FMCA Votes To Allow Towable Owners To Be Members
There had been a rumor for a long time that the Family Motor Coach Association (FMCA) which is an RV club that has been dedicated to motorhome owners only for 53 years was considering opening up their membership to owners of fifth wheels and travel trailers.
Well, in November 2017, a small percentage of the overall membership (about 13%) participated in a vote and, of those approximately 10,000, about 7 in 10 voted to allow towable owners to be members. Later in this post, I'll provide some opinions from this towable owner - they may surprise you.
We Are New FMCA Members
At the RV shows where we are doing seminars, we added a seminar on "Benefits of RV Clubs". We included FMCA and discussed the benefits we could gather online plus our personal knowledge from members we know and from attending international FMCA rallies over the years while we were part of the RV Safety & Education Foundation doing RV weighing.
After our seminars on the Sunday of the Phoenix RV Show, we walked among the vendors and there was an FMCA booth. The nice folks at the booth heard us talking and quickly thanked us for discussing them in our seminar. Apparently, several people had mentioned they heard about them from us.
We talked to them for a good while and patiently listened to the sales pitch. We then decided to join 1) to see what it was really like from the inside so we could better discuss the benefits, and 2) to see if there might be a business opportunity for us with the expansion to towable owners. It was purely a business decision. But we also got a nice, new, big road atlas and the January 2018 edition of Family Motor Coaching magazine which details all the benefits and includes a large amount of information not included in other single editions.
So, it was $60 to join, and then it is $50 per year to renew. That's a bit higher than the Good Sam Club ($27/year) and the Escapees RV Club ($39.95/year), but FMCA annual dues includes FMCAssist.
FMCAssist coverage is emergency medical evacuation coverage available to members worldwide as long as you are more than 100 miles from home. You can be traveling in a motorhome, car, plane, ship, or motorcycle to be eligible for this benefit. If you are a full-time RVer, you are always considered 100 miles from home. Some exclusions and limitation amounts pertain to this benefit.
It's a pretty good benefit to be included in the membership fee. Good Sam offers something similar - TravelAssist - that alone costs more than the annual FMCA membership. However, FMCAssist is an expensive benefit for the organization and with a higher average age in the membership, there are more claims. Some speculate that having this benefit included in the FMCA membership causes quite a strain on the club's financials, but I have no way to know that.
As with any RV club membership, it only matters if you are happy with the benefits you receive for the price you pay. And the benefits don't necessarily have to be monetary.
Of course I look at the monetary side first. Can I recover the cost of my annual memberships in savings that are a result of that membership? If so, it's a no brainer. If not, then I have to determine whether there is some other compelling reason to be a member - community, gatherings, education, etc.
On the FMCA side, I was interested in only a few benefits that could be beneficial to us (and perhaps other full-timers). In my opinion, these are:
- FMCA Roadside Rescue (roadside assistance) - $69 per year and offered by SafeRide Motor Club (the same roadside assistance company Escapees is now affiliated with)
- FMCA Connect-On-The-Go Verizon Data Plan - $49.99/month (plus taxes and fees) for 25GB per month on a mobile hotspot which you get for a penny; Above 25GB there is a hard throttle on data speed
- FMCA Tire Savings Program - Discounts on Michelin and Continental Tires
- FMCA Mail Forwarding - This is through Your Best Address in South Dakota
Let's take those one at a time.
FMCA Roadside Rescue
The $69 a year is a tremendous price for a roadside assistance plan that includes members' RVs and all their other vehicles including the vehicles of spouses and dependent children age 25 or younger living at home or away at school. This price was just introduced in November 2017 and is down from $109 that was being charged previously for the exact same plan.
That price can be locked in for 1, 2, or 3 years BUT your FMCA membership must correspond with the Roadside Rescue. In other words, to sign up for three years of Roadside Rescue, you must be paid up in your FMCA membership for the same time-frame.
SafeRide Motor Club apparently provides roadside assistance services for several organizations. My problem is I can find very few reviews about their service. Many FMCA members have Good Sam or Coach-Net, and I just can't find good reliable information or a small consensus about SafeRide.
Being curious, I called SafeRide to ask them what the difference was between their FMCA plan for $69 and their Escapees Plan for $99. I first had to push "1" if I wanted "English", then if my vehicle was disabled and needed emergency assistance, that was option "4". I thought the emergency might be option "1", but perhaps when you sign up there is a different number to call.
I couldn't get an answer on the differences between the FMCA program and the Escapees program, although I noticed in the documentation that there is a difference in "Winch-out Service":
Winch-out services do NOT apply if the RV is more than 50 feet from an established, maintained road or thoroughfare, or was intentionally driven off the road, or when your RV cannot be reached safely.
The above is the FMCA plan. The Escapees plan says 100 feet. Either way, those that boondock and like to get away from the pavement should be aware. Oh, the Good Sam and Coach-Net plans have similar provisions.
Still, without more information and more people speaking up about their service, SafeRide makes me nervous when my "home" is involved. Our roadside assistance plan with Coach-Net is expiring, so maybe I'll do an entry on my research into choosing our next plan.
FMCA Connect-On-The-Go Verizon Data Plan
First, this is a "stand alone" plan that includes data only with a mobile hotspot (currently 7730L Novatel Jetpack). It's full-speed data for up to 25GB per month, and then the data speed is throttled back significantly if you exceed 25GB. IF your needs don't exceed 25GB per month, this is a great deal at $50/month.
I think most people now know that Verizon's "unlimited" plan only allows up to 15GB on a mobile hotspot before the speed is throttled back. On their data-only plan with a hotspot, 20GB (no throttling) is currently $110/month plus a $20/month "line" fee, so $130. For 30GB it's $185 plus the $20 line fee, or $205 a month.
Here are the caveats to this FMCA plan.
First, you must sign up for a 2-year Verizon contract AND a 2-year FMCA membership. If you are planning to be an FMCA member anyway, again, this is a great deal, but if you are only signing up for FMCA for this benefit, it's still a pretty good deal, but the value is a little less since you'll be in for a minimum of $110 over the two years for FMCA membership fees.
Second, in my research on this, I'm finding a lot of people struggling to get this plan set up, and trying to incorporate it into an already existing Verizon account seems to be a nightmare. It seems it may be better to have a completely separate account.
Note: FMCA also recently announced a special deal with Sprint called Tech Connect+. Because of Sprint's limited coverage away from cities and interstates, it's not something we are interested in, but for those that are in the Sprint coverage area most of the time, it may be worth looking into.
FMCA Tire Savings Program
For years, I've heard many people tell me they join FMCA in the year they need tires to take advantage of this program. I've heard others say it's not as wonderful as it is made out to be. When we signed up, I asked if there were going to be additional tire manufacturers added to this program that might have more appeal to towable owners, and the reply was "We're working on it".
There isn't a certain percentage of discount on the website. But you can put in your tire size under either program, and get the pricing. Unfortunately, the tire sizes for our fifth wheel weren't available under either program. I guess we'll see if that changes.
FMCA Mail Forwarding
For those considering South Dakota as a domicile state, there are some savings here - 14 months for the price of 12. That would allow you to recover a decent portion of the annual membership fee.
In addition, there are several other benefits that FMCA offers (i.e. 10% discounts at certain RV Parks) that, if taken advantage of, certainly could result in recouping the annual membership costs. But, again, that can be said about any RV club.
Regarding The Recent Vote To Allow Towable Owners In
Don't let anyone fool you, this vote was about FMCA survival in its current form. Membership has dropped about 50% in the last ten years, and the average age of the active membership is about 71. They characterize the vote as an attempt to reach out to younger people so they can sustain the club into the future. This is the same reason that the Escapees RV Club developed the Xscapers section geared toward younger generations as the Escapees RV Club was aging fast and losing significant numbers of members. Fortunately, for Escapees, they've done a better job with this targeting so far.
Once we became members, got our membership number (our "F-number" as its called), and logged in to our account, I started perusing the FMCA website and read through the FMCA member forum a little.
What became clear to me is that the leadership of FMCA convinced enough members that it was necessary to expand the membership to towable RV owners to keep the club solvent and continue to offer the benefits and services everyone has become accustomed to receiving. What also seems clear is most of the members couldn't have cared less (only 13% voted) or would have voted had they not been required to send their votes in by "snail mail". Also, a vocal minority is angry.
And you know what? I don't blame the folks that are upset.
It's the Family Motor Coach Association and it exists for motorhome owners. Everything about this club has been for motorhome owners for a half century and their culture is ingrained.
I agree with the members that say we don't need to make every club all-inclusive. I agree with the members that don't want to be a part of "Good Sam Club Light" or that say there isn't a need for another "Escapees".
I agree with the members that are concerned about having their information and education diluted by the need to broaden. Certainly, there are far more towable owners than there are motorhome owners, and towable owners could eventually become the majority of the members. If that happens, then the club would have to shift in its focus, and then it really would be nothing more than another general RVing club. And I think that would be a shame.
The FMCA leadership is trying to spin this as a necessity to attract "younger" RVers to sustain the club. But it then denies it is about money. Of course it is about money.
19.Is FMCA just doing this because of the money? No. It’s about the
family! Motorhomes don’t go to conventions; people do. We want dues to
stay affordable for everyone while providing top-notch benefits. With more
members over whom to spread the cost of the member benefits, FMCA can
serve more RV owners.
Hmm. They used the word "No" but the explanation says "Yes".
The other areas of spin are 1) motorhome owners often start with towables, 2) motorhome owners and FMCA members often switch to towables and we don't want to lose those old friendships, 3) FMCA members have friends with towables and we want those owners to be able to include their friends, and 4) it's not about the "equipment" it's about the "people". These seem to be the club equivalent of the "company line" to convince their current members that there are good, non-monetary reasons to open up the membership. But it's still really about the money.
In everything I'm reading, there seems to be this underlying internal battle. They really want to stay FMCA in a form that they have been accustomed to, but the leadership has apparently determined they can't do that without younger towable owners. The feeling I am getting, and maybe it's just me, is that they feel they need us towable owners, but if the truth be known, they don't really want us. They just see us a large untapped market where it will be easier to get the numbers they need faster. I think this may be a miscalculation.
Continuing my perusal of the FMCA website, I found Frequently Asked Questions About FMCA Welcoming All RV Owners. I posted question 19 above. There are 23 questions, and I have to tell you that reading through the questions and answers does not make me feel "welcome". In fact, I'm a little shocked that they have those in an area where new towable owner members can read them. I'm not offended by any of the questions, but I know a lot of towable owners would be.
Furthermore, reading the comments in the FMCA Forum regarding the vote (before, during, and after) certainly wouldn't inspire any confidence from towable owners either.
When we were signing up, we asked if the Family Motor Coach Association was going to change its name. The answer is "no", but they hope to become known simply as FMCA, sort of like Kentucky Fried Chicken changed its branding to KFC. Or they use the example that the American Association of Retired Persons is now just known as AARP.
2. Are we going to change the name of the association? Why would
someone join an organization called Family Motor Coach Association if
they own a fifth wheel travel trailer? “FMCA” is how most of us refer to
the organization today, so our recommendation is to keep the name but move
to using only the acronym, much like AARP did when it opened its doors to
pre-retirees. The association would still legally be known as Family Motor
Coach Association, but we would just refer to it as FMCA. After all,
“FMCA” could stand for “Fun Member Camping Association!” or “Family
Motorhome & Camping Association!”
The more I dig into this, the more I feel like us towable owners are a "safety net" for an organization that has fallen off the high wire, and is flailing on the way down praying that the net holds while all along trying to make it seem like they are doing us towable owners a favor by now allowing us into their previously exclusive club.
I have to say I'm not aware of thousands of towable owners knocking down their door trying to get in, and I'm not too big on trying to keep the club afloat while they figure out how they are going to deal with us and, at the same time, try to cater to and retain their base members.
The leadership may have been planning behind the scenes for this eventuality for months or even years, but I don't see much in the way of preparedness beyond an enthusiastic membership drive. It's sort of like they are saying "Let's get you all signed up, ... and then we'll figure out how we will serve your needs as we go along ... if we get enough of you".
I certainly never saw any polling or surveying of towable owners asking if 1) we cared about being members of FMCA, or 2) what would make us care about being members of FMCA. And I certainly have seen much stronger efforts of the Escapees RV Club to add features and benefits that would appeal to younger RVers.
Of course, it doesn't really matter what I think or whether I feel "welcome".
I wasn't seeking them out AND I believe that opening up the membership to towable owners is a mistake. Again, I agree with what many of the dissenting FMCA members have argued. In fact, if we were motorhome owner members of FMCA when the vote was taken, we probably would have voted "no".
As towable owners, we were just fine with there being a motorhome-specific organization just as we're fine with there being RVing singles organizations, and RVing families organizations, and other specific interest organizations whether they are related to RVing or not.
There is nothing wrong with motorhome owners wanting to be part of a club where everything is geared toward the information and education that pertains to them. Heck, we may buy a motorhome in the next few years, and I like what FMCA has to offer for motorhome owners. We probably would have joined then, but if this goes the way they hope it does (which I doubt), we likely won't be interested at that time.
Let's see if I can figure out how to tie all this together.
I like FMCA as a motorhome-only club. FMCA is a long-standing organization that provides a wonderful service for its motorhome members. It just seems they may have taken their eye off the ball for a few years and not changed with the times enough to attract new members. Or they may not have realized that they couldn't sustain their level of benefits and events given less interest in joining RV clubs in general or given the lower price point people expect these days.
Certainly, there are several other things FMCA could have done other than changing their governing documents and the mission of the organization as established. Just like any business, things change and if you rest on your laurels, you may not exist into the future. They could have decreased cost structures or increased dues. They could have decreased costly benefits. They could have improved benefits and the attractiveness and had a more intense recruiting campaign back when the numbers were dropping rapidly.
If it came to down-sizing, I believe a smaller, more active, more focused approach is what would be better for the members and they could be more nimble in making changes and deciding what is best for the membership and at what price. What's wrong with a non-profit club being smaller?
In fact, my hunch is that all the RVing club members felt their organizations were better in the early stages of their establishment and growth when everyone knew each other and worked together. What I sort of see here is the establishment of a large infrastructure over time that reminds me of "too big to fail", and rather than make tough choices, they are throwing a "Hail Mary" to see if they get lucky.
In this case, it's my opinion that FMCA is not ready for towable owners, and towable owners won't for a long time see nearly the same value as the motorhome owners see now. I also think they have now alienated a large number of their most active members, and I know many are giving up their memberships.
And I think the jury is still out as to how well towables will be accepted at FMCA events as several of the "Frequently Asked Questions" related to whether towables will be intermingled with motorhomes at rallies, concerns about whether towable owners are skillful enough to get into tight spaces, whether towables with portable generators will be parked with motorhomes that have "quieter" on-board generators, whether towable owners get full FMCA benefits, whether towable owners can hold FMCA national offices, and whether established FMCA chapters will be required to allow towable owners to join their chapters. I think the questions are pretty amusing, but they certainly don't give towable owners a warm, fuzzy feeling about being a part of FMCA.
Now, I'm not saying "don't join FMCA". There are lots of reasons to join. As long as you get the value for your membership dues that you want, that's all that matters.
I just think that opening up membership to towable owners isn't the best approach for its current members, and I wouldn't like it if I were them.
Also, I think towable owners are wanted for their money and numbers, and I don't see any indications or incentives that show they really want us to become a part of their organization beyond that. Of course, if they market to us too much, then they further risk alienating their core members - it's a fine line they are trying to walk and, in the end, I'm just not so sure it's going to work.
After spending several hours on this, I was wondering if anyone really cared enough to post it ... or did I just waste my time. I did a Facebook post and asked. I'm still not sure how many care, but some confirmed my thoughts and since I had this prepared already, I've decided to post it. Let the chips fall where they may. It's just one person's opinion. :)