couple of TT parks and pay the public fee to try it out first. And you’ll want to have a tow vehicle because they are rarely within walking or biking distance of anything.

    • Really none of these memberships are the same. Harvest Hosts has nothing to do with RV parks or discounts and Escapees isn’t primarily for camping discounts at all. Thousand Trails is definitely way different than PA or Good Sam. The most similar thing is Resort Parks International, and I’m pretty sure they own or at least partner with TT. But yes, definitely agree that deciding which memberships to buy depends wholly on what type of travel you enjoy.