What’s the Deal with those Free Camping Offers?

Last year, after a visit to Camping World, we received a call telling us we had “won” a free 3-night stay at a local campground and a gift certificate to Camping World. Unfortunately, this came with a minor hitch: We had to listen to a sales presentation from Ocean Canyon Properties.

My husband and I had vowed never to get caught up in those kinds of sales pitches again after a dismal trip we took while our boys were young.  Our supposedly 1.5 hour tour of the timeshare resort turned into a 3-hour tour, full of high-pressure sales tactics. They kept moving us to different rooms to talk to different salesment; they brought in “managers.” We were getting very frustrated that they would not take no for an answer. Our young boys had behaved well but were getting bored.  Finally, I decided to purposely push my toddler’s buttons by denying him a treat, which sent him into full tantrum mode. The 2-year-old howled and kicked and screamed…and I did nothing to stop him. The salesperson finally took our word that we were NOT going to buy a timeshare and let us leave. Mission accomplished, thanks to the “terrible twos”!

So, when we first received the offer of free camping, we turned it down so we could avoid sitting through a sales pitch for something we probably wouldn’t buy. But then, they called again on a day when we had been trapped in our house for a few days by a snowstorm, a day when cabin fever was running high. They got me at my weakest point! When the lady on the phone offered me a free camping trip, I took the bait and began dreaming about spring.

We agreed to a short tour and sales pitch and booked our nights of camping at Compton Ridge Campground in Branson, MO. Branson is a popular tourist area, a place we frequently visit, so we were actually happy to check out a campground in the area.

When the day finally arrived, we were eager to take Birdy out for her inaugural trip for the year. The campground has a nice wooded setting, which would definitely be prettier later in spring, once the leaves and flowers bloomed. We weren’t impressed with the bathhouse, as it needed some cleaning and updating, especially since they were trying to get people to buy memberships for this as a resort. The outdoor pool looked like it would be nice in the summer, and our boys enjoyed playing in the indoor pool one evening. We also checked out the odd collection of concrete animals they have in the play area.

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Right after we tucked in for the night, tornado warnings began blaring, and we had to take shelter. The campground managers showed us the safest place, and we had an adventure as we waited for the storm to pass. You can read about this eventful evening here.

The next day, we attended our scheduled sales pitch. It started with a tour of the campground. Our family enjoyed riding around in the golf cart and seeing the variety of campsites and cabins. We learned about all of the amenities of the resort. This campground had recently been taken over by new owners who were adding more features and sites.

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After the tour, we were taken to a sales office. This is where we expected the high-pressure tactics to begin. We listened to the details of the program, which would involve buying into a network of campgrounds. After learning the costs and the limitations, we knew it wasn’t for us. It was too pricy for our budget and focused on campgrounds within our region. At this time, we are more interested in using our RV to travel far from home instead of locally.

After explaining all of our reasons for not joining the program, the salesperson made several additional offers, including the traditional “reduced cost” deal that had to be approved by the manager. We patiently waited as they put their best game forward. My son’s face here shows what we looked like during the sales pitch…..

Compton Ridge -02

As we neared the end of our scheduled visit, the salesperson accepted our resolute lack of interest in joining and wrapped up the sales pitch. I was pleasantly surprised. They were respectful of our time and didn’t attempt to continue throwing pitches at us, nor did they attempt to make us feel guilty for not buying in. We didn’t even have to encourage our children to throw temper tantrums!

We wrapped up our visit to the sales office and continued on our way. With a 3-night stay in the campground, we had plenty of time to enjoy Branson as a family. The campground is located near Table Rock Lake, where we enjoyed a spectacular sunset one evening.

Compton Ridge-01

Ultimately, we appreciated having a free stay in a destination we enjoyed. Plus, we walked away with a gift certificate to Camping World. Since the salespeople were respectful, we didn’t have a terrible time during the sales pitch. All in all, this wasn’t a bad deal!

If your family receives a similar offer, here’s what you should know:

  1. The camping may be free, but it comes with strings attached. You will likely lose a few hours of your vacation to take a tour and listen to a sales pitch.
  2. The sales tactics vary widely between companies. Some companies will keep talking long past the scheduled time. Some can be downright rude when you turn them down. Having a 2-year-old who will throw a tantrum is a great way to escape!
  3. Don’t feel guilty about staying and not buying in. The way I look at it, they called me, I didn’t call them. Also, I asked on the phone for more details about what they were selling, and they wouldn’t give any. If this is their sales model, it’s up to them to change it if they don’t like people staying and not buying. If they had told me the cost of the program over the phone, I would have known immediately it wasn’t for us.
  4. Before signing any offer, read the small print. Lots of great-sounding programs aren’t so great when you start trying to book your reservations. Since we didn’t join Ocean Canyon Properties, we don’t know whether this is the case for them or not. Also, the price dropped several thousand dollars during our sales pitch, so if you do decide to buy in, be sure to keep pushing to get a lower price.


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8 years ago

Thanks for sharing that experience! We received a similar offer in the mail for a week at a campground in California in an area we like. My hubby was all gung-ho to go! But I read the fine print on the mailing and found that we didn’t meet their income qualifications. So even if I’d wanted to sit through their sales presentation, it wasn’t for us. Oh well. I enjoyed hearing about your experiences!

8 years ago

Good tips.

Stephanie Puglisi
8 years ago

So funny that we have heard about this from other campers, but have never been offered one ourselves. Now I’m ready whenever that call comes:-)

8 years ago

My mother and stepfather went to a timeshare presentation once and ACTUALLY BOUGHT THE TIMESHARE. I was, like, 12, and even I knew you weren’t supposed to actually buy. Last I checked, they still have it and pay maintenance fees on it every year (but almost never actually use it), despite my repeated reminders that they need to make sure to get rid of it before they die so I don’t inherit it ;). Anyway, it sounds like you had a fun weekend; I’m not brave enough to try such a thing myself, with my bad at resisting timeshare salespeople… Read more »

8 years ago

We have been offered the free stay every time we go to Bass Pro but this was a new one for me. Thanks for the information and the heads up.

Edythe Campbell
Edythe Campbell
4 years ago

I contacted the park about taking a tour and buying a “membership”. Had the date and time set up and then they informed me that my husband must come with me, I could not do it by myself. Now granted I earn over $100, 000 a year by myself, I am well within my means to purchase a timeshare on my own. I informed them that my husband is deployed in the military and not in the country. They told me that it was policy that since I had told them that I was married that my husband MUST accompany… Read more »