Sometimes I tend to yammer on excessively, pushing the main points rather far down a multi-paragraph post. One style of writing, Bottom Line Up Front, calls for inverting the traditional essay and placing the conclusions and recommendations at the very top. So, BLUF: We are trying out the Active Advantage campground discount program at a cost of $65 for the year. It is the only discount program associated with and providing discounts to Reserve America reservations. We anticipate at least $100 in savings based on conservative use, though those discounts all require a bit of extra effort to receive. We will let you know how it goes. The long, detailed, and link heavy version follows.
In our 2015 In Review I included a paragraph and seven bullet points on our use of five discount/annual park and campground membership programs. The big time RV bloggers at Wheeling It recently provided a much more comprehensive analysis of 15 or so programs. Neither of us mentioned Active Advantage. How about this for a pitch: Pssst, he buddy, howdja like a discount club that has automatic recurring payments after a short free trial, and the discounts are paid by snail mail check 10 to 12 weeks after the event for which you qualify?
Yeah, sounds like a bad deal, but these things need to be viewed holistically: what is the full benefit vs cost for, in this case, 13 months of membership? Like all discount clubs, the answer to that will largely depend on your actual use of the associated campgrounds. In this case you have the added calculation “is the trouble you go through to receive the discounts worth it?” In this case, we are going to give Active Advantage a go for a year, and reassess along the way.
Active Advantage appears to have the same parent company as Reserve America, the organization contracted to provide online and telephone reservation services for federal camping areas and most of the state parks as well. We have made scores of reservations through them. During the online RA check out and payment process for our first reservation at Oscar Scherer State Park, I was offered a 30 day trial membership with Active Advantage. I only vaguely recalled running across them previously; they appear to have a more robust presence in the outdoorsy race oriented world compared to the RV or camping community. In the former they offer a membership option that provides discounts and free entry to running, biking, triathlon, etc type events, along with a hodge-podge of discounts on equipment and athletic magazine subscriptions.
Signing up for the trial is supposed to provide two $10 rebates on Reserve America reservations made during the next 12 months, regardless of if you continue in the program beyond the 30 day trial period. Since this offer came directly through RA rather than an unsolicited email or pop-up, it seemed legit, and in Googling I didn’t run across any red flags. Free trial periods with an automatic and recurring payment at the end can be a tricky proposition; if the $20 in rebates were the only expected usable benefit, I would have taken a pass on it in fear of missing the cancellation dead line and getting hit with the $64.95 annual fee.
But the camping version of the Active Advantage program offers two benefits which I firmly believe will end up paying for more than that $65 fee: Your fourth RA reservation is free (up to an $80 value), and you get a $10 discount on all California and Virginia state park reservations. In order to string together five consecutive days at Oscar Scherer we had to make three different reservations in three different sites (something that should be avoided if at all possible not merely because of the headache of moving, but also because of the administrative fee assigned to each separate FL State Park reservation.) We also made a one day stay at Bahia Honda and a four day stay at Curry Hammock State Park here in the Fl Keys. So we have already qualified for the two $10 rebates and the fourth reservation up to $80 rebate, and since our 2016 plans call for at least a week in Virginia I am pretty sure we will significantly exceed the $65 annual fee.
There are some downsides which, frankly, were not quite clear in my mind before I starting researching to write this post. Accordingly, this program will require careful review in advance of the 2017 renewal date. Specific concerns:
- The fourth reservation is free, but not every fourth reservation. I.e., the 8th, 12th etc reservation receive no special discount. So if that fourth reservation is less than the $80 cap, you essentially lose out on the difference.
- The discounts are not automatically applied simply for using the Reserve America system. They require positive action in the form of emailing or mailing in the request with reservation confirmations.
- The discounts are provided by physical check, sent via regular mail, and are advertised as taking 10 to 12 weeks to receive.
- The website is atrocious, dominated by the form of the program designed for racers and the like, not for campers. Finding specific information on the camping reservation discounts required googling rather than navigation of the actual home site.
More to follow on this program, particularly once the 10 to 12 weeks have passed and I start looking for our first three checks. We would love to hear from anyone who has tried this Active Advantage and what you thought of it.