Membership camping: Be an informed consumer

September 26, 2010 by Rex Vogel · 25 Comments  
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Jack and Mildred Kidwell, a Reynoldsburg, Ohio, couple told Columbus they’ve paid more than $20,000 over the past 25 years for a campground membership. When they stopped paying their yearly membership dues two years ago, creditors started calling.

Thousand_Trails_Logo_ResizedIn 1985, Jack and Mildred Kidwell were in their late 40s when they bought a Thousand Trails camping membership. Since then, they have paid thousands of dollars in finance charges and membership dues.

Kidwell indicated that the couple tried to sell or cancel the membership, but the company refused.

In 2001, Kidwell said, his annual dues rose from $272 to $500 and in the last two years, he and Mildred decided to stop paying and the creditors are calling.

“It is just a thing, there is no end to it,” said Kidwell. “I just want them off my back and to quit trying to bill me for more money.”

“In this particular contract there is no right of rescission, that’s an important element to look for in any contract,” said Joan Coughlin, Spokesperson for the Central Ohio Better Business Bureau.

Right of Rescission is language that allows the buyer with notice, to terminate a contract.

“This particular company has an F rating with the Better Business Bureau, so it’s got a bad track record already,” said Coughlin.

The next step for the Kidwells is to contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office to file a complaint.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) provides consumers with the following suggestions:

Verde Valley Preserve, a Thousand Trails membership campground between Camp Verde and Cottonwood and near Sedona, Arizona. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Verde Valley Preserve, a Thousand Trails membership campground between Camp Verde and Cottonwood and near Sedona, Arizona. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Research the track record of the company before you buy

Ensure that everything the salesperson promises is written into the contract

Don’t act on impulse or under pressure

Study the paperwork outside of the presentation environment

Ask about your ability to cancel the contract, referred to as a “right of rescission”

If, for some reason, you decide to cancel the purchase, cancel it in writing

There is considerable information, misinformation, and confusion about membership camping and discount camping clubs. In order to assist the consumer in making an informed decision I have recently posted a series of nine articles on my website.

Disclaimer: I am a member of Thousand Trails, Western Horizon Resorts, and Passport America camping club but do not represent them or sell memberships.

Worth Pondering…

Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm, and harmony.

—Thomas Merton

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If you enjoyed this article, you might also wish to read

Membership Campgrounds & Discount Camping Clubs, Part 9

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Hoover Dam Bypass Project: An Update

Teardrop trailers sees upswing in sales

Sea Center Texas greets its millionth visitor

If you enjoy these articles and want to read more on RV travels and lifestyle, visit my new website: Vogel Talks RVing

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25 Responses to “Membership camping: Be an informed consumer”

  1. John Hills on September 26th, 2010 4:57 pm

    Thousand Trails got us to visit one of their campgrounds for ‘free two nights’.. We we hit with the hardest of hard sales that we have ever encountered. Will never recomment them to anyone just because of the high pressure sales practice.

  2. Barry Schmidt on September 26th, 2010 5:19 pm

    Before any such contract is signed, it should be reviewed with a magnifying glass so that the small print won’t be missed. Since Thousand Trails evidently involves a rather high membership fee, I would suggest having any contract with them or other similar companies reviewed by an attorney. Paying him a couple of hundred dollars now might save thousands later. The attorney might even point out that the “no recission” clause might be illegal in some states. I am not an attorney, but I know from experience that just because something is written into a contract doesn’t necessarily make it legal, and as it is said: “Caveat Emptor.”

  3. Lori Sherman on September 26th, 2010 5:22 pm

    We LOVE our membership camping (with 1000 Trails, by the way). The campgrounds are upscale, the activities are great, and it ties us into other nationwide networks where we also camp in nice resorts for free or very low cost. The trick is you have to use it to make it worth it.

    I agree that the sales presentation was pretty high pressure and you have to ask LOTS of questions. Consider buying a USED membership from someone like the couple mentioned in this article. You can find them in RV magazine classifieds and on bulletin boards in campgrounds.

  4. Chuck on September 26th, 2010 5:51 pm

    I am also a Thousand Trails member and enjoy their campgrounds somewhat. I purchased a used contract with right to resell 2 years ago. as a matter of fact, I am writing from TT at Lebanon, Pa. I enjoy the many parks throughout the country but dislike their rules and regulations. Many of the campgrounds have not been maintained with poor roads, uneven camping site and no camp-wide WiFi. Out of the 10-15 campgrounds we’ve explored there were only 2-4 sites at each campground that were suitable for our needs-that is 50Amp, Water and Sewer. I will use them as needed until my motorhome travels are over and the let it lapse.
    As usual, they have over-subscribe making holiday plans difficult. Even though I have 3 weeks in option I can only stay 2 weeks in Orlando, Fl in the winter, due to demand even though there are many vacant sites reserved for the sales force. At what point will over-superscribing be a legally issue to those who already have contracts that TT management cannot fulfill because of over-crowding. The new parent company, Encore Resorts, parent company to TT, does not offer discounts to TT members as such. Sure, you can camp in Florida or Arizona in the summer when the campgrounds are empty. Even those campgrounds are not offered at TT rates. Like offering ice in the winter.
    Even if the buyer is aware there are non-disclosed restrictions that need to be considered.

  5. Barry Schmidt on September 26th, 2010 6:13 pm

    I would hope that TT is not the type of operation that Good Sam has turned out to be; that is, an organization that seems to draw in travelers merely due to a discount offer that amounts to only three or four dollars per night, then turns out to be an RV park that jams customer RVs so close that they are almost touching, so as to maximize the number of units they can cram into the park.

    The Good Sam parks seem to vary greatly in their quality, and it puzzles me as to why the GS organization has not taken the same tack as that of Best Western, where the owner of the motels must meet certain minimum standards in order to display the “Best Western” sign. But I digress. The discussion was about TT, not Good Sam.

  6. Chris C on September 26th, 2010 6:24 pm

    Being new to the RV world, and having zero experience with camp ground memberships, could you explain in simple terms what Thousand Trails does?
    It may help us green horns stay out of trouble. The comments so far seem to be preaching to the choir. Please smarten the rest of us up. Thanks.

  7. Rex Vogel on September 26th, 2010 6:46 pm

    I’m pleased to see that my article has generated so much interest and numerous comments.
    To Chris C. I would suggest that you click on the link in the article for the series of nine articles on my website on membership camping. It was written for the propose of informing RVers on just what membership camping is all about and lists both the pros and cons of purchasing a camping membership. As I indicate we own several memberships and they work well for us but they’re not for everyone.
    Thousand Trails is the largest membership camping system but there are many others with a lower purchase price and lower yearly fees. If you winter in the Southwest, you may want to consider Western Horizon.
    Encore is not the parent company of Thousand Trails.
    Thousand Trails, along with Encore Resorts, are owned by Equity Lifestyle Properties, a real estate investment trust (REIT) traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol ELS.
    One final comment–just like all membership camping systems are not created equal, all the campgrounds in a system are not created equal. Some are 5 star while others are severely lacking.

  8. Joseph Heugly on September 26th, 2010 6:53 pm

    Thousand Trails Inc, North Riverside Plaza, Chicago, IL 60606 has a BBB rating of NR. Thousand Trails in Wilmington OH has no rating due to insuficient information. Where did you get the Better Business Bureau F rating? Seems like poor journalism.
    We are Thousand Trails members and are very happy with our membership.
    All of the old Thousand Trails members we know of have been allowed to return thier membership when they no longer were camping. You can research this on the Yahoo Thousand Trails discussion group (ttnmembers).

  9. Rex Vogel on September 26th, 2010 7:25 pm

    If you had read the article carefully, Joseph, you would know that the F rating came from spokesperson for the Central Ohio Better Business Bureau. As indicated in the article I’m also a member of Thousand Trails. Although I have concerns as do other members about the current direction of management, I, too, have been pleased with my membership. I absolutely love Verde Valley Preserve in Arizona. The purpose of this article was twofold: to generate interest and discussion and it certainly has done that, and point out that before signing on the dotted line one should read the fine print and know exactly what they are getting into–buyer beware.

  10. Don H. on September 26th, 2010 9:57 pm

    This summer, we took three 3 day trips with our TT. One to a State Park in Ventura, Ca. That was a Dry Camp Ground on the beach. Then we went to a Thousand Trails camp ground in Cloverdale, Ca near the Russain River. The last trip was to Santa Cruz, Ca. at a KOA camp ground. Of the three parks the KOA was the cleanest, best run, and pleanty of activties for kids. Lots of staff with smiles and greetings.

    We will return to the Ventura park again. Santa Cruz will get another request for a resevation. Thousand Trails, I don’t think so. Don H.

  11. michael on September 27th, 2010 1:50 am

    skip any campground membership it is not worth the price and dues.

  12. Pat on September 27th, 2010 2:43 am

    We too are relative newbies so this info is great to have. Though the Good Sam parks we have used run from great to crap, the GS ratings in the Travel Directory and software are fairly accurate…we have learned to stay away from any park with less than a 6 in any category…though we stayed in a low rated park this spring (near Jackson, MS) and had the friendliest service and assistance, but it was only for one night, so no probs! KOAs have all been good, though some are better than others, but staff is always friendly and act as if they like what they are doing.
    We had considered a camping membership, but based on what I have read here I think we will opt out of that for now.

  13. Patty M. on September 27th, 2010 4:49 am

    I to had a membership with TT, never used it after we bought it.. paid their fees each year till I filed bankruptcy. but the last two years they mailed me bills and called like every week… The one TT that I stayed at was the one in Orlando, Fl.. and that was what sold us.. But I do believe their yearly fees are high if you don’t use them all the time.. I had bought thinking we’d use all the time when we retired.. Still haven’t retired.

  14. Dan on September 27th, 2010 9:02 am

    Equity Lifestyle Properties bought out the 13 Outdoor World Resorts on the East Coast. Since than the campgrounds have been going downhill. Their business model is to sell park models or a long term site licenses using your rig. Of course those purchased sites are always the largest or best views. Their website list over 400 sites but 200 are already taken and of those remaining 200 about 50 are 3 point. And with a Forty foot rig you are now down to maybe 5. Happy camping.

  15. Rex Vogel on September 27th, 2010 10:10 am

    Thanks for your comment, Dan. You are very aware of the current situation with Thousand Trails since ELS purchased them. You concern is ours also. However, we still enjoy our membership and each prospective buyer needs to weigh the pros with the cons. We have definitely saved money with membership campgrounds and have explored areas we wouldn’t otherwise have seen. Whether you’re staying at membership campgrounds, Good Sam Parks, or KOA, there are good parks and there are poor parks.

  16. Tim on September 27th, 2010 3:06 pm

    We got a thousand trails membership free with the purchase of our fifth wheel at Lazydayz in Florida. I don’t think I would have paid thier price to join but since I got in for purchasing a rig that I was already going to buy the dues are quite reasonable. The camp sites are very nice and the reserves we have visted are all worth visiting. Especially when you find one within an hour or two of home and can visit often, for free.

    This is not a plug, notice I didn’t give my salesmans name, simply saying that a free membership makes just paying the yearly dues very well worth the price for access to a gated community campsite…

  17. Sallie and Bob on September 27th, 2010 6:16 pm

    On our free weekend we were also hit with an intense, hard hitting sales pitch. When they sent the manager in to respond to my suggestion about allowing me to take the contract with me and have my attorney review it, the manager wigged out accusing me of “not trusting them”. They actually wanted me to sign right there and then.
    When I refused they kicked me out and told me to never come back again.
    What a bunch of “shysters”!

  18. hoppe on September 27th, 2010 8:01 pm

    Wow…. Death, Taxes, and now Thousand Trails membership? $500 annual ‘dues’? How much would you have to USE it, to make it pay? Is the camping then Free to members?

    Guess I’m just Low to NO class.

  19. Barry S on September 29th, 2010 7:46 am

    In response to the somewhat controversial comments previously posted, I recently emailed TT as per their website contact instructions and asked them to email copies of their fee structure and new member contract; as yet, I have not heard from them.

  20. Rex Vogel on September 29th, 2010 9:58 am

    In response to Barry S.:
    I will be surprised if you receive a response back from TT. Firstly, if you ask any ten members what they pay in yearly maintenance dues, you’ll likely receive ten different answers. Secondly, as a member I have been unsuccessful in obtaining information from TT and another major membership camping organization on the purchase cost of a new membership and yearly dues for new members. If you receive a response Barry, please share that information.
    I believe the bottom line is asking yourself the question: Does buying into a membership make financial sense for me and am I going to make use the membership?
    In a 9-part series of articles (VogelTalksRVing) I review the concept of membership camping and discount camping clubs, the pro and cons of purchase, a process to determine if it makes financial sense, and review the major camping systems.

  21. Barry S on September 29th, 2010 2:54 pm

    Rex, I had indeed planned to pick the contract apart and share my views, letting the others make up their own minds. I can’t see why TT would be reticent in sharing the contents of any contractual arrangements they would certainly ask potential members to sign. Any company worth its salt should have no problem sharing this information and then let the prospective members make up their own minds, based on having read the contract and having all their questions answered first.

    Signing on the dotted line should be done only after having had a chance to read the contract first… a quiet atmosphere and away from hard-charging sales reps who might merely wish to make the sale. There should also be a post-signing period allowed in case a person wants to change his mind after signing the contract. Deals such as those offered by TT may be good for some people, but they should be definitely be completed on a provisional basis. We can lease a house or apartment for one year, for instance, then from month-to-month after the first year, after which time, the tenant can terminate his tenancy with 30-days notice. Seems it should be at least the same for a TT-type arrangement. I don’t really care because my wife and I don’t like to schedule things in advance, and as such wouldn’t be good candidates for a TT-type membership.

    At any rate, I’ll keep you posted. If I don’t hear from TT by email, I’ll give them a phone call to see if they will cough up a contract for my review.

  22. Dan on September 30th, 2010 7:56 am

    Anyone considering buying a membership should also look into their open schedule. For instance I just downloaded TT “2010/2011 Seasonal Chart for Preserves” and discovered there are only 16 campgrounds opened year round nationwide. None are open here in the Northeast Zone. So if you like to camp during off season you should check their open schedule before signing.

  23. Sallie and Bob on October 5th, 2010 7:03 pm

    In fairness to TT and in view of our previous post, I contacted a sales person at TT today and was told of the new membership plan being offered. I explained to her that I had been invited several years ago and did not purchase a membership.
    She explained to me that since the economy has taken a downturn many prospective members do not have the up front investment a membership would require (and she quoted “typically $5,000 to $10,000) so they have a new plan called “Zone Camping”

    Here’s how she described it to me:
    A new member picks one of the four US zones to camp and the initial enrollment (membership) fee is waived. The new member pays only the annual fee of $499.00. If they wish to add additional zones they are enrolled at $795.00 per zone or all four zones (the entire US) at $1995.00.

    Their membership agreement (I chose the state of PA as my home state, you would select your home state from the sign up form) is now available as a .pdf at:
    and their Disclosure Statement is available as a .pdf here:

    I have not yet read those documents. Hope this helps clarify somewhat.

  24. Janelle on May 15th, 2011 6:30 am

    At last! Soeomne who understands! Thanks for posting!

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