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Use your gym membership much? If so, you probably have no bargaining power

So I’ve belonged to a chain gym for almost 10 years now. When I first joined, I used it almost daily for racquetball until I completely shredded my rotator cuff. I wasn’t into running back then, and then I moved, changed jobs, etc.

When I moved to Maryland from Virginia, I actually moved within 3 miles of a branch of my gym, and I used it a lot in 2006 when training for a marathon. It helped to have an indoor track and treadmills in the heat of the DC summer, but when the marathon was over, I went back to doing nothing. I think that contributed to my herniated disc in 2007.

But now for the last 6-9 months, my wife and I have been using the gym 2-3 times a week, depending on the weather. Last year, we actually trained for and completed a 5k obstacle course run (fire, barbed wire, a mile of mud, crawling through gravel, etc.) and finished mid-pack. Last month, I ran a 5k and hit my goal of under 30 minutes (sounds slow to you runners out there, but it was over a minute per mile faster than what I’m training at).

And now I’m training for another marathon…6 years after may last one. I want to shave at least an hour off my time (goal) or 90 minutes (stretch goal). It’s the same marathon, but a slightly different course. But that’s not the point of this article. It’s about our gym.

When your loyalty doesn’t matter

Ok, first, I won’t name names, but if you know gyms or do a bit of Googling, you’ll know what gym chains I’m talking about. I joined my gym while I lived in Virginia, and then my wife joined a year later in Maryland. With our membership contracts, if you paid roughly $40-$50 per month for 3 years, you’re entitled to a major discount that only goes up 10% per year. Once those discounts hit at first, we went from paying $100 per month to about $20/mth for both of us. Now we’re up to about $35/mth for both of us. Still cheaper than paying for 1 person at normal rates.

But last year I think, our gym went belly-up, and they were bought up by another chain. We were told nothing would change, and they were right. I totally forgot about it all until I got a letter a few months ago saying our “home gyms” (take note of this term for later) were switching to the new company and we needed to get new cards. I learned nothing would change with our contracts, so we wouldn’t be paying any more or less. Good.

We went and got the new cards, but noticed there was another club built recently about a mile south of our regular gym. This one is a “fancier” one (a friend said the biggest difference is they charge more and give you a towel). We should have seen this as a sign, but we figured ours would stay for the average Joe and the other would be a niche market gym. You see where I’m going with this…

So one day recently, we walk into our gym and notice a paper posted on the front door saying the gym is closing the next day! What the (*$&($!!?!? When they changed ownership, we got a letter, but we got nothing for this. I can understand now why I didn’t get notified as it’s not my “home gym” (mine is in VA), but it’s my wife’s, but no email, phone call or letter. Here’s the kicker. She gets a free upgrade to use the “fancy” new gym while I don’t. I’m stuck driving double the distance to the next closest gym.

While at the gym, the front desk person was very helpful, even though they only had 2 on staff and people had tons of questions. She told me to call the corporate number (she gave it to me secretly) and they would be able to change my home gym to my wife’s so we can both get upgraded. So I called but was told “the gym is closing tomorrow. We can’t change it.” I complained that we just learned that day, and we were just in the prior week and nothing was posted. They responded that it was known for weeks. That doesn’t help me at all though and makes me even madder that they didn’t send notification.

So my wife called today and found out I have a few options if I want to work out with her at this new gym, all matching what they told me on the phone that day. Basically all 3 amount to paying $150 up front and 2x-3x my current monthly payment, give or take. One option makes me seem like a 2nd-class customer (no free towel!), while another is some super-secret “cheaper” option that I have to talk to his manager about. In the end, though, why would I pay what I normally pay an entire year ($150) for nothing, and then triple my monthly payment?

I pulled out the “I’ve been a customer for 10 years” reasoning, but recognized as I said it that I’m not the type of customer they care to retain. You know what kind of customers they like? The ones who pay the membership and NEVER COME TO THE GYM! I had negotiating room for those years I never showed up, but not now that I’m actually using my membership. Because I pay so little per month and almost get my money’s worth, I’m more of a liability to them than a profit. Same with my wife, but she lucked out by having the right “home gym”.

Options I’m considering

So as you can guess, I’m now considering a few things. Being frugal-minded, the first would be to just dump the membership, but the thing is, it costs me so little per month, and there’s still gyms not too far away. That’s why I haven’t dropped the membership all these years; it’s just been so cheap (started at $8 per month, then went up to about $14/mth now). I can’t finance a treadmill for that much!

But here’s the options running through my head. First, though, I want to check out the new gym, and also try out the next closest gym as we’ve never gone there.

  1. Do one of the upgrade options to be able to use the closer “new” gym. I’m really not into this idea, even if they waive the fee. Why would I want to pay triple what I currently pay?
  2. Try the gym across the street from my house (.4 miles away). It doesn’t have a pool, track, basketball court, racquetball, etc., but it has the equipment I need and want. It would probably cost the same as #1, but be SOOO much closer
  3. Keep my membership as-is and work out at the next closest gym (about 4 miles away I think).
  4. Cancel the membership and use the great outdoors. Maybe buy a dumbbell set for the strength-training. We already have a nice elliptical machine at home for the days it’s nasty out, and there are nice tracks at 2 local high schools.

Without a doubt, #4 sounds real nice, but that leaves my wife in a lurch because she wants to be able to work out with me at a gym. Not that we do anything together when we’re AT the gym, but she likes going to it with me as a bonding experience. Or maybe she likes the chauffeur. Whatever, she has some say in this matter too, so it’s not as easy a decision as it may seem.

Have any of you had a similar or worse experience? Let me know in the comments cause I’d love to hear that I’m not the only one out there! Also, did I miss any ideas? Don’t worry, I’ve had 500000 people tell me “P90X” already, but I’m not into fads. Invite me to your house to work out for a session, and maybe I’ll buy into it, but not right now.

About the author

Clever Dude

4 Comments

  • I found this out about gyms myself. I go regularly and no matter how hard I negotiate, they won’t budge on the price. My friend who rarely goes, negotiates for a rate that is half mine! There is only one other gym in my town and I went one day for free and it was a waste of time. They didn’t even have matching dumb bells!

  • I feel your pain. We have a YMCA membership because it gives us “enough” of what we need, and our whole family uses it. But for triathlon training, all the swim teams meet at other gyms. The Y pool isn’t great for group training. So we miss out because of the decision we made, but it’s cheaper for us.

  • If you have a house and the room for it, I would just buy some weights. You already have cardio covered with the elliptical, and purchasing a weight set is smart if you plan on using them.

    I’m lucky enough to have a small workout room at my work where I use the treadmill, elliptical, and weights. I couldn’t imagine not having this as an option (I live in an apartment so storing equipment is out of the question. I suppose eventually I will have to deal with this problem.

    Hoping you go with #4!

  • I used to have a membership at LA Fitness for $24.99/month until I found YouFit. They only charge $10 per month, but they don’t have all the amenities. That is OK for me because I never used them anyways 🙂

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