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 memberships out there. We didn't know if we only needed Thousand Trails or should we also get Passport America, Good Sam, or Coast to Coast?
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)