As you may know by now, after five months of being hooked on the benefits of our Thousand Trails Zone Pass, we realized we wanted more! More campgrounds, more options, more flexibility, longer stays and less restrictions! Strange as it sounds, when we started out on our journey, we had no idea that any other Thousand Trails membership options (upgrades) even existed! That is, until we started meeting and chatting with other members in the TT campgrounds. Many of them had long been full-timers and were usually either surprised or shocked to discover we’d been full-timing for several months on “just a Zone Pass”. We learned that most of these people owned one of the many TT membership upgrades – Alliance, Platinum, Platinum Plus, VIP or Elite, to name a few. And, while you won’t find out about how you can get your hands on one of these from the Thousand Trails website, we can promise you that there are far more affordable TT membership upgrade options available than you might realize – that is, if you know where to find them!
We first mentioned our plans to buy a TT Elite membership upgrade in our blog post “Time to slow down – we’re tired” but before dropping a much bigger wad of cash, we wanted to explore our options, find the right fit for our specific needs and naturally, get the best bang for our buck! We literally spent weeks researching, reading, calling, investigating and weighing up all of the options available to us before buying. This became such a minefield of information that we realized by sharing our experience, this could be helpful to other RVers too.
So while our quest to find the right membership was time consuming, confusing, sometimes frustrating or simply mind boggling, it doesn’t have to be that way for you! We’re happy to report that we now have a terrific TT membership upgrade that allows us to travel farther, stay longer and save much more on campground fees! We’ve pulled together our findings in this article and shared our key nuggets, insights and tips. If you’re in the market for a TT camping membership, the time you spend reading this article can save you many hours of valuable time, help you avoid some common mistakes and save you a good chunk of money – anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. It may even save your sanity! Of course, we can’t guarantee all this, but what we can share from our personal experience is that it definitely pays to do your research and get well educated before you buy. It’s a significant outlay after all.
So whether you want to call it a crash course in TT membership upgrades, a cliff notes version, an FAQ or TT Membership Hacks, quite simply this is the blog post we wish had existed to help us when we first started down this path. It should definitely smooth out a few bumps and make this an easier road for you to travel and we hope you find it useful.
Now, if you’re not already a TT member, you might want to start by reading our post “Is a Thousand Trails Zone Pass right for you?” This will give you a good introduction to the TT Zone Park Pass, what you get, what worked for us, what didn’t, what we paid for it and what we got, along with our tips for getting the best deal on a Zone Pass.
If you’re already a TT member looking to investigate your options for an upgraded membership, or you are a full-timer RVer ready to jump right in with a solid membership upgrade from day one, please read this entire article before putting your money on the line. It will help you in deciding which membership is right for you, how much you can expect to pay, and where you can get your hot little hands on one.
Finally, before we dive in, please keep in mind that we are by no means at all “experts” in this area, nor are we affiliated with Thousand Trails in any way. We’re just a regular couple who have invested an enormous amount of time and effort in researching, comparing and assessing the various options available, before confidently making our purchase. The TT membership features, terms and prices shared in this article are provided as a guide, based on our discoveries during our own research – online, liaising direct with private sellers, through discussions with TT representatives and by dealing with an independent campground membership broker.
So, are you ready? Onward!
What you will you learn by reading this blog post:
- how you can travel full-time in your RV for under $4 per day
- the different types of TT membership upgrades (Alliance, VIP, Platinum, Platinum Plus, Elite, Elite Connections) and pricing comparisons
- what you need to know and look out for before committing to a purchase
- a list of recommended questions to ask before buying
- the process involved and the time it takes
- who to contact and some links and contacts to assist you with making your purchase
A brief yet necessary history lesson on Thousand Trails and their memberships
Understanding the evolution of Thousand Trails throughout it’s 45+ years history will help you understand why there are now so many membership options and why it can get so darn confusing! Don’t worry, we’ll keep it short and stick to the most necessary facts and why these are relevant when considering a membership upgrade.
The company was founded in 1969 with one property in Chehalis, WA then grew it’s west coast network to some 32 preserves. In 1991 TT merged with NACO, adding another 20 resorts to their portfolio. In 1999 TT took over Leisure Time Resorts adding 7 more properties. In 2004, the Thousand Trails company was acquired by Equity Lifestyle Properties. In 2006, the company purchased Outdoor World and Mid-Atlantic Resorts along with their east coast parks, thus expanding the of TT campground network to 80+ properties nationally.
Since Thousand Trails has been selling memberships for over 40 years and their product offering changed each time they tried a new sales tactic or purchased a new campground group, there are now over 100 different types of contracts on the campground membership resale market. Memberships have sold for anywhere from a few hundred dollars up to $10,000, depending on when and where they were purchased, the terms and inclusions.
If you’ve already done some initial research or spoken to other TT members, you may have seen or heard about names likes Gold, Alliance, VIP, Platinum, Platinum Plus and Elite being bandied about. Don’t be seduced, confused or overwhelmed by any of them. They are all simply fancy names or labels made up by the TT marketing department over the years to describe their latest product and, contrary to what you might expect, Gold is no better than Alliance, Platinum is no better than Elite – they are different, not better, just different. You need to remember this so you won’t be swayed by more desirable sounding names when it comes time for you to decide on the membership and price that is the best fit for you and your specific needs.
Of course, life would be so much easier if we could just go directly to Thousand Trails,and say “I’ll have one of those please”, then hand over our money and be happy with how much we paid and what we got for it, wouldn’t it? But that’s not the case. So let’s address that question right now.
Why wouldn’t you just go to Thousand Trails for info and to buy a membership upgrade?
While you can certainly learn about the Zone Park Pass from Thousand Trails, as strange as it sounds, you will not find any clear or comprehensive information about the full range of membership upgrades on the Thousand Trails website. Even if you call them, they’re unlikely to share all of the options with you over phone either. Why not, you rightly ask? Here’s our take on it:
- Thousand Trails and their marketing dollars are focused on promoting their Zone Park Pass which is a low cost point of entry into the TT campground network. We call the Zone Pass the gateway drug, because if you’re a full-timer like us, soon enough you will want more than what you’re getting with just a Zone Pass. And, once you’re a member checking into campgrounds, you’ll be receiving promotional literature with your paperwork, telling you about the benefits you can get from a membership upgrade, along with the name and number of that campground’s ‘membership host, whose job it is to educate you about said upgrades and, hopefully, sell you one. Currently, there are two main membership upgrades available through Thousand Trails direct – these are called “Elite” and “Elite Connections” – and they are pricey. The new Elite basic membership retails at around $5-6K but we were offered one at a special “RV show promo price” of $4,400 – a discount of about 20%. And, if you want the Elite Connections membership with some extra accommodation privileges like the Getaway Cabins, you’ll be forking out another $3K or so on top of the Elite retail price, though we suspect you could probably negotiate something much better.
- As TT changes its membership upgrade offerings (in name and inclusions) every few years or so, not all of the membership upgrade options that are actually in existence are available to buy direct from Thousand Trails. When we say “all” we mean, all of the memberships that have ever been offered for sale by Thousand Trails. Yes, we know, strange yet true.
- Each and every Thousand Trails membership/contract can be different – it can depend on what it was called, when it was purchased, the promotional offers running at the time, who sold the membership, how motivated they were to ‘close the deal’ that day and the buyer’s negotiating skills! Some members who attended and signed up at one of the “timeshare-style presentations” of yesteryear may have invested $10K (or more!) in their campground membership privileges. Fortunately, TT”s business model is not based on those practices today.
- Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there is a far less expensive way to obtain a TT membership upgrade without buying a new one directly through Thousand Trails. Yes, buying a “pre-owned” TT membership – known in the industry as a resale – is completely above board, legal and extremely common. People like us do it every day and enjoy the benefits for many years.
Naturally, if you’re budget conscious like us and you like the idea of saving thousands of dollars and getting the best bang for your buck, it pays (literally) to explore the alternatives. But we also want to be sure to give you the full picture here, so it’s only fair that we take a look at the advantages of buying a new membership upgrade from Thousand Trails before we focus most of our attention on the resale options.
What are the advantages of buying a new Elite membership direct from TT?
If money isn’t an issue or you simply prefer the idea of buying from Thousand Trails directly, then go for it! It may end up being the best solution for your personal needs. There can certainly be some advantages to buying a “new” membership upgrade direct from Thousand Trails, it all comes down to what you are willing to pay for the privilege, such as:
- Immediate gratification – no need to research or wait for a resale membership that meets your criteria
- Guaranteed access to all of the parks available within the TT system at the time of purchase (currently 80+)
- You can specifically select which park(s) you want exempted from TT’s “high use” restrictions policy
- If you are a good negotiator, you may get a better deal than the full retail price and/or be able to sweeten your deal with additional benefits added into the contract (discretionary)
- You can “gift” or “will” your membership to your descendants at a reduced transfer fee and allow them to enjoy the same benefits you did
- You can sell the membership if you don’t want or need it anymore and get some of your money back – the benefits listed in your contract will transfer to the buyer
- Some memberships allow you to gift additional memberships to family members
- Thousand Trails will allow you to finance your membership over many years to keep your monthly payment low.
Now, even if you are in a financial position to spend the big bucks on a new TT membership, it’s still going to be worth your while to keep reading. But we’re pretty sure that the people who don’t blink an eye at dropping $5K+ on a membership probably aren’t reading this blog post to begin with! Now, onto the good stuff – let’s get educated on how to pick up one of these puppies for waaaaay less!
What is a Resale?
A resale takes place when the owner of a campground membership no longer has a need or use for it. Resales are good for the seller in that they can recoup some of their initial investment and stop paying their annual dues. Resales are good for the buyer as they are able to choose from any number of “pre-owned” memberships and find one that best suits their needs, while saving a significant sum of money compared with buying a new membership. Resales are even good for Thousand Trails as they get to keep a customer (and collecting annual dues) instead of a membership simply being cancelled. All kinds of camping memberships become available for resale every day as members retire from RVing, spouses pass away and/or people seek to reduce the financial commitment associated with their membership. Note: Zone Passes cannot be re-sold.
Where can you find these Resale Memberships?
- You can buy a resale membership directly from a private party – whether it’s someone you know, your neighbor at a TT preserve, a poster on a noticeboard at your local campground, an ad in the back of a camping magazine, a listing on eBay, Craig’s List or any other kind of marketplace – online or otherwise. Of course, while you can sometimes find great deals this way, it can also be ‘hit and miss’. For us, it was a useful place to start our search, but we came to realize it was an extremely time consuming, frustrating and inefficient process that wasn’t delivering our desired result in the timeframe we wanted. That said, some people do find good deals that way, so by all means if you have the time go and see what you can find!
- You can buy a resale membership from a campground membership broker – one like Campground Membership Outlet that specializes in matching up sellers with buyers. A broker acts as the intermediary for all communications, handles the finances and paperwork between seller, buyer and Thousand Trails, and basically ensures everything goes smoothly. The broker does not charge the buyer or seller a fee – they make their money by way of a ‘cut’ on the mandatory transfer fee charged by Thousand Trails. In our opinion (and experience) a broker is an excellent way to go as they don’t charge you a service fee, they can educate and guide you about the best membership for your needs and it increases your chances of finding your ‘ideal membership’ sooner rather than later. Plus, you’re more likely to pick up a membership at a competitive price and avoid getting inadvertently stuck with a long term contract with less favorable terms. More on this as we go along.
What can you expect to pay for a Resale Membership?
Luckily for all of us, when you buy a resale camping membership you save – a LOT! After all, the seller is motivated to get as much as they can for their membership and put that money in their pocket. Whether you buy from eBay, Craig’s List or a campground membership broker, the law of supply and demand comes into play. If there are lots of similar membership types available and few buyers, you’ll be able to pick one up for a lower price. Likewise, if a highly desirable and more rare type of membership becomes available and there are plenty of eager buyers, the price will be higher and the membership will likely be snapped up quickly.
This is where you need to do your homework and get clear on what you want. You need to decide on what specific benefits are a good fit for your needs, gauge what is a fair price for that specific membership and consider what you’re willing to pay. What we found was that while private sellers were more negotiable on price than a broker, they also tend to put a higher price on it initially. When you are dealing with a broker that sells these every day, they already know the fair value and nuances of each membership and price them accordingly. Brokers have a good inventory and a list of people they can call when one of their preferred memberships becomes available – their objective is to move memberships quickly, so they don’t usually price them above what the market is willing to pay.
Based on our research we found that, depending on the specific features and terms of the contract, you can pick up a decent TT membership upgrade anywhere in the vicinity of $1,000–$3,500 including transfer fee. Yes, for all resales, Thousand Trails charges a mandatory transfer fee (usually $750-$1,000) which covers the time and work involved for TT to process the paperwork, transfer the membership into your name and issue you with a new member number. If buying from a private party, the seller may offer to split the cost of the transfer fee with you so be sure you consider the price they are asking you in terms of what your total cost would be. If buying your membership from a broker, they will automatically include the transfer fee in the price they quote you.
As a guide, the Alliance memberships fall at the lower end at the $1,000-$3,000 price range (you can pick them up for free plus there’s a $1,000 transfer fee). The less common Elite Connections are at the higher end of the spectrum at the $3,000 – $4,000 mark, including transfer fee. The most popular memberships – VIP, Platinum, Platinum Plus and Elite – tend to fall somewhere in between around the $2,000–$3,000 mark including transfer fee.
Again, the price of each membership will vary depending on the specifics of the contract. The more you do your homework, know what you want and understand what is out there, the better prepared you will be to find a membership that works for you and your budget.
Why you need to create a Membership Criteria / Wish List
Before proceeding with any purchase, we recommend you to sit down and determine exactly what your needs are as there’s no point paying for a membership level that offers more than you actually need. Do consider the next few years ahead as your needs may change, but not too far ahead as we just never know what the future holds and you don’t want to overcommit yourself financially. After doing this exercise, you may find that a Zone Park Pass suits you just fine, or if you don’t mind committing to a 10 year contract you may even consider an Alliance, but if your needs are anything like ours (full-timers who prefer to camp with hook-ups), you may find one of the resale VIP, Platinum or Elite memberships to be an excellent option.
Remember, in buying a resale you are taking over someone else’s contract, so you may not get every single item on your wish list, but if you are clear and you are patient you can simply wait until the right one comes along. They are regularly available for sale through the various sources we already mentioned, but the more desirable memberships do tend to get snapped up quickly if they are fairly priced. If you are clear on your wish list and a membership comes along that fits the bill, be prepared to act right away, but don’t worry if you miss out – another will come along soon enough.
Now, sit down (with your partner if you have one) and consider how you like to travel and camp by asking some important questions to help determine which specific membership features will be right for you, such as:
- How many nights a year do you camp and/or intend to stay in the TT system?
- Which states/zones do you plan to visit and how many campgrounds does TT have in each of them?
- How slow or fast do you like to travel – ie. are you happy to move every 4-14 days or do you like the idea of longer stays up to 21 days?
- What are your ‘must-haves’ in terms of membership features –ie. is the park-to-park option essential?
- What are your ‘nice to haves’ but not a deal breaker if you don’t get them – ie. you may not need access to all 80+ resorts if you plan to spend most of your time on the west coast
- What’s your campground budget (monthly/yearly?)
- What contract length are you willing to commit to?
Write out your Membership Wish List and put it up somewhere visible so you can see and read it daily. We do this often as a great exercise in manifestation – once you are clear on what you want and stay focused on it, it’s easier for the Universe to go out and bring it to you! After all, who doesn’t want the Universe on their side?
What is the difference between the various types of Membership upgrades available?
As mentioned, if you contact Thousand Trails directly about a new membership upgrade, you will be informed of the Elite and Elite Connections. Unless you are ready and willing to spend $5K or more, forget it and keep reading! TT may also suggest a National Zone Park Pass at $2,995, however we strongly advise against buying this (see our blog post “How to get the best deal on a Thousand Trails Zone Pass“) as it will cost you more and give you less than what we are suggesting in this post.
So, to keep things simple and cost effective, we’re going to focus exclusively on the type of membership upgrades that are available for resale and actually worth considering. We won’t be discussing the Gold membership, as while it may sound appealing, in reality it offers fewer benefits than a regular TT Zone Pass, so steer away from those entirely.
Instead, we’ll provide an overview of the most common memberships, their camping privileges, features, contract terms and recap on the ‘fair price’ you can expect to pay. These are the key points you want to keep in mind when considering a purchase.
A couple more important points to keep in mind with ALL resales:
- You cannot change any of the contract terms from the original – you are buying the contract and inclusions ‘as is’
- Typically Membership Benefits can only transfer once ie. can be used by the original buyer and next buyer only. After that, the contract reverts back to the original terms before it was upgraded. For example, when we no longer want or need our TT Elite membership, we cannot sell it with the same level of benefits that we currently enjoy. We could only sell it as a “national pass” and it likely wouldn’t even be worth our while, as we plan to get our money’s worth out of it as full-timers, so will probably either let it lapse or give it away. The exception to this is the regular Platinum membership, which does allow re-sale with benefits intact.
Now let’s look at the Membership options.
Typically, the Alliance membership allows you to stay up to 14 nights and move from park to park without having to stay out of the TT system for 7 days (a great advantage over the Zone Pass). You pay annual dues of around $550 which allows you to camp for ‘free’ for 50 nights, after that you pay $5 per night. The reservation window is typically 210 days.
The Alliance membership is considered to be a decent option for people who don’t have much money to spend upfront on a membership. However, you must look very closely at the bigger picture before committing! We found a TT Alliance Membership on Craig’s List that someone was willing to give away for free – all we’d have to do was pay the transfer fee to get the membership into our name but, after more investigation, here’s what we learned.
What You Need to Know:
- Alliance Members are willing to give these away for free because there are plenty of them out in the marketplace
- Has a higher transfer fee of $1,000, compared with the typical transfer fee of $750 (your total cost is $1,000)
- The $5 nightly fees (after the first 50 nights) can really add up, especially if you travel extensively
- Don’t be fooled by what may seem to be the deal of the century as it may end up costing you much more in the end
- Comes with a 10 year contract!
WHAT!? a 10 year contract!? Yes – that’s why it’s so important you consider the bigger picture before jumping all over a “free” Alliance membership. But why? Well, even if the original owner may have had the membership for 10 years or more, once you take over their membership/contract, the 10 year contract term starts all over again with you! That’s right, you would be committing yourself for a minimum of 10 years! Now while this sent us running for the hills, a 10 year term may not faze you at all, especially if you’re planning to travel for the long term. But before you sign on the dotted line, let’s do the math:
Even if you pick up an Alliance membership for free, your real total commitment is: $1,000 transfer fee + 10 years at $550 pa which comes to $6,500 over 10 years PLUS your nightly camping fees of $5 for every night over the first 50 in each year. If you are a full-timer like us and spend say 250 nights a year in a TT preserve at $5/night (over the first 50) that’s an additional $1,000 per year. Even if you plan to RV full-time for say three years, then go back to camping only 50 nights per year, that comes to a total of $9,500! Of course, if you end up full-timing for 10 years, that will end up costing you $16,500 over the life of the 10 year contract. All that said, this may end up being a deal that works for your personal situation, as it’s only going to cost you a maximum of $137.50 per month over the contract period, if you stay full-time in TT campgrounds. But will you? Just be sure to ask yourself this question – can you guarantee you will be RVing full-time for 10 years?
We almost proceeded with this Alliance membership until we sat down and crunched the numbers, –we realized there was no way we wanted to commit either to a 10 year contract or this princely sum! So back to the drawing board…
Platinum / Platinum Plus / VIP / Elite / Elite Connections Memberships
Despite the fact that these all sound very fancy and important, they are essentially all different names describing what is pretty much the same basic kind of camping membership and usage privileges. The major difference between them tends to be which campground networks – and how many campgrounds – are included in the contract. Remember our history lesson above? This is why you needed it!
The most popular memberships are typically Platinum, Platinum Plus, VIP and Elite – with Platinum and Platinum Plus being the easiest to find as there are simply more of them out there. The Elite membership, being the latest TT offering, has only been around for a few years, so they don’t come up as often and generally cost a bit more, as they have additional parks on the east coast – ie. access to all 80+ preserves nationally.
Here is an overview of the features and terms of these memberships, which share some key commonalities:
Generally, these memberships all allow you to stay up to 21 nights and move from park to park without having to stay out of the TT system for 7 days. Your annual dues of around $550 allow you to camp for free year round with no limit to the number of nights and no nightly fees. These are the unique benefits that make these memberships more desirable and therefore, so much more popular.
Other benefits may include: 7 night extension (28 days instead of 21) twice a year for just $29. Reservation window ranges from 90 to 210 days, depending on the contract. Ability to rent campground units at member preferred rates. Member benefits can be utilized by your children, parents and grandparents when they are issued a Family Card ($65/year) and they can camp at the same time as you (same or different campgrounds) three times per year. Option to add on RPI campground network (additional fee applies). The Elite Connections has more rental and Getaway accommodation privileges.
What You Need to Know:
- These memberships, while costing more upfront, can end up saving you more over the medium to longer term than the Alliance (or even a Zone Pass)
- Potential access to all 80+ campgrounds nationally, the number of parks depends on your specific contract
- Even though some memberships may offer fewer parks and locations, they may still meet your specific needs (ie. if you don’t spend much time on the east coast)
- It’s easier to find Platinum and Platinum Plus memberships at good prices as they have been around longer (they include some east coast locations but not all)
- Elite memberships are newer (since 2011) so there are less of them on the resale market and they tend to sell at a higher price
- Elite memberships include all of the 80+ campgrounds nationally
- Transfer fee almost always $750
- There may be a High Use season limitation for popular parks at peak times, limiting your stay to 14 nights instead of 21 and needing to stay out of that park for 28 days before returning and only allowing 2 high use reservations in the system concurrently
- You can usually pick these up for anywhere between $2,500 and $4,000 including transfer fee (depending on the contract and inclusions)
- 3 year contract period
- Ability to put membership on hold after year 2 (ie. pay no annual dues for a specified period)
- Contract can either be cancelled in writing after the 3 year contract or you can continue year to year indefinitely
So, while initially we were hesitant to spend more upfront on one of these membership upgrades, when we did the math it made a lot more sense for us as full-timers to go with one of these options. Here’s a cost comparison:
We looked at the overall total investment over 3 and 10 years to provide an accurate cost comparison with the Alliance membership example above and based it on a purchase price of $2,500. Now factor in 3 years worth of annual dues @ $550 per year and that brings your total real commitment to $4,150 – averaging out at a touch over $115 per month for 3 years. If you ended up using the membership full-time for 10 years then it would be $2,500 + $5,500 (10 years @ $550/year) which comes to a total of $8,000 – or just a shade under $67 per month over the 10 year period. Of course, it could end up costing you even less if you bought one of the lower priced resale membership options in the $1,500-$3,000 range.
Now you can see why, despite the difference in upfront cost, the Alliance is not quite as good a deal as say an Elite or a Platinum – at least not for our needs! Compared with the Alliance membership nightly fee of $5 (after 50 nights) and full-time RVers have the potential to save around $5,350 over a 3 year period and $8,500 over 10 years on one of these memberships. Of course, most of us don’t stay exclusively in Thousand Trails campgrounds 365 days a year – this was just an example. We recommend you do the math on all of the scenarios you are considering.
So you want to buy a Resale Membership – what are the next steps?
After creating your Membership Criteria / Wish List, you need to decide on where you want to start your search.
DIY: Are you the kind of person who likes the thrill of hunting down a screaming deal on Craig’s List or eBay? Perhaps you are a master shopper/negotiator and confident you can find an Elite membership for $500? By all means, go ahead and search! Just because we didn’t find our membership that way or anywhere near that price, it doesn’t mean you won’t! I did hear of one story of someone picking upan Elite membership for under $1,000, however I suspect that transaction may have occurred during or shortly after the financial crisis when many items (just like RVs) were being sold at a heavy discount. So those opportunities may exist, for sure. Even if you don’t find what you’re looking for at a good price, sometimes going through this process for yourself can reaffirm what we have shared above and what you feel is good value – so you don’t have to simply take our word for it!
Outsource: Or, do you want your Membership ASAP and can’t be bothered messing around with the Craig’s List folk (yes, we’ve all had at least one of ‘those’ experiences) and ultimately prefer to deal with a broker who can be the middle person between you and the seller? If your time is valuable and you don’t mind paying a fair market price for something (as opposed to a rare firesale deal) then a broker is likely the best option for you – as it was for us.
Regardless of which method you choose, you need to ask the seller or broker a few initial questions to determine if the membership meets your key criteria. For example, if it meets your number 1 requirement of “21 days, park to park and no time out of the system” your next priority may be to confirm which campgrounds are included. Keep in mind, if you are buying direct from a private party, they may not know the answer to all of your questions unless they are VERY familiar with the specifics of their contract (you’d be surprised at how many people aren’t) however a broker will likely be able to address your initial questions on the spot.
Remember, each contract has difference nuances, so once a membership has made your short list, the best way to get all of the details and facts you need to make an informed decision is to obtain the last name and member number of the seller and call the team at the Thousand Trails Member Services Department. This is common practice and the seller has nothing to be concerned about, so they should not have any issues with providing you with their name and member number for the purpose of verifying the terms of the contract. TT will not divulge any of the seller’s personal information –they will only share with you the specifics of the contract terms relevant to the potential transfer.
Below is a handy checklist to help you get clear on the membership contract specifics – remember, you will be contractually obligated by the terms in the Membership you purchase, so you need to be fully aware of what you are getting into. Your contract is your responsibility, so there’s no blaming anyone else for what you may have missed after you’ve signed on the dotted line!
Questions you need to to ask before committing to a Resale Camping Membership
- What is the membership contract length required that I am legally obligated to fulfill as the new owner?
- What is the minimum time commitment before I can exercise my option to cancel or place the membership on hold?
- What date is the membership current to? (ie. Have the annual dues been paid?)
- What is the transfer fee? (typically $750 unless an Alliance or otherwise specified in contract)
- Is the transfer fee included in the price you are asking?
- Specifically, which parks are included in the contract (ie. TT, Naco, Leisure Time, Outdoor World, Mid-Atlantic Resorts, Encore?)
- What is the total number of campgrounds available within the contract?
- What is the advance reservation window?
- What is the maximum length of stay at each preserve and requirements for time out of the TT system?
- What are the rules around future transferability of the membership and benefits?
- Which family members can also utilize our member benefits? (eg. parents, grandparents, children?)
- Can the annual dues be frozen once a member reaches a certain age?
- If I choose to sell the membership at a later date, what benefits will transfer to the new owner?
You may have some other questions of your own, but we found this to be a pretty comprehensive list that helped us narrow down the best membership for us so we could feel confident about committing to our contract terms.
Tips for dealing with private parties – Craig’s List, eBay etc
Despite the fact this didn’t work out out for us (aside from the education and experience) it may still be worth giving this avenue a try. But don’t spend a ton of time on it – have an initial look to see what’s available and see if any memberships you find line up with the guidelines and criteria in this article. If you DO embark down the DIY route, at least now you’ll be armed with the information and tips we’ve shared in this post. Knowing exactly what membership type you want in advance is extremely helpful in narrowing down to a short list of solid potential buys. Here are some tips for venturing into the land of Craig’s List, eBay and so on.
- Before you commence your search, get clear on exactly which membership you are looking for
- Know in advance what is a fair price to pay
- Search Craig’s List in your local area as well cities that are popular with RVers (snowbirds)
- Search aggregator sites like SearchCraigsList.org and OneCraigs.com to widen your search nationally
- Use specific terms to help you narrow down your search eg. Thousand Trails, Elite, Alliance, Platinum, VIP, Camping/Campground Memberships
- Look for ads that provide a good amount of detail, like the membership features and contract terms – it shows the seller knows what they are doing
- Beware of overpriced memberships unless the seller is negotiable
- Once you have narrowed down the field, obtain the member number and name to verify specific contract inclusions and terms with TT
- Use the list of questions provided in this post to find out from the seller (and TT) what the membership specifically includes
- It’s fine to buy from people no matter where they are located, as long they are genuine (up to you to discern) – you can do it all electronically and/or by mail
We know of a couple of people who have succeeded in buying a resale membership upgrade this way, but we have found that most end up buying through a broker to save themselves the time and hassle – and for the peace of mind they are dealing with a knowledgeable and reputable source.
A few general warnings and words of advice
- Some members don’t really know the specifics of their membership contract as they only recall what was relevant to their own needs eg. 21 days in, park to park. They may not be aware that the new contract term starts over with you once it’s transferred (like the 10 year Alliance contract) and some may call it a ‘lifetime’ membership which doesn’t really mean much (any contract can be lifetime as long as you keep paying your annual dues), so the more educated you are, the better you can navigate this.
- Some owners may be reluctant to share their membership number with you so you can call TT Member Transfer Department for clarification. We had some resistance from a couple of people and one fellow was downright rude, suggesting we pay $10K for a new membership instead. If you cannot obtain this information from the seller, simply move on and don’t waste your time with them. You do not want to commit yourself to a contract without knowing exactly what you are getting yourself into! And you can’t do that without the name and member number.
- Be sure the Membership is up to date financially. One woman we contacted via Craig’s List was keen for us to “have” her Elite membership for free, but after a week of evasive answers to our questions, she eventually admitted that she had fallen behind on her payment plan. She authorized TT to provide us with a payout figure if we were to take over her membership, but the amount was higher than what we would pay via Campground Membership Outlet, without the hassle.
- Some members have paid several thousand dollars for their membership and may have been told by a TT Sales rep they can get good money back when they go to sell it. These people often put a high price on their membership listing without being aware of the prevailing market price. Often, these people are the least negotiable on price as they are so attached to what they believe it is ‘worth’. Of course, something is only worth what another is willing to pay for it! That’s why it pays to be educated.
- In your online research, you may come across articles and claims that TT is a scam and/or that people have been ripped off. While we cannot know for certain which of these claims (if any) have any validity (after all, the company has changed ownership, management and sales tactics many times over the years and used to sell via persuasive timeshare-style presentations with a high ticket price) it does pay to be aware that some people may have overpaid for their membership and/or committed to a contract without properly reading the terms and then became angry about it (some of them are really angry with themselves for making a poor decision). While unfortunate for them, it is all the more reason to buy resale instead of a new membership and yet another reminder to thoroughly research what you are getting before handing over your money and signing a contract. There are many thousands of happy TT members as well, so be discerning in whose opinions you pay attention to.
Our experience dealing with a broker
Finally, after our adventure in trying to find a membership ourselves, we purchased our Elite membership from Chad Hoel at Campground Membership Outlet. Chad actually reached out to us us (not the other way around) when he called in response to an email we had sent to a private party regarding their listing on Craig’s List. Chad had since taken over the management of the sale of the contract for them and was acting on their behalf. Initially, we were dubious and little suspicious, assuming the price would be inflated, however after dealing with Chad for a week or two, continuing our own research and speaking to the ladies in the transfer department at Thousand Trails, we came to realize that dealing with Chad and his sister Kim, was a whole lot easier, seamless and enjoyable. He was laid-back, helpful, informative and a straight-shooter. And, he had the exact membership we wanted – for a much lower price than we’d seen advertised on eBay.
Here’s what we came to learn about the benefits of dealing with a broker instead of a private party:
- These guys have been around since 1991. They specialize in reselling campground memberships for a range of different camping resorts so they understand all the different kinds of companies and camping memberships out there
- Brokers (like Campground Membership Outlet) have a wealth of knowledge, offer sound advice and have access to a number of different kinds of memberships and options (not just Thousand Trails)
- Due to the complex nature of Thousand Trails Memberships and the 100+ types of contracts in existence, working with a broker can greatly simplify the process
- A good broker will educate you and help you find the type of membership you want at a competitive price and know the ins and outs
- They act as the middleman between seller and buyer and handle all of the paperwork and payment
- The prices they quote are transparent, fair and include the transfer fee (no hidden charges)
- No fee for service to buyer or seller – the broker makes their money from a discount on the Thousand Trails transfer fee
- They provide you with the member number and last name so you can call Thousand Trails yourself to verify the contract specifics
- They usually have a large inventory of membership types to choose from and if they don’t immediately have what you want, they can usually find one fairly quickly
- They offer a zero risk guarantee
We can personally recommend Chad Hoel and his sister Kim Hoel as we obviously had a very positive experience. What we liked about Chad was his responsiveness, how easy he was to work with and his transparency – there’s no hidden agenda. We decided Chad was the eHarmony of campground membership resales and told him so – he laughed.
So if you’re also looking into a resale camping membership – whether it’s Thousand Trails or any other network – do give Chad or Kim a call on 800-272-0401 to ask for their advice and they will point you in the right direction. Their contact info is also at the bottom of this post. Chad can sometimes be hard to reach as he gets so many calls and emails but Kim is just as knowledgeable and helpful so don’t hesitate to contact her too.
Please also feel free to tell them that Marc and Julie Bennett of RVLove.com referred you. To be completely transparent, Chad and Kim do have a referral program and may send a commission to clients who have referred business to them, but this is not the reason we are recommending them! The fact is, after several weeks of trying to do this ourselves, dealing with Chad at CMO was simply the most time and cost-effective way to find the ideal membership for us – professional, painless and risk-free. You don’t pay any fee for their service, and of course, we got our Elite membership from Campground Membership Outlet at a much better price than we had been able to find ourselves. Done deal!
How long does a Membership transfer take?
Regardless of how you find your membership, once you’ve identified the right one for you and agreed on a price with the seller/broker, you should allow between 2-6 weeks for the transfer to be completed. There are many factors that can impact the timeframe of the transfer process, including:
- how tech-savvy both the seller and buyer are – it’s faster when both can receive, sign and return documentation electronically
- geographical locations of the buyer, seller and broker – it can really slow things down when documents have to be mailed via the US postal system between key stakeholders around the country
- peak periods – Thousand Trails has a heavier workload to process in the spring/summer when everyone is getting ready to go out camping
While we were able to sign and return documents promptly by email, our seller was not, so this slowed things down a bit for us. All up, our membership transfer process took about 4 weeks.
What was the process we went through to buy and transfer our Membership?
Because we ended up buying our membership through a broker (CMO), we have shared below the process that was specific to our experience. While we don’t have direct experience going through this with a private party, the overall process should be fairly similar so you can use this as a guide. Here’s the summary of our dealings with Chad and the steps required for the membership transfer to be completed.
- Either Chad would call us or we would call him to ask about available memberships that met our criteria (we were after an Elite) and Chad ran us through the features, benefits and price(s)
- Chad provided us with the member name and number so we could call TT direct to verify the contract specifics
- We called TT Member Transfers (Ph: 1-800-388-7788, Option 4) and asked them to describe the membership features and answer my list of questions (above)
- We then called Chad back to advise whether or not it was a membership we were interested in pursuing further or not
- Once we found a membership that fit our criteria, Chad emailed the contract terms for us to review before agreeing we wished to proceed
- We gave Chad our credit card info to take that membership “off the market” and put the money in escrow until the transaction was completed
- At the same time, Chad emailed us a “Buyer’s Offer Letter” to review and sign and return so he could proceed
- Chad then liaised with the original owner (the seller) and sent them the paperwork to sign, authorizing the sale of the membership to us
- Upon receipt of the signed Membership Transfer Agreement from the owner, Chad emailed us a copy of the contract to countersign, along with a few other documents, which we scanned and returned by email
- Chad forwarded all signed documents to TT Member Services to start processing the transfer
- From this point, we liaised directly with TT regarding completion of the transfer (progress updates)
- Transfer complete, TT provided us with a new Member Number our Zone Pass membership was cancelled*
- Our new TT online membership login access was activated and we went to town making all kinds of new 21 day back to back reservations! Woohoo!
- TT sent us a Member Welcome Kit in the mail, including a hard copy of the contract
Our membership transfer began in late September and was completed at the end of October.
* Something you need to be aware of is that you cannot maintain a Zone Park Pass and an upgraded TT membership at the same time. So your Zone Pass will be canceled upon purchase of an upgraded TT membership. Your existing bookings can be transferred across to your new membership. However, you cannot sell your Zone Pass, you will forfeit any remaining time left on your annual membership and you can’t get a pro-rata refund of the unused portion of your membership. Not a deal-breaker for us, but it’s important to know, especially if your Zone Pass is new!
Final reflections on our Elite Membership – cost, benefits, learnings and insights
Having used and enjoyed our Elite membership benefits since October 2014, we’re pleased to report that we continue to be very happy with it and have been using it frequently – averaging 60-80% of our time in TT campgrounds – it usually depends on which part of the country we are in and how strong their presence is there. We tend to travel slower, due to our work commitments, so we love being able to stay up to 21 days and move straight to another TT park without any time out of the system. This has definitely reduced our exhaustion and stress levels from moving too quickly (like we did in September) and allowed us more time to settle in, relax and explore the local areas.
Early on in our travels, we realized we were likely to continue this lifestyle for a minimum of two years, more likely three (or more), so we took a 3 year view to our financial commitment. When we add up what we’ve spent on our original Zone Pass (we had this for 6 months before it was canceled), our Elite membership upgrade and factoring in three years of annual dues, our total investment in TT comes to around $4,700 or about $1,340 per year. We divided this by 42 months, as we really need to consider our investment is over a 3.5 year period, taking into account the first half year of our Zone Pass. This comes to an average of $111 per month for campground fees and of course includes electric, water, sewer and trash! It’s definitely a huge saving compared with our stick and brick home with the mortgage payment, HOA and utilities. Plus, we get to travel all the time 🙂 Of course, if we continue traveling beyond the 3 years, our ongoing annual expense will be capped at $549 or $45.75 per month, regardless of how many nights we use the TT system.
Note: we did end up increasing our budget for this purchase from when we started. Initially, we didn’t want to spend more than $1,000 on a membership upgrade and thought the Alliance was the right one for us. But as our research progressed and we recognized the greater value overall in spending more on the Elite, it became an easy decision. As we didn’t have that kind of cash just laying around, we put the purchase on an interest-free credit card that gives us 12 months to pay it off without incurring any credit charges (as long as we pay it off within the 12 months, which we will).
While we are grateful for the knowledge and experience we gained from trying to find a membership ourselves via Craig’s List and eBay etc, we are also very happy that we ended up making our purchase through a broker. Dealing with an expert like Chad gave us the confidence that we were buying the right membership for our specific needs as full-time RVers who intend to travel the entire country and want access to as many campgrounds within the TT network as possible. That’s why the Elite membership was the right choice for us – it provides maximum access while helping us keep our campground expenses fairly low and largely “fixed” over the next 3 years. Of course, we also need to pay for our stays at campgrounds outside the TT network, especially in the middle states where TT doesn’t have a presence, but this solution definitely helps keep our expenses more manageable.
And while an Elite was the best choice for us, don’t rule out the Platinum or VIP memberships as they have other unique advantages that may be a better fit for you, and they are less expensive to buy.
In our dealings with the Thousand Trails Membership Transfers Department, we found the ladies there to be extremely patient, friendly and helpful, taking the time to highlight contract terms that we should be aware of or steer clear from. We really felt as though they were ‘on our side’ and did their best to help us ensure we were taking over a contract that offered all the benefits we had specified in our criteria. It was also obvious that both the ladies at TT and Campground Membership Outlet have had a long, successful working relationship and spoke highly of one another. Doing these transfers every day means they are working together as a team, which makes things go much smoother for everyone. Knowing this also gave us great peace of mind.
In a nutshell, had we known back then what we know now, we would have started our journey by going through a broker in the first place. But we didn’t know they existed, and we wouldn’t have had all of this content to share in this blog post with you, would we?
Need More Information?
While we’ve been happy to share our knowledge and experience with you here, if you want more detail on features and prices on TT membership upgrades (resale or new), please contact the relevant parties that can help you:
If you decide to go down the Resale path as we did, reach out to Chad or Kim Hoel at Campground Membership Outlet on 352-242-0401 or email by clicking their names. They will be able to quickly and easily help you identify and purchase the best contract for your needs. They have plenty of inventory, but even if you have to wait a bit for a specific type of membership (like an Elite which may not come up as often) it’s a still far easier process than trying to do it all yourself. It won’t cost you any extra and their guarantee of a risk-free transaction offers great peace of mind in what can be a very murky territory. We’ve included some more useful contact information and links below for your convenience.
For a Zone Pass or New Membership Upgrade (Elite), you can make direct contact with our trusted sources within TT Jim and Brandy Reneau (770-622-4188) who we have met personally and are known for being able to pull off deals even better than listed on the website. We like their approach as their focus is on helping people get the right membership for their individual needs, as opposed to trying to just ‘make a sale’ – like others we’ve encountered. Just tell them you got the scoop from RVLove and they’ll do their best to get you the best deal available on new memberships at that time.
Finally, we do not make any claims that this article is perfect, but it’s definitely a solid place for you to start. Ultimately, this is designed to be a guide, so please be aware that it is your responsibility to conduct your own due diligence, do your homework, consider each membership option and carefully review any contract before signing. Well, that about sums it up! Good luck!
Useful Contacts and Links
Thousand Trails Zone Pass or New Elite Membership purchases: Jim and Brandy Reneau Ph:770-662-4188
List of TT campgrounds and partners – see which parks belong to the specific camping networks (TT, NACO, Leisure Time, Outdoor World, Mid-Atlantic Resorts etc)
RPI (Resort Parks International) – to learn more about their membership add-on option
Encore – to learn more about their rates and the discounts you get as a TT member
Thousand Trails Member Transfers (for resales): 800-388-7788 (Option 4)
Was this article helpful? Here’s how you can thank us!
1. “Like” this post and share it with your friends and networks that may be interested
2. If you decide to buy a resale membership via Campground Membership Outlet, please tell them Marc and Julie Bennett from RVLove.com referred you. If they send us a “thank you” bonus in appreciation for the referral”, we’ll go out for dinner to celebrate all the time and money we saved you! And, it doesn’t cost you a cent! Wouldn’t that be super? 🙂
3. If you decide to buy a new membership upgrade direct from Thousand Trails with contact info above – or any other TT campground membership host – please let them know that Marc and Julie Bennett of RVLove.com referred you. Who knows, they may even send us a “thank you” too? Yippee!
Of course, we never ever expect it, but we sure aren’t going to say no to any unexpected forms of abundance that may come our way! Yes, there are many, many hours of research, effort and work that go into these articles, but above all, we’re happy if they help you in some way. Happy Trails!