More people than ever are taking up RVing. These newbies have determined that RVing is the safest way to travel in our pandemic times. The result is campground crowding like never before. In this weekly blog, RV Travel readers discuss their experiences. Maybe we can make some sense of this and find ways to work around the problem.
Here are a few observations from our readers.
NO-SHOWS… NO GO?
This has been a common complaint amongst our readers. Reservation systems show a site is booked, but nobody shows up to stay. This is especially frustrating at a time when campgrounds are already so crowded that it is almost impossible to book a site, months, sometimes even a year in advance. We know we’ve discussed this a lot in previous installments of this column, but week after week we receive more complaints. Here are a few of those:
Mark writes, “I hate it when I show up to find most sites are vacant and I had to take a less than nice site when on Reserve America it shows all sites full. If people book a site for a week and don’t show for half they should be put back on the site as open.”
And Tom C. says, “All of the campgrounds that we have used (state, federal, and private) require full payment in advance for the duration of the stay. If a person doesn’t cancel and doesn’t show up, there is no incentive for the campground to rent the reserved space, as it is already paid for, and there is really no maintenance cost to an empty site, so there is clearly more profit. I guess if they went ahead and rented the reserved site to another party, and the original party eventually showed up, it could create problems that the park would have to deal with, so it is just simpler not to re-rent a reserved site. I like the first-come, first-served approach covers all the bases.”
“There have been many complaints about empty sites in Florida state parks. Sites that have been reserved but not used. The Florida park service is 75-80% self-funding and many want it to be fully self-funding. The revenue from campgrounds helps fund the non-camping parks which generally don’t generate enough revenue to cover their expenses. Florida reservations require payment in full at the time of the reservation. The result is that there is no incentive for the park service to institute a system to free up these unused sites. The sites have been paid for and the park service has the revenue. That is what is important to them,” writes James D.
Jack P. has a bold suggestion to penalize no-shows. “The individual state park does not have the ability to change or modify reservations, if, for example, the rangers see an empty spot that has been reserved. To correct this the park rangers should have access to the reservation system for their park and cancel any spots unoccupied or without a person occupying the site. Also perhaps a fix would be to prevent anyone from using the reservation system for a month or so if they reserve a spot and don’t cancel.”
Michael G. likes the way things are and as an RVer knows that things can come up. “In response to those concerned about empty sites. Anyone who has owned an RV for any amount of time knows that things can happen. If I am delayed due to bad weather, mechanical issues or a traffic accident, I don’t want to arrive only to find that my camping spot for which I fully paid for months in advance is occupied by someone else. If I fully pay for a site it should be mine even if I arrive a day or two days late. I prefer the system the way it is. Reservations are the best way to afford equal access for all. Leave the system the way it currently exists.”
CANCELLATION FEES BY STATE
One reason many people don’t cancel their site reservations is because of high cancellation fees (another thing we’ve continually discussed). There is little incentive to cancel and that can result in the number of no-shows and empty spots even when listing full online.
We looked at a small sampling of cancellation fees across the country and found that, yikes, the fees are HIGH! People may need to cancel out of the goodness of their heart for their fellow RVers rather than any monetary refund. Below are the state’s policies on cancellations:
Arizona was clearest on its cancellation policy: “If the reservation is cancelled less than 24 hours in advance one night’s fees are forfeited. Campers who do not show up by 12 noon the day following the first night’s reservation will forfeit all payments and campsite will become available for first-come, first-served.”
“Customers will be charged a $7.99 cancellation fee if cancelled before 6:00 p.m. the day before arrival and forfeit the $7.99 reservation fee. Your original $7.50 reservation fee is nonrefundable. If you cancel your reservation after 5 p.m. the day before your arrival date, the first night’s campsite fee is forfeited. A campsite will be held for you until 12 p.m. the day after your arrival date. If you do not call the park before that time, you will be considered a ‘no-show,’ and the park will cancel your reservation. You will be refunded the amount paid for the campsite, less the non-refundable $7.50 reservation fee, the $7.00 cancellation fee, and one night’s camping use fee.”
“Campsites may be reserved anytime during the current calendar year up to two days in advance of a planned stay. Transaction fees are non-refundable. Cancellation 15 days or more prior to arrival date results in a refund minus the transaction fee. Cancellation 14 to three days prior to arrival results in a refund minus one camping night and transaction fee. Cancellation less than three days prior to arrival results in a forfeiture of all fees. Cancellation within the minimum window of stay results in a forfeiture of all fees. If you notify the park office to shorten your stay within 14 to three days of arrival, this will result in a forfeiture of fees for one-night camping.”
“If you cancel your reservation you will be assessed the following fees. It’s important to know the closer to your arrival date you cancel, the less money you will receive back as a refund. Cancelling 8 days or more prior to arrival – $7.25 Reservation Fee + $7.25 Cancellation Fee. Cancelling 7 days or less prior to arrival – $7.25 Reservation Fee + $7.25 Cancellation Fee + the cost of the first night’s stay. All fees are retained if you fail to arrive and do not inform the park of a cancellation in advance.”
“A $17.75 cancellation fee will be assessed for each reservation being cancelled. Visitors canceling on the day of arrival will be assessed a $17.75 cancellation fee and the first night’s use fee.”
Washington wants you to plan carefully and well ahead of time. “If you cancel your reservation 29 or more days before your scheduled arrival date, the cancel fee is $8 online or $10 by calling the Reservation Center. If you cancel 28 or fewer days before your scheduled arrival date, you must pay for up to two nights or days regardless of when the reservation was made.”
SOME ADVICE FOR YOU…
Eric R. has some helpful tips and advice to snag a campsite. He writes, “A few tips for finding campgrounds that aren’t crowded. 1. Go local and avoid the big national chains. 2. When searching for sites near a particular destination look past the 1st or 2nd option that pops up. 3. Look at the reviews… if a place has a 1 star rating because it’s near a railroad track and you actually enjoy the sound of trains…then you are golden. One of the many lessons learned from the surge in RVers and the dwindling supply of places to stay is that I need to be more agile and expand my travel destination wish list.”
AND ON A POSITIVE NOTE…
Michael C. points out the positive about full campgrounds, particularly State and Federal ones: “It’s nice seeing full campgrounds. The money goes back into the state and federal parks. Better than being less than half full with a chance to be closed. Just my two cents.”
Now, some questions for you:
• Are you finding more and more campgrounds booked up? Or are you having no problem finding places to stay?
• If campgrounds continue to be crowded and RVing continues to become more popular, will it affect how or when you RV?
• Do you have any tips or secrets you’d like to share about finding campgrounds that aren’t as crowded?
Please use the form below to answer one or more of these questions, or tell us what you’ve experienced with campground crowding in general.
Read last week’s Crowded Campgrounds column here.
Many people are complaining about the cancelation fees, but those fees are less than not showing up at all and forfeit the entire amount paid for the site. Others say the fees are just a money maker for the campground/ reservation contractor. There is paperwork/ administrative costs involved with processing a cancelation. In the case of private campgrounds there is also the cost of someone physically checking the sites for occupation, sometimes an apparent “no show ” arrives after the office closes and doesn’t complete the late arrival paperwork. So the fees may appear to be pure profit but, as a seasoned workcamper, I can assure that is not the case. Bottom line, if you aren’t going to make it at all, cancel. If you’re going to be delayed, call the campground and tell them your situation, trust me they will understand.
It’s unfortunate if you cancel a reservation you have to pay a cancellation fee. Both the State and federal Parks reservation systems are run by private contractors. The reservation fee and cancellation fee are probably significant sources of income. State and federal Parks are not the only group that charges significant cancellation fees. Some private campgrounds charge the cancellation fee and you forfeit the first nights cost to stay also. It is also a cost of doing business. If you don’t like the policy don’t make a reservation. And for all of us don’t make reservations for the same dates at several parks.
Two years ago, at the last minute, I needed to cancel a 2-month tour of mostly national parks, but also included several state parks and private campgrounds. I accepted that I would incur significant cancellation costs. But what surprised me was that at numerous campgrounds of all three categories, my cancellation costs were actually HIGHER than what my costs would have been to just not show up. I was tempted to not cancel at those places. But the national park campground host in me made me still cancel the ones I wouldn’t use. But it did irritate me.
The states all need to stop penalizing people for being honest and saying they can’t make it at the last minute, they make it harder to cancel than to reserve. No wonder so many no-shows.
I hate to see rangers spend all their time on enforcement, but sometimes the no-shows and phantom campers need to get a wakeup call in the form of an expensive citation, either in person or an expensive debit on their credit card. If you can get a ticket for collecting firewood, why not for keeping other people from using their public parks.
I agree. After 24 hours they should lose the reservation and it gets handed off to drive ups unless they contact someone. Maybe even a fine for no show, but minimize the cost to cancel ahead of the reservation.
Thinking of Chuck’s editorial. how about interviewing folks who work at “Reserve America” and “Recreation.gov” .
Reserve America is the worst. Pickings are pretty slim at Florida State Parks. The reservation fee is about $7. If you can only reserve one or two nights at a time, not only will you need to move your campsite, but you’ll also be hit with this reservation fee for each site. Cancellation, even months in advance is $10 on top of the non-refundable reservation fees. Cancellation fees should be waived if done more than 24 hours in advance. Released sites will be snapped up very quickly, and reservation fees will be collected again. I have never incurred any fees from Recreation.gov for reservations or cancellations (always done within a reasonable time frame).