Is Thousand Trails worth it? A comprehensive review after 200 days (2018)

We have just completed 200 days of Thousand Trails membership. One of the biggest questions we have received has been “Is Thousand Trails worth it?”.

We always say yes because our pre-trip math showed that it would be. We finally sat down and gathered all of our receipts and calculated the actual costs to verify if Thousand Trails is worth it.

When we were deciding to buy an RV and go full-time we had no idea how much it would cost to full-time.

There are various blogs out there that give you their numbers to estimate costs but none of them are us. They all live differently than we do and have different priorities. This was definitely true when it came to estimating the cost of RV parks.

It didn’t sit well with us being planners and not knowing how much we would be spending. There are also a lot of different RV clubs out there. We didn’t know if we only needed Thousand Trails or should we also get Passport America, Good Sam, FMCA?

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Our original estimates:

We created estimates by searching Google for RV parks that would fit our 42’ long fifth wheel and get their weekly rates. We only selected parks along our initial route up the West coast and that had the amenities we thought we would want. We then took the average of the campsites and added $5 for good measure. After all of our guesstimating work, we came up with spending an average of about $45/night. We didn’t plan to do any boondocking so there were no free nights built-in.

  • Estimated Average Cost per Night: $45

Our NON-Thousand Trails Park Costs:

During our first 200 nights, 120 of them were spent in parks that were not affiliated with Thousand Trails. It is our fault for delaying our purchase of an Elite membership from Campground Membership Outlet and the length of time it took to get our membership completely transferred (about a month). Signing up for RPI was also delayed because you need to fill out forms and physically mail them in. If you don’t know, RPI is a discount camping program similar to Passport America but you must be a member of an affiliated resort (like Thousand Trails) to qualify for membership.

When we finally got our membership squared away, we tried to book last minute spots on the Oregon coast in the summer during the eclipse… That didn’t turn out too well for us. Finally, after our first trip segment from Los Angeles to Seattle, we entered in a Thousand Trails dead zone of Idaho/Montana/Utah.

We ended up spending a total of $5022.94 over those 120 nights which gave us an average of $41.86/night. We were happy that it was under our estimates. The parks ranged from Expensive KOA parks (even with KOA membership) to RV resorts to cheap RV parks to even cheaper state parks. We realized that most amenities didn’t matter to us except a jacuzzi spa but even the absence of that isn’t a deal breaker. We also didn’t do any boondocking even though we were in the SouthWest. Some free nights camping would have brought the total spent down.

The Math:

  • How many nights did we NOT use Thousand Trails: 120
  • Total cost of NON-Thousand Trails parks: $5022.94
  • Average cost per night for NON-Thousand Trails parks: $41.86
    • (Total Non-Thousand Trails cost) / (Nights)

Our Thousand Trails Park Costs:

When we purchased our Thousand Trails membership we thought we would always stay at Thousand Trails parks. We also thought that we would never need to pay anything else when staying at Thousand Trails parks. They would be “free”. Once Trails Collection was released we thought that we would never stay anywhere but in the system. Even if we did need to move across areas with no Thousand Trails parks we would use RPI for a maximum cost of $15 / night. 

Our experience didn’t really turn out that way. We spent only 80 nights in Thousand Trails parks. Our Elite membership purchase through Campground Membership Outlet was $4250. We paid our first-year dues to Thousand Trails of $549. They then released the Trails Collection for an additional $199 which we quickly purchased. The RPI Preferred was an additional $119 to finish up our “upfront” costs. This led to a grand total of $5117 for the memberships before doing any actual camping.

The total spent at campgrounds in the system came to $724.64. This includes things like extra charges for 50amp by some Thousand Trails parks, the extra $20 night charges by what we call the “fancy” Trails collection resorts, and the nightly fees at RPI resorts. This gave us an average cost of $9.06 / night when staying at parks in the Thousand Trails system. That’s way better than the average price of $41.86 / night when staying out of the system. While that sounds great, it doesn’t account for the initial cost of purchasing the membership or the annual fee. Before you decide if Thousand Trails is worth it, check out the Analysis section below.

The Math:

  • One-time elite membership resale purchase cost: $4250
  • Thousand Trails Annual Membership Cost: $549
  • Trails Collection Annual Cost: $199
  • RPI Preferred Annual Fee: $119
  • Total Recurring Annual Cost: $867
    • (Thousand Trails annual cost + Trails Collection annual cost + RPI annual cost)
  • First Year Initial Cost: $5117
    • (One-time cost) + (Thousand Trails annual cost + Trails Collection annual cost + RPI annual cost)
  • How many nights did we use a membership park? 80
    • (Thousand Trails/Trails Collection/RPI park)
  • Total Additional Thousand Trails cost: $724.64
    • (Additional 50 amp site charges / “fancy” Trails Collection parks / RPI parks)
  • Average cost per night for Thousand Trails/Trails Collection/RPI: $9.06
    • (Additional Thousand Trails system cost / Nights)

Is Thousand Trails worth it? The Analysis:

Since we save an estimated $32.80 / night staying in Thousand Trails system parks that will be the number I base my math on. In order to pay off our initial investment, we will need to stay in TT system parks for a total of 156 nights. Since we have already stayed in the system for 80 nights that leaves only 76 remaining before we “break even”. This will be pretty easy for us since we already have the next 5 weeks (34 nights) booked into the system. The payoff amount is merely the break-even point of the TT purchase versus private campgrounds. Once we have completed enough nights to meet our initial purchase payoff, we can start saving money. Every stay in a system campground after the pay off reduces our total camping cost dramatically.

The other thing you need to consider is the annual fee. Once a new year rolls around you need to “payoff” the balance of nights again before you begin saving money. Since the annual cost is dramatically lower than the initial cost, the nights to payoff is lower also. Using the same estimated savings per night from earlier, it will only take us 27 nights to work off the balance. All nights after that continue to drive your cost per night down. If you don’t know what memberships are available, ensure you check out our post on which Thousand Trails membership is right for you.

The Math:

  • Estimated Savings Per Night: $32.80
    • (Avg. cost per Non-Thousand Trails stay) – (Avg. cost per Thousand Trails stay)
  • Nights to “payoff” first-year initial cost: 156
    • (one-time cost) + (Thousand Trails annual + Trails Collection annual + RPI annual) / (est. savings per night)
  • Nights to “payoff” recurring cost: 27
    • (recurring annual cost) / (est. savings per night)
  • Actual Camping Cost: $10,864.58
    • (Thousand Trails membership cost) + (Thousand Trails annual cost) + (Thousand Trails additional park cost) + (Non-Thousand Trails park cost)
  • Actual Cost per Night: $54.32
    • (Actual Cost / Nights)

Other Memberships

Thousand Trails is one of the best RV clubs to join if you are full-time because of the incredible cost savings it provides but it may not be right for you. Check out our recommendations for campground memberships based on your travel style or join our free RV club e-mail course below for more info.

You may like to camp for free in unique locations like a locals driveway or a winery in town. If that sounds like you, check out the Boondockers Welcome or Harvest Hosts memberships.

If you are looking for more deep discounts on nightly campground rates, check out the 50% off discount club, Passport America.

Looking for savings on other RVing necessities like tires, accessories, and fuel? Good Sam Club and FMCA will cover those types of expenses.

Stop Wasting Money on Unnecessary Memberships!

Learn everything you need to know about the different RV clubs with our free RV club email course. While every RV club offers something great, it’s not always applicable to every RVer. Find out which clubs and memberships will save you money and which ones will be useless for your travel style.

Sign up for our completely FREE RV club e-mail course today!

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33 comments
  1. Thanks for the information in your series of blogs on Thousand Trails. It has really helped in sorting out and understanding how the membership works :-). My husband and I are going to be getting our RV and starting the full-time nomad life this summer. I noticed your travel schedule takes you to Calahaln, NC, in early June. We currently live in the Charlotte area and, if you’re interested in seeing some Charlotte highlights, including breweries ;-), we’d be happy to meet you for an afternoon and/or dinner. I just signed up for your email updates, and my email is [email protected]. Safe travels !

  2. Like Christina above, my husband and I will be retiring and going fulltime.Spring of 19. I was so relieved to stumble on your blog! Many thanks! for creating it, the cost analysis alone will be so helpful. I left my email and anxiously await your spreadsheet and cost breakdowns. You are providing a wonderful service. We are also planning to buy a Solitude after a year of studying and attending RV shows. Our routes will be the Northwest to Florida (Southeast), and southwest as well, so we are thinking 3 zones in addition to the membership). Maybe the East Coast one day.
    Thanks again, and look forward to reading more from you over time. You rock!
    Tom and Linda

    1. Thanks Linda! That sounds so exciting! Spring ‘19 will be here before you know it. Send me an e-mail to [email protected] and I’ll make sure to get you the spreadsheet. Sometimes the system will mess us delivery.

  3. Your math is all wrong for your first year expenses of being a TT member. 1st year cost 5117, divided by 80 nights = 63.96 per night. You need to ADD to this figure the 9.06 additional/night costs, so a total 1st year per night cost of your TT membership is really $73.02. My opinion from this and from what I have read in the reviews, Thousand Trails is NOT AT ALL worth it.

    1. This was only over 6 months. Working on a 1 year post but an abridged version for you is $5117 (initial membership cost) + $915 (additional cost) divided by 175 nights for an average $34.46 a night. Not bad. I would say pretty average. The savings comes in the second year.

      This second year is expected to be even lower. $750 (membership cost) + $915 (additional cost) divided by 175 nights for an average of $9.51 a night. This will be my average cost for EVERY year after the first year. Totally worth it for me. That’s around $300 a month for full hookups!

  4. Hi Rae & Jason,
    Love your vlogs! We are beginner RVers and appreciate all of the wonderful tips you two share. I came to your website looking for the TT worksheet and any other worksheet you would find valuable to newbies like us. Would you mind pointing me in the right directions. I can’t seem to find it.
    Thanks, and safe travels!

  5. HI Jason,
    I searched specifically for a blog that contained content about full time “rving”, It is also a plus that you own a Grand Design solitude.
    My wife and I are planning to full time when retire in late 2020. I have been reading, researching and planning since the summer of 2017.
    WE have decided that we will (at this time) probably purchase a Solitude. WE have toured and really like the S-class Solitude 3350RL. I look forward to following you and learning about your experiences and advice.
    I have considered writing a blog to supplement my retirement income but I really do not have any idea how to monetize the blog.
    I look forward to following you and learning from your experiences, especially with the Solitude.
    Rick

  6. Sorry, my previous comment was off topic. I have looked at memberships and I was never really sure if they would be worth the investment. Thank you for the information. As you stated earlier you really have no idea b/c you have not been there…
    I have thought about putting a solar system on my rig eventually. The cost is around 5-6K for a small setup. From the numbers you just shared, it might be worth the investment for me.
    Thanks
    Rick

  7. Thank you for this information. We are planning halftime rving and this clears up so many questions. I believe we will purchase a resale TT membership, either elite or premium. How do I get an RPI membership?

    1. Ask the Thousand Trails membership team for the application after you have finished your resale transfer!

  8. Looking at possible full-timing for a year or so, but I don’t understand the purchase of the “resale” package at $4000 PLUS the Thousand Trails annual membership. Does the Thousand Trails package with extras not do it? Confused!

  9. Think of it like a timeshare. You have your initial “ownership” purchase, then annual “dues” that apply to everyone regardless of your membership level. The most basic package TT offers, their Zone package, is effectively just the dues payment with no initial buy-in. Hope that clears it up.

  10. Any difficulty in getting a spot when or where you want one? How far in advance do you have to book? Is there a maximum length of stay in a spot?

    1. Like most answers, it depends. The more popular locations book up earlier. For example, the Florida Keys should be booked as soon as your window allows. In the summer, weekends and holidays book up earlier and in the winter the southern campgrounds book up earlier. My experience is that getting reservations in TT is no different than booking reservations in any other campground. If I am having trouble booking TT, it’s usually full at most of the campgrounds in the area too.

  11. I’m confused I know you can pay $585 for 1 zone for a year, but someone wrote a buy in. So there isn’t really a $585 membership?

  12. Hi Jason! thank you for the information. We are going full time in 2020 and are trying to decide if TT if right for us. The one thing that I can’t find information on is if you buy the more elite packages, how long are you locked in? We plan to Rv until we don’t want to anymore, but we definitely aren’t going to forever (we will be 54 when we start full timing). I understand that it is like a timeshare, but is it lifetime?

    1. You are not locked in! You have the initial purchase price (lower with a resale), then you have the annual fee. If you want to cancel, you can and thats the end of your membership! Depending on your membership, you may also be able to see it again and recoup some of the initial purchase price.

  13. This all made sense to me except I am confused about the nights to payoff – what does that mean? If I don’t use all the nights available I have to pay them off? Once I buy in, isn’t there just an annual fee to maintain?

    1. “Nights to pay off” is my way of calculating break even. It’s the number of nights you need to use the membership to make it worth it.

  14. Really wish I knew what RPI was. I notice that folks use a lot of initials and abbreviations without giving explanations. Seems you have to be an insider to understand everything.

  15. Thanks for your extremely helpful breakdown of costs. We just bought into the ELite membership and have been trying to do the math.
    Your blog works for us
    Appreciated
    Jan and Kirk and our dog

  16. My wife and I began full-time RV life on November 1, 2018. We purchased an Elite Thousand Trails membership plus the trails collection for $6,100.00. We have stayed park-to-park since we started, so our nightly cost for year 1 is $16.71 per night.

  17. Two questions, one the thousand trails Campgrounds you stayed in, are they nice as far as quality and number two, do you have to join a campground membership the $4000 that you paid or can you just buy the yearly $500 camping option

  18. Quality varies. Ive been in some really nice resort level Thousand Trails and others that I probably wont return to. They mostly run middle of the road, closer to the state park campground quality. We purchased the Elite that gave us the most benefits but you can access less parks with less benefits with the $500 zone pass. Check out our article on the different memberships here – https://www.getawaycouple.com/thousand-trails-membership-options/

  19. Would love to hear your experience and opinion with TT Elite package since you began your journey. It sounds great, in concept, but how did you find booking-out within the system when you can stay only 28 days at each park?

    Regards – Bob and June Shuman

  20. Mmnn. 18000 miles 3/1/19 to May 5 2020.
    Driving 2018 Coachmen 24 ftr.
    Spent 36.00 ttl for rv park. Intended to stay a month and realized not for me.
    Admittedly, fair amount of public parking and seeing lots of friends along the way…..but also enjoyed remote forests, beaches, streamside and wide open deserts.
    To each his own.😊

    1. thanks for your input. Thos is what I plan to do at the 1st year and thos is the size rig I was told would be able to go to just about any national park.

  21. Thanks for explaining some of this.

    I’m a math oriented guy and one of the questions I have involves selling your Thousand Trails membership. If you buy one, then later sell it, then what it really cost you (in the final accounting) was the difference between the two (plus the annual charges etc.) Some people may be hardcore full-timers, out there RVing until they pass away, but others among us would like to do it for a year or two, then maybe head back to sticks and bricks.

    Also, I assume many full-timers are really glampers—they want full hookups (including sewer) rather than having to run to a dump station periodically. Are the TT locations universally set up for that?

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