About how to Spot and Avoid Gym Membership Scams
Gym memberships should be easy. You pay the gym every month, and in exchange, they let you use their equipment.
Unfortunately, gym memberships are rarely as simple as they should be. Some gym memberships are complicated, but some gyms take complicated to a whole new level. Today, a growing number of gyms are being caught in gym membership scams.
Whether you’re joining a gym for the first time or you’re an experienced gym-goer, here are some of the most important things you need to know about spotting and avoiding gym scams.
Not All Gym Memberships Are Scams
Virtually all gyms these days have different rates for drop-ins, monthly subscribers, and annual subscribers. That’s not a “scam” – that’s just a normal part of doing business.
Obviously, if you turn up at the gym 365 days a year, you’re getting amazing value on your annual subscription.
Nevertheless, a lot of gyms use tricks and “sales strategies” that border on scams – or at the very least, they’re misleading to customers.
Understand that Free Trials Come with a Catch
Many gyms in your area offer free trials. Many Anytime Fitness locations, for example, offer 7 day free trials.
During this free trial, you might have the same rights as a full member. It’s a great way to test out a gym and its facilities before you pay big money to join.
However, gyms don’t offer free memberships out of the goodness of their hearts: gyms offer these free memberships with the expectation that you’ll join.
If you don’t sign up after your free trial is over, you can virtually guarantee that you’ll receive phone calls, emails, text messages, and other requests asking you to join. Some of these gyms can be very persistent.
At the same time, you will probably only get one free trial with each gym – even if you’re using multiple locations.
You might get declined if you try signing up for a free trial at another gym if they’re part of the same family.
Avoid Signing Up for Gyms Online
When you’re researching gyms in your area, your first instinct is to look up gyms online. You might read reviews on local forums and compare prices between gyms within a 10 minute drive.
There’s nothing wrong with this. However, you should never buy a gym membership online without visiting the location in person.
Visit the gym at 7pm on a Tuesday night – or whenever you expect to work out – to see how busy it gets.
Some gyms offer low rates because they have poor or outdated equipment. You might pay $15 per month for a gym membership, only to find that they have 4 treadmill machines from the 1980s and a half-empty free-weight section.
The low price point also attracts more people, which leads to an overcrowded gym you’re never going to visit.
Ultimately, never believe what gyms tell you online. Always visit a gym before you shell out any money.
Avoid Long-Term Contracts As Much As Possible
Are you 100% sure that you’re going to be staying at the same address for the next 12 months? If so, then there’s nothing wrong with signing a 12 or 18 month contract at your local gym.
However, if you think there’s a chance you could move, then avoid long-term contracts at all costs. Gyms will entice you with lower monthly rates on 12 and 18 month contracts.
However, if you need to leave your gym before the contract is over, you could be hit with massive cancellation fees. Some gyms might even refuse to cancel for any reason, arguing that you signed a contract.
At the very least, signing a short-term contract – like a monthly or 3 month contract – gives you more flexibility.
Paying $50 per month for a gym membership doesn’t seem expensive – until you move to a new city 8 months into your 18 month contract, and you realize you’re on the hook for $500 in membership fees for a gym you’re not attending.
Ultimately, don’t fall for an annual membership just because it’s $2 per month cheaper. That $24 per year savings isn’t always worth it.
Need to Get Out of a Gym Contract? Get a Doctor’s Note
Gyms love playing dirty when it comes to long-term contracts. Do you have proof you’re moving to a new house? That might not be good enough for your gym to cancel your contract.
However, gyms will typically cancel your contract if you have a doctor’s note showing that you cannot workout for an extended period of time.
If your gym is really playing dirty, then you could always find “alternative” ways to procure a doctor’s note without actually visiting a doctor.
How to Avoid Fee Hikes
Fee hikes are another common way for some unscrupulous gyms to make more money from customers. Gyms will lure you in with one rate, only to consistently raise the rate throughout the year.
The best way to avoid fee hikes, unfortunately, is to lock into a long-term contract (which totally contradicts the advice we mentioned above).
Alternatively, if you’re on a month-to-month contract and the gym just raised its fees, then consider switching to a new gym.
If your gym just raised its fees by $10 per month, then start shopping around for alternative offers.
Read Contracts Carefully
This tip applies to virtually anything. If you’re signing your name on a piece of paper, you need to read every word of what you’re signing.
Some gyms have brutal terms in their contracts – like huge cancellation fees, even if you’re just going month-to-month.
Make sure you’re well aware of these terms before you sign. Otherwise, you’re just going to be that guy yelling at the front desk at the YMCA because you didn’t know there was a $30 cancellation fee.
The Most Common Gym Scam is When You Scam Yourself
Amazingly, the most common gym scam isn’t performed by shady gyms: it’s performed by people like you.
You’ve seen this scam in action. Maybe you’ve even been a part of this scam. It’s January 1. You’re hungover from the night before.
You decide that this is the year you’re going to lose weight and get in the best shape of your life. You sign up for a fancy gym in your area, then go to the gym 5 times in January. In February, you were busy and you only worked out 3 times.
By the time March rolls around, you’re visiting the gym once per month. You avoid going all summer because, hey, it’s warm out. And then suddenly, it’s the end of the year and you just paid $700 to visit the gym 15 times ($46.67 per session).
You played yourself! Don’t scam yourself this New Year. If you’re not confident about sticking to your gym plan, then pay for a few drop-in rates. You’ll pay more upfront – but you can save yourself hundreds in the long run.
Do the Math
Ultimately, the best advice I can give you to avoid gym membership scams is to do the math.
Paying $50 per month may not seem like a big deal – especially if drop-in rates are $12 per session. But are you willing to go to the gym more than once per week?
If not, then you’re better off paying 4 drop-in rates per month ($48) than one monthly subscription ($50).
We’ve all been trapped in cycles where you don’t want to go to the gym. Some people find that a gym membership motivates them to work out more. Others find they spend time more efficiently when they pay the drop-in rate.
If you do the math, and calculate exactly how much you’re paying for your gym membership, you can significantly reduce your chances of being scammed.