Campground Crowding: A secret reservation system code that’s costing you $$$

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crowded campgrounds

By Nanci Dixon
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.

DEMAND PRICING FOR CROWDED CAMPGROUNDS? YIKES!

I was shocked to learn of this little-known secret that reader Donald S. shared with us. This explains why reservation prices can be sky high! This is certainly a reason to book early – real early! Donald writes, “It seems that some campgrounds are now using ‘demand pricing.’ This is when the flat rate no longer applies and as sites fill up the reservation system automatically increases the price! Having been a workamper, I have seen this ‘option’ in some of the reservation system software. When this is enabled the pricing option overrides the ‘flat rate’ and enables the ‘demand pricing’ schedule. So the longer you wait to book, the higher the rate may be as the percent of available sites decreases. I see this as a BAD thing since you can’t budget your camping experiences.”

Have you heard of this happening?
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WATCH FOR THE CANCELLATIONS

When a choice campground is all booked up and not available, watch for cancellations. I have used this technique myself, checking National Park campgrounds until I find a site open due to a cancellation and then will plan an upcoming trip or route around that.

Heidi B. follows this method when they want to get into their preferred campground. “The key for us is we know people cancel their reservations. We determine when we want to be in our preferred campground and then we keep checking availability until we find someone canceled and we can book our site. This can be unnerving for some people, but we land some pretty amazing campsites this way! We scored this site for a month using this method in St. Augustine Beach! We booked two weeks out.”

WHERE DO OUR CANCELLATION FEES GO?

Have you ever wondered where those annoying cancellation fees go? Katherine G. brings up an interesting point: “Having been on both sides of the cancellation fee issue – the RV park pays to process your credit card payment and pays to refund upon cancellation. That is where the fee goes.”

THE YEAR THAT CHANGED EVERYTHING…

Sadly, we are hearing more and more people say that they just are not going to deal with the lack of campsites, crowded campgrounds and the high costs of sites anymore. They’re hanging up their keys and selling their RVs.

Daniel S. said he and his wife are not even going to start. He wrote, “We were ready to purchase a new travel trailer spring of 2020 when COVID come along. So we delayed our purchase for a while to see how things played out.So now it’s spring of 2021 and after reading your and other articles/sources, we’ve decided not to purchase a travel trailer at this time for the following reasons:
1. Shortage of RVs at dealerships, which results in little to no negotiating power and in some cases dealers asking more than the MSRP.
2. Shortage of campground site availability and rate increases.
3. Not knowing which direction our economy is going.
4. Not knowing what our freedom of travel will be in the future.
5. Not knowing if the COVID agenda will go away.

I so hope that you decide to give it a try, Daniel, if not now maybe in the future. It really is a wonderful life, despite some major inconveniences.

SHOULD  RV MANUFACTURERS REALLY BE INVOLVED?

Last week, reader Kathleen S. mentioned that she thought RV manufacturers should be investing in creating more campgrounds to help alleviate campground crowding. But this week, reader GP O. left a head-slapping, why-didn’t-I-think-of-that comment. They wrote, “Should RV manufacturers build RV Parks? Do you want the quality of RV parks that manufacturers build into their RVs? Probably NOT for most of them?”

Brenda Odom left a similar comment: “If the quality of the campgrounds they created are anything like some of the units being rolled off the line, then please, NO! However, a recreation tax on each unit sold that would specifically support upgrades for public campgrounds could help.”

PLANNING AND RESERVATIONS – TO EACH THEIR OWN

Last week we asked if you would rather have a reservation for a campsite or if you’d prefer spots were first-come, first-served to deal with campground crowding. We read through a lot of your comments and find it interesting that so many people prefer differing reservation techniques. Here are a few of those comments:

Mo wrote, “I think reservations are the way to proceed, but would like to see improvements to the reservation websites making them easier to use and to allow more flexibility as far as reservation windows are concerned. For us seniors, specific dates are not as essential as the number of days and amenities provided…”

TW adds, “I think a mix of reservable and non-reservable is appropriate. You don’t want people to drive a couple of hundred miles and pull in after dark to find out there are no spots available. But last-minute trips and people who can’t plan time off far in advance also need options. You do see these types of mixes in some USACOE (United States Army Corps of Engineers) parks but commonly only about 10% are non-reservable. That is too low.”

Annie S. enjoys the freedom of traveling without reservations. “We try to travel without reservations. We like the flexibility to stay longer at places we love and move on from places we don’t. However, we did run into full campsites in Idaho last July and Utah last fall. We still found spots but it was a lot busier than past years.”

FINALLY, OUR THOUGHTS ARE WITH EVERYONE IN TEXAS AND ALL THE RVers IMPACTED BY THE RECENT STORMS AND COLD SNAP

Ed G wrote to us about his experience this winter with crowding, trying to find a place and the high cost of staying ahead of the storms last week. “Well, since we left, one storm after another has pushed us to move faster than we wanted. We started finding parks were harder to get into due to people on the move. A lot of our choices were made on just getting a safe place for the night. We just missed the Texas freeze because we had no idea where we were going in the first place but wanted to stay on the coast wherever we headed. We left Texas, headed for New Orleans in a site for $100 a night. After we paid for three days, in two days came the storms. We have been on the road for over a month now in central Florida and the RV parks are full and we are having a hard time booking and of course due to our lack of planning the costs are crazy.

Now, some questions for you about campground crowding:

• 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.

Click or drag a file to this area to upload.

Read last week’s Crowded Campgrounds column here

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21 Comments
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Rick H
1 month ago

Simple solution to RV Park crowding / hard to make reservations / or demand pricing – don’t stay in an RV Park!

RVs are built to be self contained, usually with many different redundant electrical and water systems. Most have generators and water tanks. Some have solar panels as well. Many have dual-fuel refrigerators and dual-fuel water heaters. More people are converting their house batteries to Lithium which greatly expands their available 12v power and really enables off-grid camping. The point is – with all these systems – why do so many RVers feel that they can only stay crammed into crowded RV parks just so they can have hookups?

There are so many other places to stay – many much nicer than many RV parks. By utilizing your RV systems one can boondock in so many great places. In our experience there are far more RV sites which have Zero hookups than there are full hookup sites – and that includes many State and National Park CGs and most National Forest CGs.

Tom
1 month ago

Isn’t this just a natural progression of the rates they have for weekends( must stay Friday and Saturday) and holidays, must stay for the 3 days weekend. As others have stated other industries have been doing this for years. Sports teams do this when they play better teams. Remember how airlines had good deals if you flew on a Saturday, hotels have / had good weekend rates. I’m surprised it hasn’t happened sooner.

Abe Loughin
1 month ago

Kathrin G. was 100% correct about the credit card company fees but there’s another reason for the cancelation fee. When a reservation is made, even online, a real live person is involved then when canceled another real live person has to input the information and initiate the refund process. These people are not volunteers, someone, somewhere, is paying them.

Abe Loughin
1 month ago
Have you heard of this happening?" Read more »

Yes. But the same thing has been going on for years with airlines, hotels, and cruise ships. It should come as no surprise that this pricing method has reached rving, after all rving is still part of the hospitality industry.

Gordy
1 month ago

The inly reason we have crappy quality RVs is because so many are willing to accept it. Based on several groups on facebook I continually see well its an RV you are going to have problems. Small stuff yes, but I reading about big issues like slides will not retract on the day of pick up etc. May have to keep my 2007 longer. It is in better shape than some new rigs.

Pricing is the same thing, if you are will ing to pay full MSRP they will gladly take your money. Experience has shown from others I know keep to your guns they will drop 30% off MSRP easily, which from what I am seeing is still to high for the junk coming out.

Carson Axtell
1 month ago

I see a time of plenty ahead for RVers and nomads, once the pandemic is behind us: A glut of used RVs for sale and a crash in campground fees once today’s RV newbies return to their pre-COVID lifestyles. This period can’t have been a pleasant introduction to the RV lifestyle, with crowding, lack of amenities, price gouging at campgrounds and dealerships, and all the new skills and considerations that it demands, so I doubt the crowds of pandemic newbies will be back on the highways in 2022, if not 2021…

Last edited 1 month ago by Carson Axtell
Bob P
1 month ago
Reply to  Carson Axtell

Yep I agree completely, the younger generations are not use to the kind of work necessary to be an RVer, when I first started back in 1978 at the age of 35 I was amazed at how much work was involved but my family enjoyed it so I became an RVer and never looked back. Of course one of the biggest appeals was the fact I was no longer sleeping under a shelter half in the Marines.

Carol-Leah
1 month ago
Have you heard of this happening?" Read more »

The park we stayed at most of the summer uses this method. We are members so it didn’t apply to us but I think it’s a robbers way to go.

Clint
1 month ago
Have you heard of this happening?" Read more »

Supply and Demand. The hotel and airline and oil industries routinely do this. It’s called Capitalism and is the heart of business pricing—-Nothing wrong with it.

Bob M
1 month ago

No recreation tax on each RV sold. I pay to much taxes. In NJ I got robbed by their motor vehicle dept buying a Travel Trailer.

George
1 month ago

We haven’t stopped traveling. But we are putting off, or canceling altogether in the future, purchase of a new motorhome. This is due to quality problems and undesirable design choices, even with a higher end brand*, Covid pricing and availability, unpredictable future fuel prices, future inflation penalty on a retiree income, and possibly just being labeled as an earth-killing pariah for driving a fuel guzzling RV. We’ll just keep driving our old RV till we decide, as some of this plays out in the hopefully post-Covid recovery.

*
Documented problems with a specific brand/model we are looking at:
1) Windows fogging or falling out
2) Furniture fabric peeling prematurely
3) Chronic Diesel Exhaust Fluid (DEF) system problems
4) Dissatisfaction with the included Audio/Nav system

Randy
1 month ago

I received this response from TravelOK on November 9, 2020 after inquiring about the base rates for Oklahoma State Parks.

Here is the response, in part

“Thank you for contacting us regarding camping rates for Oklahoma state parks.
This year, as you may be aware, Oklahoma state parks began a new method of pricing for its cabins, lodge rooms and campsites. Based on the Yield Management model that is employed by the hospitality industry, rental prices vary based on the following: the price is lowered at times of low demand with high availability. Prices incrementally increase when availability shrinks and demand increases.”

The letter continued with an explanation of the maximum incremental increase per day etc. etc.

It will be interesting to see if this type of Yield Management model will increase in popularity.

gary
1 month ago
Have you heard of this happening?" Read more »

We’ve seen this at a couple of chain RV parks. This is the business model used by hotels, airlines and car rental companies. Book early, pay a lower price. Sometimes, book at the last minute and also possible to get a lower price if cars or rooms available.

john
1 month ago
Reply to  gary

Yup.

Andy
1 month ago

Actually, this description of demand pricing is too simplistic. Under a well-administered plan of this sort, prices go up as inventory shrinks–but because the inventory is time-dependent, the price will start to drop as the time of stay draws closer in order to fill up the vacant sites before it’s too late. So book early if you want certainty, or book late if you’re willing to risk not getting a spot in exchange for a lower price–it’s like flying standby.

Robert Jobson
1 month ago

recreation tax nice idea but in practice a disaster. never trust the government to spend money.

Philip Sponable
1 month ago

‘Demand Pricing’ has been happening since ‘The Rat Pack’ existed…

Mary Warner
1 month ago

Airlines have been using this type of demand pricing for years since deregulation. Hotels use it too. Not sure why anyone would be surprised that campgrounds are beginning to use it.

Tommy Molnar
1 month ago

What I’d really like to see are RV parks (or state parks) that have an ‘overflow’ area with no hookups so travellers who are just passing through and just need a one night stay, can just park, leaving in the morning. Maybe up to $20 – for ground to park on. The park could be full-up. This could be maintenance free money for them. I’ve seen a parking spot or two in almost every RV park we’ve stayed in.

As I always say, I think the crowding is more of an “east of the Rockies” problem than out west. At least, this is my experience.

Gman
1 month ago
Have you heard of this happening?" Read more »

No, but I’d like to know which reservation system does this and what actions if any, that RV’ers have done about it. Does the website state this when booking?

Donald Schneider
1 month ago
Reply to  Gman

The systems that I saw this on did NOT have this enabled but a simple checkbox would have done it.