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Want to reserve a specific campsite? Then pay up!

You wearily pull your 40-footer and toad into one of your favorite parks. All you want is to set the stabilizers down at that wonderful site on the pond you reserved eight months ago. But there’s a problem.

You forgot to pay a site-lock fee, and now you’ll be spending the weekend wedged between the swimming pool and the bike rental shack.

How did something like this happen? Simple. Campgrounds are crowded. Demand for those perfect sites – or any site, really – has never been higher. Campground owners are struggling to fit the proverbial 10 pounds of … stuff …  into a 5-pound sack.

The advent of the site-lock fee

RV manufacturers continue to crow about their record production numbers. They topped 600,000 units in 2021 and expect to blow right past that record in 2022. Here’s another fact for you: Most of those RVs are huge.

Many campgrounds, on the other hand, are faced with a mixed-bag inventory of long sites, short sites, pull-through sites, and back-in sites with all sorts of amenities and power offerings. Some are lovely getaways on the aforementioned golden pond. And some are the back-of-the-park variety, complete with a stunning view of the green waste pile and campground shop.

Consider this scenario. A family goes online to book a spot for their 15-foot tent trailer. They select a campground’s last long 80-foot pull-through for the weekend. The next guy on the park’s website is driving a 40-foot-long mansion, but the only site left for the weekend is a 30-foot back-in spot.

In the past at most parks, the campground owner would be free to move the tent trailer folks to the smaller site and grant the motorhome access to the larger site. Likely, the move was executed by a sophisticated automated system designed to maximize the use of a park’s inventory. It didn’t really matter that the tent trailer folks really wanted that big site they had reserved, perhaps because they were traveling as part of a group.

If the tent camper folks had the option of accepting a site-lock fee and paying a bit more to guarantee that site, the campground’s booking system now knows it doesn’t have the option of moving the tent camper for the 80-foot site to make room for someone else.

Get used to site locks

While far from universal, site-lock fees are becoming more common on campgrounds throughout the U.S.

For example, about 170 of Kampgrounds of America’s 520 parks use a feature it calls “Select My Site,” according to Andy Metroka, KOA’s Senior Vice President of Information Services. Metroka said Select My Site has had a high campground adoption rate for such a new feature.

KOA isn’t alone. Almost all of the plethora of camping reservation systems in the market offer campground owners some sort of site-lock feature.

Yet campground owners are a bit torn when it comes to adding the site guarantee feature to their reservation systems.

On one hand, you have owners who see site locks as a revenue generation tool, just another part of the reservation transaction. In exchange for the loss of flexibility to move campers from site to site to accommodate the maximum number of reservations, the campground gets paid a premium. The campground is compensated for its loss of flexibility and the camper gets a guarantee of the site they really want.

Campgrounds who have adopted lock fees such as KOA’s Select My Site feature are finding that many guests are more than willing to pay the premium.

On the other hand, there are still owners out there who reject site-lock fees because they either don’t want to “nickel and dime” campers when making reservations, or they don’t want to lose the ability to move campers to maximize their parks.

Remember, it’s optional

The site-lock fee option is here to stay. More campgrounds will be adopting it as site demand climbs and empty sites – even midweek – vanish.

It’s important to remember that any site-lock fee is simply an option offered to campers, not a requirement. If it doesn’t matter where on a park you camp – as long as you fit – don’t click the site lock box.

But if you really, really want that special spot and don’t want to take any chances, then make the click.

Related:

Worker shortage taking toll on campgrounds and site fees

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Vincee
8 days ago

I think site lock fees are just another money grab by the large corporate parks such as K.O.A., Encore, Sun, and more. Most times I reserve at a private campground they don’t promise me a site but do reserve a location that will fit my equipment and needs. I am fine with this and I would think most campers would be too. Just another reason I avoid at All costs campgrounds that have the word “Resort” after their name. That’s code for high prices and for the most part no better amenities. And speaking of K.O.A.’s, Walmart or the rest stop would be a better option to me.

Donna
9 days ago

Toad? Lol

Mike Gast
8 days ago
Reply to  Donna

What does RV Toad stand for? While you may not find it in the dictionary, in the RV world, the word TOAD is slang for “towed vehicle” – typically a car, SUV or off road vehicle that you tow behind your motorhome, to make it easier (and less expensive) to get around and about, explore, shop and run errands in the areas you visit with your RV.

Suru
9 days ago

Thank you RV travel for explaining this fee. The first time I saw this was a few months ago when reserving a site in campground in Southern Utah. The campground was pretty pricey to begin with, but it was near where I needed to be and had electrical which is good in the winter in Utah. The site lock fee really rubbed me the wrong way and I didn’t click it. The sites in this campground are all the same size and there is no view. The only reason I would think this particular campground would offer this fee is if you are traveling with others and want to be next to each other, or greed on behalf of the campground owner.

Donald N Wright
9 days ago

Two times I have been asked to move from my site to a smaller site farther away. Both times I moved my Aliner Popup so the 45′ motorhome could squeeze into my old site. The words “thank you” always gets stuck in their throat.

pursuits712
9 days ago

Greed. Period.

There is no other financial justification for the site lock fee.

  • Does not cost the owners one penny more to nail down a site at time of reservation.
  • Does not resolve the issue of “what if my rig does not fit in the committed site?” issue.

The only improvement for campers would be if those formerly first-come, first-served sites became specific-reserveable sites. Then those campers who are chomping at the bit 3-4 hours before check-out time can now leisurely find their space — without sitting in surveillance in front of mine!!

Richard Petrein
10 days ago

Just booked 53 day trip for Aug-Sept in NW, 29 5th.. First time seeing these fees. Actually only used it 2x for view site. Hopefully all others will work out. Serval cg promised the site we picked and marked no site change. BTW avg price ended up to be $53.2 a night. Considering all what we read not bad and are reserved for 53 days.

Engineer
10 days ago

Just paid a $30 site lock fee in Hero, VT mid summer….we thought it was worth it…lake front….perfect

Vincee
8 days ago
Reply to  Engineer

In my opinion, the better option here is just to price these kinds of sites as Premium and charge a higher daily rate.

Lisa Adcox
10 days ago

I workamped at a park that had sites that were 35 ft to 92 ft in length. We did not use site lock and did not allow people to pick their site. We tried to put right size RV in right size site. We would try to give site they requested but could not guarantee. Also when people were traveling together it could and was a nightmare at times. They would have big rigs to tiny ones. We worked to get them together but sometimes it wasn’t possible. It was not a huge park so they were not that far away from each other even if not side by side.

mike henrich
10 days ago

While I don’t like it, I’ve paid $25 for a site lock because we were traveling with others. There are some parks around here that want $100 or more for site lock. That’s just ridicolous.

G13
10 days ago

I’ve experience lock in fees anywhere from $25 to $45, I’ve never made the “click”.