May 242010

There is a thread on the Escapees forum that every RVer needs to read before they ever consider buying a campground membership. It can save you a lot of money and aggravation.

This is not the first time I have heard complaints about Timber Lodge RV Resort, and a website called the Ripoff Report shows 20 complaints against the company. The crux of the situation is that once you buy a membership in Timber Lodge, you are obligated to continue paying dues for life, and they will apparently dun you right into your grave to collect, and then apparently go after your estate. Timber Lodge says this is a “standard industry practice.”

What a bunch of bulls&%$! Any business that uses practices such as these obviously knows that they cannot keep customers by virtue of their facilities or customer service, so they try to bind them to financial servitude for life. There’s nothing like sticking it to unwary consumers to maintain a healthy bottom line!

Contrary to what Timber Lodge wants people to believe, this is not an “industry standard practice.” But just as many membership campground sales representatives will lie, cheat, and steal to make a sale, apparently once they get your name on a contract, they will be just as underhanded to keep you on the hook.

We had our own bad experience with a membership campground chain; Western Horizons, one of the biggest and best known in the country. We joined as greenhorns soon after we hit the road (always a mistake) and made a huge down payment, with a series of quarterly payments due on the balance. Soon after we joined, the company placed a series of advertisements in the Gypsy Journal, which they never paid us for, in spite of repeated collection calls on my part.

When Terry was diagnosed with cancer and we didn’t know if she was even going to survive, we had a payment due, and I called to ask for an extension, since money was tight and we were off the road. No dice, it was either pay up or else.

I pointed out the fact that while our account was not past due, they had owed me more than I owed them for over a year, and suggested we both wipe the slate clean and go on from there. No, they wanted their money, they ignored (again) my request for payment of what they owed me, and basically told me to go to hell.

Just like Timber Ridge, they made all kinds of threats about what they were going to do to us, and I told them to stick it where the sun don’t shine. They cancelled our membership, and we never heard another word. So we got ripped off for what we had already paid, but I can assure you that it has cost them much, much more in goodwill over the years. That old saying “Never pick a fight with a man who buys his ink by the barrel” is so very true!

This is not to say that all campground memberships are bad or unfair. We feel that the used Thousand Trails/NACO membership we now have has been a good investment, and while not all of their campgrounds are as pristine and perfect as their promoters would have you believe, and while the system has its own warts, we are pleased with it.

If you are going to purchase a campground membership, be sure to read every word of the contract. Remember, it’s the fine print that bites you in the butt! As for places like Timber Ridge, or any other company that uses such sordid tactics, my best advice would be not to even stop at their locations. There are plenty of reputable businesses out there who deserve your patronage.

Thought For The Day – Whatever hits the fan or rolls downhill will not be evenly distributed! 

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Nick Russell

World-Famous, New York Times Best Selling Author, and All-Around Nice Guy!

  9 Responses to “Membership Campground Rip-offs”

  1. Two important things to have included in the contract are:

    1 – a walk away clause, this allows you to give 30 days notice that you will not be renewing your membership. Normally required 30 days before dues are do for the year.

    2 – yearly dues locked in at the price when you sign the contract, to prevent them from raising them each year.

    If they refuse to give you these two items then get up and walk.

  2. If one of your readers has access to a legal data base, it would be interesting to see suits filed against campground memberships. Here is a link to a recent case in Illinois.

    Violating Section 2 of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act by engaging in the following acts or practices:

    •utilizing language in campground membership contracts or campground bylaws which obligate campground members and/or such member’s heirs to pay membership dues until the year of their death regardless of whether or not they utilize campground facilities;

  3. I just took the talk at a Western Horizons in Hurricane, UT. I was ready with answers to their questions. He kind of got deflated after about an hour. I said I would think about it, but never did get back to him. I also never got my free gift. The campground was okay, but in the middle of no where with no cell and no internet. Not the place for me, but did get to see Bryce and Zion while there.

  4. We joined an individual campground in Arizona — The Caverns RV Resort. That qualified us for membership in Coast to Coast and AOR. And THEY were going to pay the dues to both organizations. We enjoyed using the place, although “resort” was a strong word to use for a place with an above ground pool that you had to ask them to turn on the heat two days before you might wnt to use it, then they eventually tore down the pool. Guess what? There were ownership battles, the guy sold out and the new owners simply dropped all memberships — just kicked us off the roster! Wouldn’t even talk to us about it. Gotta watch the little guys as well as the big guys.

  5. I looked into CG memberships when we first started RVing. I didn’t like what I saw with Thousand Trails, Coast to Coast, etc. What we did buy into was FMCA, Good Sams, Escapees. The only memberships we bought were a lifetime membership with Passport American when they first came out and the Golden Age Pass. Obviously FMCA et al give us not only discounts on CGs but a magazine, fellowship at rallies, etc. Passport America has paid for itself may times over. The Golden Age pass is well-just golden. It’s now called the America the Beautiful Senior Pass, still $10 for a lifetime pass. What a deal.
    The reason we did not buy into TT, C to C, etc was the initial cost, the yearly maintenance fee, the lack of parks where we wanted to go and stay and the bad vibes I heard at resale seminars from audience members as well as some presenters. It pays to do your homework before you buy.
    I am so glad we didn’t buy into any of the major CG memberships. I would recommend to newbies that they REALLY do their research. If you USE the CG memberships lots and yearly, they may be a good deal for you. But don’t get carried away with the hype and buy several, thinking you will use them. We know a number of people stuck with memberships who didn’t use them and they had a hard time getting rid of them.
    If it looks to good to be true, it is.
    Let the Buyer, Beware!!!!!

  6. I hate to admit it but I too have gotten into a bad membership park in Illinois. They originally informed us after being paid up members for 22 years now, that our membership cannot be cancelled. We are in it for life and when we die our kids will inherit the debt! If we just quit paying, they will come after us. In other words, no way out forever! Some RVer’s we talked to said to send them a registered letter and now they came back and claim we can get out by paying $495 plus 5 years maintenance fees. We now got a hold of an attorney recomended by an SKP member who is very knowledgeable in these matters. This attorney has now sent an official letter to them and we are awaiting the results. Wish us luck! We will never again get into a membership deal.

  7. I feel that I was ripped off by Thousand Trails. When the
    company that bought TT they bought Mid Atlantic. They owned several parks
    including Hidden Cove. They wanted me to upgrade for $2000. I wasn’t
    interested because my reason for having it was so I could use RPI and
    AOR. Hidden Cove is a so park in the middle of nowhere.
    Since they also own RPI they decided that I could no longer use NACO
    parks in the RPI system. I called and talk to them about this they told
    me they could make changes in the system but I couldn’t. I had this
    membership for about 14 years of full timing.
    I believe that very few people can benefit from membership camping
    financially. If you consider the difficulty in getting into a park, where
    a lot of them are located. Then there is the up front cost, dues,
    reservation fees, campground fees plus some parks more then there suppose
    to and nothing is done about it when reported. The system has really
    changed a lot in my 14 years. AOR every few years put restrictions on
    your usage.

    Rather then getting my $2000 they lost a member dues that they weren’t
    doing anything for except providing a system. I also am telling my story
    to anyone that will listen. Hopefully preventing this from happening to
    others. I have dropped everything and will stick to discount camping in
    the future.

  8. A few years ago we took Western Horizons up on their offer of a 3 day visit in exchange for listening to their sales spiel. I have never experienced such a hard sell in my life! The salesman was very pushy and would not answer our questions about the membership, all he wanted us to do was sign on the dotted line and write a check. I had some concerns about what happens at the end of our RVing days, and he assured us that the membership was an “appreciating asset” that we could sell for a profit down the road. I told him I was born in the morning, but not that morning! He capped it for us when he told us that if we didn’t sign right then, we could never, ever join Western Horizons in the future.Yeah, right! I told him no problem, because we would never want to and we walked out.

  9. The only memberships that we truly cherish are FMCA and Escapees who have great discounts and wonderful magazines; we have the Golden Age Passport because there is no better deal in the whole country for staying in any Federal campgrounds. We possess a Good Sams membership for the discounts at some parks only; their magazine is marginal and since Good Sams is owned by Affinity Group, the same company that owns Camping World et al, the “club” has a definite slant in just about everything they do. We owned a membership in Cutty’s in Des Moines but when things looked like they might not be going well there, we gave our membership away to the first person who inquired. We would never join a membership park system of any kind since there are too many good parks to use without joining them.

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