Having quit our jobs, when we were first planning our motorhome ski season we were committed to keeping the costs down as low as possible and we quickly realised the best way to do this was by keeping our camping costs to a minimum.
How Do You Get Discounts For Winter Camping? The best way to get discounted camping in winter campsites is by using one of the following camping cards available for off-season users.
- Camping Card ACSI (our recommendation)
- Camping Card International
- Camping Key Europe
In this article we’re going to cover which of these cards you should consider taking on your motorhome or campervan ski holiday and explain why it might be best to carry several to benefit from the best deals.
Camping Card ACSI
In our opinion, if you only have one card, this is it. The whole point of the ACSI Camping Card is that it offers OFF-SEASON discounts and that’s us – motorhome skiers.
The card starts at €12.95 depending on who you chose to pay, and you have the option of the old fashioned guide book and the card, or a package that also includes that app which we would recommend.
The discounts are great – up to 60% and the advanced search function on the website is great – you can narrow your search by so many parameters that you shouldn’t have any surprises when you turn up at a site. There is a downside to this – not all the sites listed as ‘winter sports’ locations are what you would expect (near to an ice hockey rink does not count as a winter sport in our eyes!), and some have not been open when we tried to book. Just worth knowing because with over 3,400 campsites covered their inspection team can only do so much to validate information.
There are a few other perks of the ACSI card but the chances are you can write off the cost of the card in a few days.
Things to watch out for with the ASCI Camping Card:
- It’s an annual scheme. That means if you buy it in December, it’ll expire before you make it to the mountains!
- The discounts do not apply to some things – that can mean anything from hook up and tourist taxes to extra dogs (1 is permitted) and shower tokens. Just something to be aware of
- The app map is a bit ropy
- Not all ski campsites offer the discount in the school holidays and some don’t consider winter their off season at all – check your dates
Camping Card International
Also used as a ‘passport’, the Camping Card International card is widely used as a substitute for depositing your passport at campsites when you check in. I don’t know about you but I’ve never been comfortable leaving my passport with strangers any way so this was a great innovation when it came out.
Now with up to 25% discount at over 2,500 campsites across Europe it offers some value and in some rare circumstances, it trumps the ACSI card on the discounts available. It also offers a third party insurance and whilst this might sound superfluous to requirement, it’s definitely a nice to have. It’s pretty easy to slide into another van or take a gate post out in winter so we’re all for this added feature.
To get it, you have to be a member of an accredited national club and in the UK that’s the Camping and Caravan Club, The Motor Caravaners Club or The Hymer Club International. That requirement somewhat bumps the price of the card up a bit from £5.50 with an additional £40 (at least) for club membership using the example of the C&CC. The Motor Caravaners Club is slightly less expensive at £34.75/annum and The Hymer Club International works out at £15 after an initial admin fee of £6.25.
Obviously membership of these clubs comes with a whole host of benefits you might find useful anyway so it’s going to be down to personal preference which you would join.
The down sides of this card is that the campsite search function on their website is truly awful – so much so that we gave up trying to find anything useful at all. There is no way of discovering winter sports campsites – which whilst not perfect on the ACSI website, certainly points you in the right direction with your own research.
Camping Key Europe
This is the Swedish version of a discount camping card and it has features of both the ACSI and CCI cards. It acts as ‘camping ID’, offers quite a comprehensive supplementary liability and accident insurance (in addition to your own insurance) whilst on site – pretty useful.
There are a lot of discounts available, both on and off season which makes it different from the ACSI card however the whole process of using the website to find which campsites participate in the scheme is painful. You’re redirected from the main website to lots of different sites and surprisingly, the Camping Key Europe website itself does not load in Safari at all for us (on desktop) rendering the whole digital element largely useless. There is however a directory that you get with your membership too.
However, if you are travelling in Scandinavia, which we know many motorhome skiers are increasingly exploring, this card offers the biggest network of campsites with discounts of the group.
For those of you interested in speedy check in – this is a feature of this card through the app and actually provides some useful functionality. It negates the need for a load of admin and paperwork when you check in and a cool feature is that it keeps a log of all the places you’ve stayed – something that’s useful when you’re having a nostalgic look back at your trip or trying to remember the details of a campsite to share with fellow motorhome and camper snomads!
Despite it being a bit niche, these guys could change the game and offer some really competition to the ACSI card and at a bargain price of just over £13 per year, we think it’s a good addition to your money saving tool kit
So how is the best way to get the best discount using a camping card?
Don’t rely on technology
Because of the slow rate at which technology seems to be filtering into the camping travel sector, the supporting digital offering from each of these discount camping cards is lacking. The ACSI card just beats the competition but I think we’ve been particularly swayed by their willingness to engage with winter sports enthusiasts! So we don’t suggest you depend on the digital side of these apps. Either the technology simply doesn’t work or the information offered is inaccurate – both pretty disruptive things if you’re out on the road.
Do your homework
If you’re really trying to budget accurately and keep your spend to a minimum whilst at the same time benefitting from the facilities of a campsite, you’re best to do your homework up front. Find the sites you want to stay in, contact them directly and see if they participate in any of the schemes. You can then see which scheme offers the best deal and arrange your booking under that card. You need to be ware – some of the campsites closest to the resorts opt out in the ski season – as it’s not considered ‘off-season’ for them.
ACSI is the ticket unless you’re only travelling in Sweden and then we would recommend Camping Key. It’s certainly not a huge expense, even if it only saves you on a couple of nights, the chances are you will make your money back fast. In almost all cases that we tested, the ACSI card offered the best discounts in mountain resorts and the user experience is far better than with either of the other discount camping cards – it’s primary function is to offer discounts and to grow as a booking service. The other cards have different priorities and their discounts really seem to be a token gesture by comparison.
Other ways to get discounts on winter camping
Ask for a discount. On our first motorhome ski trip we had no idea about these cards – however we learned about them on route but didn’t have a bullet proof method of getting one shipped out so we simply asked. Wherever we saw the ACSI sticker (most campsites tend to display them as notice of their participation in the scheme especially those that have been inspected) we asked if they would offer us the ACSI price.
On all but one occasion they decided to offer a discount that brought the price in line with the ACSI membership price.
Now whilst this is a bit cheeky, you obviously don’t benefit from the other perks of membership and we’d seriously recommend membership anyway but if you are a penniless ski bum in search of refuge and you can’t afford to eat let alone check in to a campsite – we’d suggest it’s worth the ask!
Where can I camp in the winter? There are a lot more places to camp in and around ski areas then you’d imagine – finding them is another matter. That’s why we set up Winterised.com – to provide resources for people looking for winter camping – check out the winter aires and campsites directory for more information on where to camp in winter.
Is camping and caravan club membership worth it? If you’re travelling in the UK and intending to stay at commercial campsite, then yes. The Camping and Caravan Club offers a large number of discounts and member perks. For those travelling predominantly outside of the UK in winter, it doesn’t offer many tangible benefits.
Can you camp for free in Europe? Yes. There are places that you can camp for free all over Europe which is far better equipped for budget motorhome and campervan travel than the UK.