Cancelling gym memberships: How much does it cost to break up with your gym?

Joining a gym can be expensive, but breaking up with your workout studio comes at a cost, too.

Janeen Brown said she was hit with a charge of $56.50 after she signed up for a free 30-day trial at One Health Clubs in Mississauga, Ont. this past summer.

Brown told Global News that she was told she could try out the gym for a month for free, but when she visited the studio, she was given a different story.

“It was very odd because at first, the [informational] sheet that I had said it was 30 days [free], but when I walked in, the girl [at the front desk] said, ‘Oh we will give you seven-day membership access, but after that you have to go speak to one of the crew members,’” Brown said.

After seven days, Brown said she met with a team member who asked her how she’d like to proceed with signing up for her membership.

I was like, ‘What do you mean how do I want to sign up?’” she recalled. “He was like, ‘Oh well basically you do have 30 days free to cancel, [but] you just have to sign up [for membership] first.”

Brown said she decided to sign up for a membership thinking she would cancel — without penalty — if she didn’t enjoy the gym before the month was up. She said she went to the gym about three times during that period, and decided to end her membership four days before the trial ended.

When she told the gym that she was not going to continue as a member, she was under the impression everything was taken care of, and there would be no charges. Then, she said she noticed a $56.50 charge on her bank statement from the gym. When she inquired about this, she said One Health Clubs told her it was a charge for a consultation she had with a trainer.

Brown said that she met with a trainer for 10 minutes, and was told the informational session was free. “In the contract it doesn’t state anywhere that I’m responsible for this charge,” she said.

She went back and forth arguing with the gym for months, and has now given up and accepted the loss. “I have a lot of things going on, and I don’t even think it’s worth the stress,” she said.

“I got really stressed out dealing with this. That’s how gyms get us; we eventually back down.”

Are cancellation fees fair?

One Health Fitness said that they do not require a credit card or any banking information from people trying out the 30-day trial. The club also told Global News that there’s no obligation for people to join as members during or after the trial.

The Mississauga club’s manager said that people are not charged either for meeting with a trainer during their trial, as the service is complimentary.

For existing members, however, the club does require a 30-day cancellation notice, and charges clients for that final month.

So is it fair to charge clients a fee for cancelling?

According to Kathleen Trotter, a Toronto-based personal trainer and author of upcoming book Your Fittest Future Self, it’s important to remember that gyms are businesses, and their goal is to make money.

Many gyms rope people into memberships while knowing that after a few visits, their attendance will likely drop off, Trotter said.

Once clients realize that they aren’t actually sticking to their gym routine and want to opt out of their membership, they’re often hit with a cancellation fee — especially if they’ve signed a yearly agreement.

“The reason why gyms can undervalue communication and awesome customer service is because they survive on the people who don’t come,” Trotter told Global News. “That is literally their business model.”

Certain provinces have made moves to help protect the public.

In Ontario, consumer protection law says that customers have the right to get out of a gym contract within the first 10 days, and that customers have the right to cancel gym memberships within a year if their contract doesn’t include certain financial information, like the total amount that will be charged and any additional charges.

Still, if clients sign a yearly agreement that clearly states they will be charged if they break the contract, they’re on the hook for that cancellation cost.

Not using classes costs you money, too

Apart from cancellation fees, Trotter said that many gyms will “shame” people into paying for personal training sessions. She said trainers often sell packages during “personal assessments” where they’ll tell clients they need to lose weight, or that they should be concerned about their health.

This is often a way for gyms to make additional money off clients, as many people won’t actually follow through with booking all their personal training sessions.

“I’m very aware of a lot of gyms where the trainers get way more money per session if they hook clients for 50 sessions compared to 20, because the gyms know that if they hook clients in for 50 sessions, they’ll probably only use 10,” she said.

“Whereas if they pay for 10 [sessions] they’ll use 10 or maybe five.”

Smaller gyms or boutique studios that offer group classes typically sell class packages that have expiry dates. Oftentimes, the more classes you purchase at once, the cheaper the cost ends up being per class, meaning folks may be inclined to buy 20-class package instead of five-classes.

If you use your classes before they expire it’s a smarter move financially, but if you don’t, you can end up losing money.

Consumers need to be educated

While clients may feel cancellation fees or expiry dates are unfair, Trotter said it’s important people are aware of what they’re signing up for and the conditions of any agreement.

“You have to go into it as an informed consumer,” Trotter said.

The fitness expert also said that it’s important for people to know themselves and be honest about how often they are going to use the gym. If you’re someone who needs one-on-one training or prefers small group classes, you might be better off joining a boutique studio.

“If you know you’re the type of person who constantly joins gyms and pays that monthly fee, but that monthly fee does not inspire you to go to the gym, then maybe you need to do a shorter-term contract,” she said.

Lastly, Trotter said consumers need to advocate for their rights. Gyms know that it’s a hassle to constantly email, call and drop-in looking for answers. That’s why many people give up arguing over outstanding charges and end up paying fees, she said.

Brown knows this first-hand. She said her experience with One Health Clubs was frustrating and took up a lot of time.

“I got really tired of the back-and-forth with them,” she said. “I know I will never, ever go back to that gym again.”

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