Friday, September 17, 2021
Friday, September 17, 2021

Phantom Reservations II: Are extended booking windows making it worse?

Two weeks ago, we looked at a phenomenon called “phantom” reservations. It’s the practice by some unethical campers of making multiple reservations for the same dates at multiple campgrounds. These campers select one reservation at the last minute, and let the rest go unused. (If you missed that story, here’s the link.)

Judging from the comments on that article, unused campsites are something a lot of campers are encountering this summer.

Let’s look at another possible – and less scurrilous – reason for phantom reservations … the extension of campground reservation booking windows.

Many campground owners, faced with unprecedented demand for campsites, have taken to extending their reservation booking windows to 12 months out and beyond. Extending booking windows was the way many owners dealt with the sudden influx of new guests last summer as campers hunted for ways to get outside after pandemic lockdowns.

Extending booking windows many months out makes sense for campground owners.

Most will charge a deposit. Usually it’s the first night’s fee, but in some cases the entire stay is charged to the camper’s card. Those funds hit the owner’s bank account and become available for the owner to use immediately even though the reservation may be for a stay a full year away.

For campers, the extended booking windows can be the only way to have any chance at camping on popular dates or weekends. They book 12 months out and try to schedule the rest of their lives around those reservation dates.

And that’s where the potential problem of phantom reservations comes up again.

Personally, I couldn’t tell you what my situation will be 12 months from now. Will I still own the same RV, or any RV at all? Will I still be traveling with my pet? What about deaths, graduations, illnesses, births of grandkids and all the other factors that can’t be anticipated a year out?

I can’t imagine the complexity for RVers trying to plan a multi-stop, multiple-month trip a year in advance. They are forced to use multiple reservation sites with varying rules and procedures. They have to keep everything straight and hope against hope that one glitch doesn’t throw the entire plan into chaos.

Keeping to one reservation system doesn’t guarantee simplicity.

The Recreation.gov website, for example, clearly states “The 6-month booking window is not mandated for all locations on Recreation.gov. Some locations release their availability anywhere from 1 month to 12 months in advance.”

What if a camper makes a reservation this August for a camping stay in August 2022, and some life-changing event occurs in the interim? Will they even remember to cancel the reservation?

I’ve recently visited with several campground owners who said they’ve extended their booking calendars because the crowded camping market demands it. They’ve found that if you extend it, they will come (along with their deposits). Some winter parks have even taken to accepting reservations two years out for snowbirds.

I don’t have any extensive studies or hard numbers to support the argument that extended booking calendars result in phantom reservations. To me, it seems like a logical “cause and effect” situation. Maybe, as one reader politely said two weeks ago, the entire phantom reservation issue is a “tempest in a teapot.”

So, readers. What do you think?

##RVT1015

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Tom C
4 days ago

Apparently, the financial penalties for “no shows” are not sufficient for the ‘me’ individuals making multiple bookings and then leaving site(s) unoccupied for others to enjoy. I have thought about some solutions that, while not perfect, would serve as deterrents to these selfish practices.
1) Online booking sites can embed algorithms that prevent multiple bookings on the same date(s) by the same person, address, credit card, registration ID etc. While people will likely find work arounds, requiring a photo ID at check to verify you are the registered camper should help discourage bad actors from manipulating the system.
2) Unless a travel emergency arises and you contact the campground on the arrival day for a 24 hour extension, the reservation should be auto-cancelled and the site available to others online via a sign up notification. And in any case, the ‘no show’ should be charged for the full reservation period, not just the 1st night unless the canceled 2 weeks prior.

Richard DeAgazio
10 days ago

I had a heck of a time booking our 3 month trip for July-Oct back in February. Lots of places sold out or skimpy pickings. But as we are traveling most campgrounds are not full!! This really hurt our ability to be flexible and spontaneous….Campgrounds should charge a booking fee and penalties for cancelling within 2 weeks. Most know 2 weeks out whether they will arrive or not. Those that play with reservations hurt all of us. (kind of like the Toilet Paper “shortage” in the beginning of Covid-19). People horded and created a false void of supply!

Mike
12 days ago

Remember when? We used to at times load the camper the same day and head to a campground that same day and only once do I remember arriving to a full campground even on a Friday or Saturday night. Those days are gone!

Jill Barnes Nelson
16 days ago

I book months in advance for our snowbirding trip each winter. No problem remembering my dates. And keep a calendar of what I booked, and when I can book certain spots 6 months in advance. So if I don’t go or something happens, like last year because of bad weather, I canceled (or they canceled) and found some other arrangements on the fly. If you can’t remember what you booked, that’s on you. Can’t blame the campground.

Terri R
19 days ago

we are still weekend warrior campers taking ours out for a long weekend every month so we don’t go too far & stay mostly in Fl with the rare GA trip. FL state parks are wonderful so we book out 11 months in advance and try to tighten up the reservation as soon as vacation days get approved to free up for others. This keeps us with a rolling fund buried in the reservation system and we will continue to do it this way in order to get into the campgrounds we prefer

Roy
19 days ago

Especially in state and federal parks where the camping fees are ridiculously low. People are incentivized to reserve campsites even if they can’t fulfill the reservation. Especially senior citizens you can camp in federal campsites for $10 a night. You can reserve a campsite over a holiday weekend for $30 and then choose to go or not go.

bwodom
19 days ago

If we assume that many book ahead and simply forget, or “life happens,” then the medical community uses a system that should be easily duplicated in the hospitality industry. I get a heads-up notice a week ahead asking if I still plan on keeping my appointment and giving me a chance to change/cancel. I then get another notice a day or so ahead reminding me of time and date and once again confirming that I plan to be there.

In this technology-oriented world, there are too many “reminder” options (including your own phone, web calendars, et al.) not to use them.

As for those who just don’t care…I don’t think additional $$ consequences matter. It just punishes the rest of us who don’t have the extra $$ to throw away.

Topher Sean
19 days ago

In the New Mexico State Park system, I am routinely seeing the parks at 10-15% capacity. Weekend are much fuller than weekdays, of course, but for me – I am still left in a bind.
On Social Secufity, I must make every dollar stretch, which is why I opted to by a New Mexico State Parks Annual Pass for $225. I am allowed to go to any of New Mexico’s State Parks and camp for no additional fee, except now I have to pay for the Reservation Fee. Many people will only reserve a campsite for the weekend, so since I am typically staying 2 weeks at a time, it is difficult to find spaces available that are available for those 2 weeks straight without being broken up, unless reserved far enough into the future. I can find many spots open for 5 days, then reserved for 2 days, open again for 5 days, and reserved again for 2, ect… many sights are going unoccupied. The reservation fee of $12 is not bad if you only look on the surface. I have already paid for my Annual pass, but now have to pay reserv

Topher Sean
19 days ago
Reply to  Topher Sean

Reservation fees as well. 26x$12=$312, so now, all of a sudden that $225 Annual Pass is costing me $537. If I have to make multiple reservations for the same park in tjat 2 weeks, add more tothe cost. If I travell more often than 2 weeks at a time, the cost goes up further.
The whole Reservation System is putting undue hardship on me, and I have brought it to the New Mexico State Parks system Employees and Management, but nothing is being done, until enough people complain, I assume.
It can’t be that difficult to offer a Waiver for Fees to Annual Pas Holders, Elderly, or on an Income Basis.

James W
19 days ago
Reply to  Topher Sean

How would a claim of ‘elderly’ or ‘income level’ be verified online while making a reservation for next summer?

RobinT
19 days ago

Like several of the posters, I too like to plan my trips months ahead. If you dont book a national park months ahead, you are out of luck. The national park system should be able to require each camper to create a profile with address and vehicle license number. Like Disney is doing now, they could deny reservations for a period after two no shows. Gets more complex for state, local and private campgrounds.

Goldie
20 days ago

We have planned our summer trips 6 months to a year in advance since 2018. This year was the first time we have needed to make an adjustment – and it was because of the mud slide that closed I-70 in Colorado. We rearranged two stays and have continued our trip. Campgrounds are busy. We travel to our favorite areas and to new spots each year. I start planning up to a year in advance for some spots and fill in the others over the winter. I usually have all my reservations complete by the first of the year with the exception of those parks with 6 mo. windows. For those, I set reminders on my phone and book my spot as soon as possible when they open for reservations. This year we plan to travel for about four months and over 8,000 miles. So far, the I-70 slide is the only glitch. Don’t remember any issues with 2018, 19, and even 20 (we were lucky). I really don’t understand the objections to planning in advance.

Vanessa Simmons
20 days ago

Wouldn’t the campground be in a world of hurt if they accept full payments and use the money and the reservations get cancelled…Ok I book one night and you keep it if I don’t show or cancel two days in advance. I book for two weeks, pay in full and cancel a month out and you think you are going to keep that money? See you in small claims court, especially if you rebook that site and get paid for it twice! I think hotels and resorts got in trouble for doing that. Campgrounds should put their cancellation policy beside the reservation form so the buyer is aware without having to go in search of it on the web site. Personally I think campground reservations/cancellations should be just like hotels, I don’t know of a hotel that I can’t cancel before check in time.

Keith Nichols
19 days ago

If I’m not mistaken, Calif. state parks will hold a reservation for 1 night for a no show to accommodate those who had a problem getting there. If you don’t show by the 2nd night, they release the site. However, if you book a site for 2 weeks and check in on the 1st day, the site is yours for 2 weeks, whether you use it or not.

Zoom
20 days ago

I have read both articles and all of the comments and with my experience the biggest problem is with state and local campgrounds. If I am truly interested in staying at a certain place I have no problem paying for the entire stay in advance. If I don’t show that is my problem! Also I book almost solely at private campgrounds and have no problem booking far in advance. If my plans change they usually have a policy if you call ahead of time they will cancel with a small cancellation charge. No problem. I made the reservation in good faith and they in good faith reserved me a site. Phantom reservations seem to be made mostly at low cost and very desirable locations for some people. As some have said pay for the entire reservation up front and forfeit the entire amount if you don’t show up. Problem solved! No need to track who reserves by name or vehicle. Of course this could become a legal problem if no services are provided for the fee.

Topher Sean
19 days ago
Reply to  Zoom

If you reserve and pay, and you never show up, it should sit empty until ypu do or reservation has ended. If you dont show up, oh well. Its paid for.

Harry
20 days ago

Relative to public campground reservations, I would think that internet programing should be done so camper #676 can only make one reservation per night (date) at any campground anywhere under its system. for example, if one reserves at Yosemite NP for Fri, Sep1 they should not be allowed to also make a reservation for same date at Mammoth Lakes NF.

Even if this camper shows at one campsite , the other campsite is vacant ! If they no show at all – both sites are vacant and not used.!!

There probably, should be much higher penalties for a cancellation or no show and maybe exclusion of those that abuse the system.

Marybeth
20 days ago

Reservation Systems like Reserve America should always take “same day reservations” period. I don’t know what Oregon’s excuse is. If campers are not checked in by 7pm wIthout a call in, they should forfeit the night’s fee and open it up to FCFS. If they haven’t arrived by next day check in time, the entire reservation should be charged, No refunds, and opened up to reserve or FCFS. It needs to hurt to be an incentive against the behavior.

Topher Sean
19 days ago
Reply to  Marybeth

I agree. See my comment above

Paula Provost
20 days ago

We worked at a private campground in Utah. If the campers did not arrive by 5 pm or call us to tell us they would be late, we waited until 7 pm and called them. If we could not get ahold of them at that time, we would give away their site. We hated doing it, but how many chances do you need to give them to contact you to tell you they’re not going to show up ??

Dana D
20 days ago
Reply to  Paula Provost

Perfect!

Lee W
20 days ago

I Am not a Campground Owner. (40 + years RV’ing, from a tent to 40ft pusher, been to ever state in union) Put your feet in their shoes. What would you do? At this time I don’t know if there is an organized plan within the RV industry addressing this issue?
Develop a plan, if facts change, change the plan, if not makes all look stupid. Meanwhile it is what is, be kind, considerate, understanding, if we can/safely help our fellow man, do so. Especially our 18 wheel drivers – If you think you can drive better than them, go apply !!!!
If one can’t deal with current situation until you/I and RV industry FIX IT. PARK IT!!!!

Paul Sternett
20 days ago

For the campground truly interested in serving their campers, verify registrations by email 2 months out. If check-in time is 4PM, a no-show without a phone call that they are running late forfeits the site at 7PM. That would at least open sites for late, no reservation arrivals.

Silas Longshot
20 days ago

The object of the game for the campgrounds is to stay in business, and if ‘long term’ reservations is the way to go, then that’s what they’ll do. And the ‘phantom campers’ must still pay out for the spots they didn’t use, even though it may not be the entire fee for several days worth of site rent. If gets bad enough & enough complaints made, maybe they should forfeit the ENTIRE costs of their ‘planned’ stay. That would work to trim down a lot of that. Have tried a campground in central GA near daughter’s house for visits & is consistently full & hard to get into. They will only book for 30 days ahead. A few others in the general area will go up to 6 months, so we go there more often with these.

Mark Mack
20 days ago

This is pervasive at public campgrounds because they are relatively inexpensive.

Financial penalties won’t solve the problem.

The penalty needs to be restricted access to the reservation system. First, no multiple bookings for the same or overlapping dates. Second, campgrounds report no-shows and those people are blocked from the system. First offense: 1 month ban. Second offense: 3 months, etc. That will reduce double-booking and incentivize cancellations.

Mike Albert
20 days ago
Reply to  Mark Mack

Agreed

Firefly
20 days ago
Reply to  Mark Mack

Sounds nice. All that will happen is people just use a different email address and credit card to create a new account on Reserve America or Recreation.gov. But it still might help a bit.

Dana D
20 days ago
Reply to  Mark Mack

It’s worth a try.

Denny Sivells
15 days ago
Reply to  Mark Mack

I like this. It could still be abused but it would definitely help.

Lee
20 days ago

We know of an Indiana family that reserves (phantom) state park campsites then “subleases” the ones they do not use to others. That is clearly a violation in Indiana but they do it often and I suppose they could be making a profit when the end user pays the phantom family for the campsite. What a mess. With the reservation system, you would think that practice could be spotted and stopped.

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