HOUSTON – The coronavirus pandemic is giving gyms across the country a workout. Customers just don’t feel comfortable exercising indoors around others, but gyms aren’t making it easy for those people to break up with them.
Canceling gym membership an exercise in futility
Automated phone trees send members in circles. Emails go unanswered; and some gyms have changed the rules for how customers can cancel in the middle of the pandemic, making the process more time consuming and burdensome.
Rosie Contreras misses her workouts, but even when Fitness Connection reopened after the shutdown, she didn't want to go back.
“I knew at that point that I didn’t want to go back because I didn’t feel safe,” Contreras explained. “So I’ve been trying to go on their website to cancel it, but the option to cancel the membership online- they took that away.”
Calling the gym didn’t help Rosie either.
“I’ve been trying to call the gym itself to cancel it and I pressed the option to cancel the membership, but I waited on the phone for like 30 minutes and I didn’t get an answer, so I would hang up,” she said. Rosie said she has done this with no success at least four times.
It’s not just Fitness Connection. One 24-Hour customer found the process so frustrating, when he was finally able to cancel, he created a Twitter account to help others. On @Cancel24HrFit, he shares the exact numbers to call and follow the prompts as if you want to “purchase” a gym membership. That will get you a live gym representative. Then you can tell that employee you need to cancel.
Kelly Price joined Blink Fitness in January for a supposed no-obligation $15 a month fee. She received a collections notice from Blink on August 6th that her account is past due for $94.44. When she called, a Blink representative told her they charged her an annual equipment fee in March (while the gym was closed). Blink says she is not allowed to cancel her membership until she pays that bill in full.
“I have been paying for a gym membership this whole year that I am not able to use,” explained Rosie, echoing the same frustration as thousands of gym members across the country.
If you are one of them, here are three things you can do to stop those monthly withdrawals when your gym is making it difficult for you to cancel.
- Reach out to the gym’s corporate headquarters.
When you Google the name of the gym and "corporate headquarters," the search engine will usually bring up the Better Business Bureau information page about the company. It lists the address and usually the phone number for the company's main office.
Send a certified letter there spelling out how you’ve tried to cancel your membership and that you want to do that.
2. Dispute the charges with your credit card
This may help stop the charges in the short term, but if you signed a contract, the gym will likely send you to collections. The unpaid dues could hurt your credit down the road. Save that certied letter as proof of your efforts to cancel should you need it.
3. Complain, complain, complain
Complain on the company’s social media pages, file a complaint with the Texas Attorney General, the Better Business Bureau, and me. One of these avenues is likely to get the gym’s attention and get them to do the right thing.
Rosie was finally able to reach a real person when she called her gym. An employee told her she had to come to the Fitness Connection in person to cancel her membership. She made the trip the same day. But why did the process have to take four phone calls, two hours on hold, and two months of dues?
We reached out to Fitness Connection about Rosie’s case. We asked why the Houston-based company disabled or removed the online form that allowed members to cancel. A spokesperson sent us this statement by email:
“At Fitness Connection, we work to make ending your fitness journey with us as easy as possible. In anticipation of a high volume of cancellations during the pandemic, we elected to discontinue the online cancellation request as this was not an automated service and could have resulted in unfulfilled requests. We instead developed additional ways to end your membership and also introduced extended freeze options. Members are able to cancel or freeze by contacting the customer service line (800-922-7898), coming into their local club, or even simply calling the club phone number to make these changes. We apologize for the experience of this member and will be providing further training to our teammates to ensure the established policies are followed. We will be reaching out to the member directly in hopes to rectify their experience.”
No one from Blink Fitness returned our calls or emails about Price’s case.