Are RVs More Economical Than Hotels?

Sally FrenchSeptember 15, 2020
On a similar note...
On a similar note...

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This may influence which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own.

More and more, digital nomads, couples and families are dipping their toes in the recreational vehicle craze.

But is RV life really that much cheaper than driving your own car and staying in a hotel? Or is it just a cool thing to do? Here are six trip factors to consider as you make this travel decision.

The number of people on your trip

Some hotels allow you to squeeze four people into a hotel room, which might work to decrease costs, especially if you snag a hotel deal. But if you have five or more people, an RV might be your most cost-friendly option. There are multiple RV sizes, and choosing certain ones could allow you to avoid paying double (two rooms instead of one) at a hotel.

The location of your trip

Is where you're headed remote or well-populated? Will traveling in an RV allow you better access to your destination? What’s the closest hotel to your intended location? You might find it more convenient to stay in an RV, because you’re not limited to the confines of a hotel. If you’re vacationing at, say, a national park, lodging can be limited or nonexistent. Vacation with an RV, and you’ll have better odds of actually getting to stay in the middle of the action, as long as campground space is available.

The distance

The more miles you log, the more money you have to spend on gas. Consider how gas efficient your car or RV is, as well as the vehicle maintenance costs. Also, think about your travel rewards strategy: Do you need to meet a monthly minimum spend or are you aiming to earn rewards via gas credit cards?

Your travel style

Do you like cooking your own food, or do you like trying a new restaurant every night? If you don’t mind making your own PB&Js on the road, RVs can pan out to be a big money saver by allowing you to cook your own store-bought groceries. Note that some RV rental companies will charge you a fee to rent cookware.

And how much do you value waking up to a sunrise over the ocean? A hotel with a beachfront view can command a hefty premium. If you demand the views on vacation but don’t mind whether you sleep in a Ritz-Carlton or an RV, you won’t have to try too hard to find a campsite with ocean views for less than $100 a night.

What travel rewards could you earn?

Are you are able to pay for hotel nights with rewards from travel credit cards or hotel credit cards? Perks like free nights and free breakfast can offset lodging expenses.

How often you travel

You probably can’t afford to buy a hotel outright, but you might be able to buy your own RV. If you travel often enough, you could find it more economical to skip the RV rental company and purchase an RV.

Renting an RV can come with additional fees you didn’t anticipate, such as for:

  • Miles driven.

  • Using items inside the RV, such as cookware and bedding.

  • Offsetting environmental expenses rental companies incur, like for oil disposal.

RV ownership comes with its own expenses, such as:

  • Registration and taxes (the Department of Motor Vehicles has a tool to calculate registration fees and taxes for motor homes in some states).

  • Maintenance.

  • Storage.

If you’re considering financing an RV purchase, use our RV loan calculator to understand how much you’ll owe over the course of the loan:

The bottom line

If you are paying for several nights of hotel stays and meals for five or more people, RV travel can come out cheaper depending on your travel style and amenity requirements.

We want to hear from you and encourage a lively discussion among our users. Please help us keep our site clean and safe by following our posting guidelines, and avoid disclosing personal or sensitive information such as bank account or phone numbers. Any comments posted under NerdWallet’s official account are not reviewed or endorsed by representatives of financial institutions affiliated with the reviewed products, unless explicitly stated otherwise.