Any informed borrower is simply less vulnerable to fraud and abuse.
— Alan Greenspan


We went the NC RV Dealers’ Association show at the NC State Fairgrounds on August 29th just to see what it was all about since we are fairly new to this camping in a camper thing. One thing that we already knew but was reinforced was that most campers can not really be considered camping in our book. For us, camping is about being in touch with the outdoors. Our popup just makes things a bit more comfortable; however, we can stay in touch with the outdoors because it is really just a fancy tent, sort of. Another thing that we already knew but was also reinforced at the show was that RVs and campers are generally built using the cheapest materials, finishes, and process available. This is okay as long as you are willing to accept it, never purchase new, and are willing to maintain it yourself. Just keep in mind that you get what you pay for. If you are willing to spend the money on an Airstream or Winne then you are getting much higher quality that will last.

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The RV show was a lot of fun overall. We saw a myriad of camper types from Class A to teardrops. There were a fair number of vendors that were selling everything from camper parts and accessories to permanent campground sites to Sugar Gliders (the tiny, furry, and adorably cute mammal). We checked everything out, entered all the drawings (fully expecting an increase in email spam), and spoke to a lot of the vendors as well. We stopped at a booth that was called “Sycamore Lodge” out of curiosity, asked what kind of campground it was and were told it was a membership campground. They told us that we could get some free camping days if we agreed to come by and take a tour. I immediately smelled a time-share type scheme brewing. We agreed to do it for two reasons: it was only 3 miles off the route to the campground we had booked for the following weekend, and they offered us lunch, $50, and 30 days of free camping. Besides, we were still curious.

The Saturday before Labor Day we packed up the camper and headed toward Sycamore Lodge. The campground is just outside Pinehurst, NC so it was about 2 hours away. When we arrived the campground looked a lot like any other campground. We found the office and were redirected to a building across the street. So back in the car. We asked a worker in a golf cart how to get to where we needed to be and he guided us over. The building that we were taken to was obviously a sales office. We were checked in, watched a video that really didn’t tell us anything more than we already knew, and waited for our appointment.

After a few minutes a young man in his mid 20s arrived to take us on a tour of the campground. We spent an hour or so touring the campground, cabins, and lodge. Before I go any further I have to give them credit; Sycamore Lodge is beautiful and extremely well maintained. We were then guided upstairs in the lodge past a sign that said “Authorized Personnel only.” We ended up in stage 1 of the sales pitch which was to take us through the campgrounds, programs, and extras included in a membership. Next we were ferried back over to the sales office. The kids were put up in a room to watch a movie while they tried to sucker us into a deal. We are a bit experienced with this type of sales pitch. They are highly scripted so that you don’t realize you are getting screwed over. Our lunch order was taken, then the pitch began. I’m not going to recap the pitch but it basically consisted of two phases. Phase one was “How much does membership at Sycamore Lodge cost?” The answer is $13k + an annual maintenance fee and it can be purchased at any time. Phase two was the “for today only I can offer you this special deal…” phase.

Phase two included membership in all the campgrounds owned by the parent company, Travel Resorts of America. That includes the 6 of them currently on the east coast plus the next one they purchase or build. They also offered membership to Coast-2-Coast and special deals on other campground rentals, condo rentals, cruises, etc. We then had to play the game of “How much do you think all this costs?” We both guessed high but when the price was revealed it was the same $13k as the single campground membership. This membership is for life and can be willed for three generations unlike the single membership. Now the catch. When you sign up you are on the hook for a $399 application fee and an annual “maintenance” fee of $499 + $150/year for the optional Coast-2-Coast membership.

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Let’s think about this for a minute. If you are 50 years old when you make this purchase and you live to be 75 then you will pay upwards of $25k not including the additional membership. Then you will that to your grandchildren who will then have to pick up the maintenance fee. Don’t think you can sell it either. These memberships have a lower resell value than timeshares do and the company restricts the membership features that transfer. To top all this off, there are multiple federal court rulings against “pay for your lifetime” fees associated with this type of scheme. They don’t directly apply because they don’t address “maintenance fees” specifically but it is just a matter of time.

For the next stage of the pitch our rep brought in “his manager” who then spent the first 10 minutes explaining to us why the Better Business Bureau rating for the parent company and individual campgrounds were so poor. In some cases the BBB membership was even suspended. That should scream SCAM to you, it certainly did to us. Then, because it was obvious we didn’t buy the sales BS, he started to customize the available packages to offer us a cheaper option. We listened politely and then declined. Then came the heavy hitter boss who told us the penalties of trying to purchase a membership from someone else. At this point we had been there for three and a half hours, had a crappy chicken sandwich and chips, and been abused by a bunch of used car sales rejects. I was done. We informed them that we were leaving and that they had to be done because we were not interested in anything they had to offer and we would be happy to spread the word about the company’s tactics.

We went into this expecting just this kind of scam. We were completely prepared to tell them “no” from the start. That never wavered during the spiel. It was interesting to see the campground and we may have purchased an annual membership to it for a reasonable price but we were not about to get suckered long term. That said, I still don’t know why we do these things. I don’t buy used cars from dealers because I don’t have the patience for their BS. My advice is to use our experience to help avoid having to go through it yourself. Check out the NAM site for more information.

I failed to mention that sometime during the sale pitch the power to the site went down and did not come up again before we left. We did get our 30 days of free camping at Sycamore Lodge but it comes with all sorts of restrictions. We may or may not use them.