RVing and discount campground memberships go hand in hand, but is a KOA membership worth the cost?
There are times memberships in KOA can be worth it, but the average RVer will find they are not. After a year or two of RV camping trips, most people find they can save much more money by passing on a KOA membership and use other methods to reduce costs.
That’s why I’m here today to explain to anyone interested in a KOA membership what benefits the program provides for the fee and why many customers find no value and let their membership lapse.
I’ve been full-time RVing for years, and have personal experience with KOA memberships, so let me share all the details with you to make intelligent RV campground membership decisions.
What is a KOA Membership?
A KOA membership is a discount card that will give you certain benefits for the current cost of $33 per year. The VKR card (Value Kard Rewards) provides perks when you stay with KOA.
KOA (Kampgrounds Of America) is a chain of campgrounds across the US and Canada that began in 1962. Some of the RV parks are corporate-owned, while others are franchises.
All the parks need to maintain a particular look and offer comparable amenities with the KOA type, so guests know what to expect.
For example, KOA Holiday parks will offer a swimming pool, kids’ play areas, a large camp store, and more activities as this campground is a destination vacation spot and not a quick overnight KOA Journey stay.
The KOA website states the membership provides:
- 10% off daily registration rates at any KOA
- Earn rewards points toward future stays
- Free stays during VKR Appreciation Weekend at participating KOAs
- Coupons/deals for KOA partner businesses
If you plan to spend the majority of your camping trips at KOA campgrounds and plan more than three RV vacations a year, then the membership should pay for itself with the 10% discount.
Those who only randomly stay at KOAs can spend that membership fee better elsewhere.
As a previous KOA workamper, I can give you the low down on the differences between the pitch you get at check-in about the discount program and the reality of how it will or won’t save you money.
The 10% Discount on Camping Rates
Every RVer is happy to save money off nightly campsite rates, so this discount is excellent and adds up if you exclusively camp at KOA parks.
On the other hand, KOA across the board charges much more for campsite rental than other campgrounds that provide the same, if not better, amenities for RV and tent camping.
For example, during my tenure at KOA, a typical nightly rate average at other area RV parks for a standard RV site with full hookups was $54. KOA was charging $70-$90, and when I ask, “Why so high?” the answer is, “Because we are KOA, our parks are better.”
So, while you may save $7-$9 per night using your KOA discount card, you’re still paying more than if you chose to stay at a less expensive RV park nearby.
Over the years, I now see that while some KOAs have outstanding parks, most are average at best and rely on name recognition to draw in customers.
Selling you the discount card is another corporate tactic to ensure RVers choose the KOA over another park if several are close together, as you can “save” if you pick the KOA.
INSIDER FACT: KOA staff push the discount card for a reason, and it’s not to promote the company or help you save money.
For every card sold, that staff member gets a $10 (at least that was the rate during my workamping days) bonus on their paycheck. With workampers making minimum wage, selling a few discount cards each week can really boost their income.
Rewards Points for Future Koa Stays
As you accumulate nights at KOA while using your VKR card, you build points that theoretically can act as a cash payment toward future stays.
VKR points build as follows:
Base Member –
- $20.01 to $40 nightly rate – 600 points
- $40.01 to $60 nightly rate – 900 points
- $60+ nightly rate – 1200 points
Bonus Member –
- $20.01 to $40 nightly rate – 660 points
- $40.01 to $60 nightly rate – 990 points
- $60+ nightly rate – 1430 points
VIP Member –
- $20.01 to $40 nightly rate – 750 points
- $40.01 to $60 nightly rate – 1125 points
- $60+ nightly rate – 1625 points
You earn no points on stays under $20, and for long-term stays over 27 days, your max point-per-day top out at 75 points.
The program terms state you can earn no more than 15,000 points within your VKR yearly membership from extended stays.
You do get 250 points when you book your reservation online and bonus points of 1,000-2,000 if you stay at participating KOAs on a VKR Appreciation or Care Camps Big Weekend.
VKR Status Levels
Every year you renew your membership, you start at the Base level. You advance levels by accumulating points within the year after the date you join the program.
After 6,500 points, you level up to Bonus status, and at 20,000 points, you reach VIP status.
VIP status in the KOA Value Kard Rewards program gets you:
- A free year of membership at VIP status
- 25% faster earning of points
- No cancellation fee 48 hours out for RV site/7 days cabin
- 10% discount for a guest up to 4 nights
Once you go under 20,000 points per year, you lose your VIP status and return to base or bonus level.
If you choose to focus all your campground stays on KOA campgrounds, the perks of reaching and remaining at VIP status are worth the membership fee.
You’ll need to book around 18 nights of $60+ rates to achieve VIP from the Base level, which may not suit your camping style or budget.
Only you can do the math to figure out if achieving VIP status is worth it, if only for getting the following year’s membership free.
KOA does allow a grace period of 59 days after expiration to renew your VKR card and not lose any points left on your membership.
TIP: Don’t ever purchase a KOA (or any other RV discount membership) until you need it. The clock starts the moment you buy, and you want a full year of benefits.
If you buy a membership in January but won’t be camping until June, you’re wasting five months to build points and redeem perks. With easy online or in-office sign-ups for memberships, you can take a moment and enlist on the spot before paying for your campsite.
KOA Point Redemption
Redeeming your KOA points is available on stays 27 or fewer nights, but there are catches to this redemption process that varies with each KOA location.
First, let’s break down the rewards per point system:
- 6,500 points = $10 reward
- 15,000 points = $25 reward
- 25,000 points = $50 reward
It pays to allow points to accumulate to the $50 level as you gain .2 cents a point instead of the .15 cents a point you get when redeeming at the $10 level.
At check-in, you tell the clerk how many points you want to redeem, and they will put that cash value toward your current camping charges.
Sounds simple, right?
Well, problems arise when campgrounds choose to place restrictions on this system. Some KOA RV parks will only allow you to use points to cover the total cost of only one of your nights and not any others on that same trip.
Others will refuse point redemption during peak days of the year, such as when there’s a local event that draws thousands of people who are scrambling to pay full price for any lodging.
Another catch is that you need to use a huge chunk of points to achieve what averages out not even to cover the fee for a one-night stay due to KOA RV campground nightly rates being so high.
Overall, you’ll have more problems with point redemption or VKR Appreciation/Kid Camp Weekend free stays at franchise KOAs. Owners of franchise parks have more leeway in whether they want to “participate” in any promotions.
Final Thoughts on KOA Membership
Do I believe there’s some value to becoming a VKR member? Yes, I think for certain RVers who find KOA campgrounds enjoyable, the perks are worth it, and the membership fee pays for itself.
For RVers who may only stay at a KOA one or two times a year for a long weekend, there’s no reason to join.
I hope you take to heart all the information in this KOA membership guide and choose the best RV campground discount program that fits your camping needs!