Crunch: $4 Trial Membership Secretly Means $138 Real Membership

Fred writes:
FREE 1 WEEK PASS!!!
That’s what I got after signing up for a contest at a Lincoln Park Chamber of Commerce event (specifically Pizza fest) in July 2007. I took Crunch up on the pass because I wanted to check out what my local Crunch had to offer. Included in the week pass was a personal training session. I went to Crunch 3 times that week and had an enjoyable time; it’s a decent gym and seemed ok.

GET THE REST OF THE MONTH FOR ONLY $4!!!
Soon into my week, Andy @Crunch called me and offered me the rest of the month of July for $4 if I signed up as a member. I agreed to that but made absolutely sure that if I canceled in the appropriate amount of time (before the end of the month) I would not be charged for anything, which he said was true. The rest of the month for a couple bucks? I thought, “Why not?”
I should mention that I was/am member of another gym and couldn’t possibly afford to belong to both at the same time. I was indeed looking for a change; otherwise I wouldn’t have even accepted the free week pass. However, even if I would have loved Crunch and wanted to join immediately, I would have had to wait a month and cancel my other gym membership. Moving on…
“YOU HAVE TO GIVE 30 DAYS NOTICE”
A couple days before I knew I would start to be billed and default into a permanent membership, I went into Crunch to cancel. Immediately, I was told that even if I canceled I would still be billed for a month and charged a cancellation free. WHAT?! Naturally, I re-explained my situation and what I was told (that if I came in canceled I wouldn’t have to pay any more money). The response I got was actually quite non-sensical – “You have to give 30 days notice” [to not be charged]. Let’s think about this for a moment. I got my pass in mid-july and went in to quit on the 30th. How, mathematically, could I have possibly given 30 days notice??! Ugh, you suck Crunch. But that’s why I am writing this.

I GOT CHARGED TWICE!!!
A week after getting nowhere with the manager and being ask to fax documents around as proof of my cancellation, I checked my bank account and found out that I was actually charged twice ($69×2). I would later find out that this was because was told I was breaking my year contract (DOUBLE WHAT?!!!!), and also that I would be charged August dues (even though I canceled in July).

My advice. Don’t accept free passes from Crunch. Don’t even look at the place when you walk by it.

Crunch has something of a reputation for being shady when it comes to cancellations and billing. Avoid.

(Photo:meghannmarco)

Comments

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  1. UpsetPanda says:

    That sucks on a painful new level. Wasn’t there fine print somewhere that you could’ve scrutinized?

  2. Twitch says:

    Did you sign something when you signed up? If you gave them your credit information, you obviously signed something…. right? Are the terms (no matter how stupid or nonsensical) in writing ANYWHERE?

  3. louisb3 says:

    Shouldn’t it count for something when a CSR-type employee misrepresents the costs or conditions of a product or service? You’ve got the name of the company representative who advertised a certain service at a certain price, so isn’t the failure to honor that service at that price false advertisement?

    Wishful thinking, maybe.

  4. Geekybiker says:

    Gyms = crooks it seems. I hear more horror stories about them than moving companies.

  5. Jasmo says:

    Just goes to show … there’s no such thing as a free crunch.

  6. chuloallen says:

    Just look at that picture, would u trust them to help you out with Physical improvement?

  7. Mr. Gunn says:

    It’s a good general rule to never give any company permission to draft your bank account. No one needs to do that for any legitimate business reason, and companies that require it are uniformly shady, like my local utility company, Entergy.

    I’m thinking of switching to hamster power.

  8. csdiego says:

    I’ve heard soooo many horror stories about sleazy gym membership tricks. A shiny new Gold’s Gym just opened across from my work and I was tempted to join, but I decided against it because I wasn’t looking to attach a bloodsucking leech permanently to my bank account and credit report. I suck at dealing with deceptive practices and I just knew it would be a nightmare down the road if/when I needed to cancel.

    Instead I made a commitment to running for free on the trail near my house. It does mean getting up in the morning and driving 10 minutes there and back before work, but the money I’m saving is enough of an incentive at least for now. We don’t get enough cold weather here to be a serious obstacle to running year-round.

  9. warf0x0r says:

    I went to a Golds Gym and asked what the membership rates were during their opening. The lady at the front desk tried to hand me a clip board and said,

    “Fill this out and we can have you talk with one of our (insert some jargon for hourly employee that also helps you exercise) and they can assess your membership fees.” On the clip board was about three pages and I could see a spot for name, spouse information, phone numbers, mailing addresses, etc…

    “I’d rather not give you my personal information before I sign up, but I’m curious to see your membership rates,” I replied.

    She looked at me for a second and said,
    “You have to fill this out first.”

    I just turned around and walked away. I joined the free weights gym in the crappy mall a few blocks from my house. Their rates were posted on the wall.

  10. SOhp101 says:

    1. Read the contract
    2. Don’t give out bank info–use a credit card

    But i’m sure everyone already knew that.

  11. skrom says:

    Or you could just do like I do and just do watch TV and take care of the house instead of wasting money just to be vain. Everyone is always so concerned what everyone else thinks of them and how they have to be ripped to attract someone of the opposite sex. Who cares what everyone else thinks about you. Gyms are such a waste of time that could be used to more meaningful things like spending time with your family. All you get out of it are sore arms and legs anyway

  12. zolielo says:

    YMCA / YWCA (sure it is full of kids running rampant but at least there is no contract).

    If your local Parks & Rec has a fitness center / gym (hit or miss but it could be good).

  13. Mr. Moto says:

    @SOhp101: In my experience credit cards won’t help in this situation. They allow these types of memberships to continue to charge until you satisfy the gym’s requirements to cancel. Been there, done that.

  14. Mr. Moto says:

    @zolielo: My experience was at a YMCA so if you have a YMCA that doesn’t require a contract that is not always the case.

  15. csdiego says:

    @Mr. Moto: Yeah, that, and if you cancel the card they’ll unleash debt collectors. And then there’s always the trick of charging the stated membership fee, then telling you you can’t work out until you pay the supplement for that location. The number of sleazy tricks they pull is limited only by the capacity of the human imagination. It’s just not worth it.

  16. MercuryPDX says:

    LA Fitness opened a brand new gym 5 minutes from my house. I went in for a “free week” just to check out the pool. When I signed up for the week, the sales rep told me that if “I buy before I try” right then and there I can get a $15 discount off the monthly dues for the life of the membership. Very tempting…

    So glad I passed that up. The entire week the pool was closed for repairs (in a new gym?) and the place was a complete madhouse. Most of the hour I dedicated to working out was spent waiting for to get a locker or waiting for any machine aside from the exercise bikes.

    When I got the reminder call near the end of the week, I told them why I wouldn’t be signing up or coming back, and after a short but failing retention/sale attempt it was over with.

    A few weeks later I got a letter in the mail offering the “only if you buy it now” discounted rate if I came back in. So yeah… gym memberships are just as shady as car dealerships, but I’m sure some good haggling/acting on your part can help cut through the BS.

  17. MercuryPDX says:

    @zolielo: I wish my YMCA was closer it’s a good 25-30 minute drive away.

  18. Zwoda says:

    I had a similar experience with Bally’s Total Fitness. In January 2006, a family member sent me a link to a ‘get in shape’ challenge sponsored by Discovery Health Challenge. By signing up on the Discovery Health site, new users were offered a 10 week free pass to Bally’s gyms. There was one close to me, so I checked it out.

    At the gym, I was told that I couldn’t just promote the printout, but had to be ‘introduced’ by a staff member to the gym and given a tour. There were no ‘specially trained staff members’ available at that moment, so I would have to wait. 20 minutes goes by, and a big muscular man comes forward, introduces himself, and gives me a tour of the gym that was focused on getting me to sign up for a 3 year membership with unlimited personal trainer sessions. I refused, but gave in to agreeing to pay $14.95 for unlimited classes. They offered twice weekly kickboxing classes, which I figured would be somewhat cool.

    So I gave them my credit card, and immediately thought something was up when they went to a back room to charge the $15, and somehow took 20 minutes for this simple transaction. After that wait, I’ve given a slip that clearly states $14.95 to sign. I do so, and they claim that their printer is broken, and there’s no receipt. Warning bells start to ring harder in my mind. They take my photo for my 10 week member ID, I go off to play on the ellipticals, find out that 3 out of the 4 I try are broken, and figure at the very worst I lost $15 bucks.

    Next day, I check my credit card online. Hey, they charged me $100! I go to the Bally’s site, and check out my account there. Somehow I’m signed up for a 3 year plan! And if I want out, I have to pay $1300! I fume all day at work, until 4:30, when I’m free to call the gym and yell. I get placed on hold. And mysteriously disconnected after 20 minutes. I call again. Same thing.

    Next day, I have a long drive planned, so I go to the gym at 5:30 in the morning, when they open. I get there, and am told that only the person that signed me up is allowed to touch my account. I call the gym sporadically throughout the day, he’s always “with a client”. I arrive at my destination, call my credit company, they place an immediately freeze on the $100 charge and send me the appropriate forms.

    The following Monday, I yelled at the person answering the gym’s phone in a stern enough manner that she breaks out of character and tells me that there’s no way that I can get anyone at the gym to do anything about the account. Furthermore, she’s gives me the corporate number, and tells me that the call center that it routes to is only staffed between 9am and 1pm to ensure that no one can get through.

    At work I had two phones, and two lines. I put the one line on speakerphone the instant I got in the next morning, and listened to the cheerful Bally’s music & loving ‘a call representative will be with you shortly, we value your call’ messages for three hours until someone finally picked up!

    I tell him my story. He tells me that I am not allowed to cancel until I visit the gym 15 times, and only in during my first 30 days. I ask to speak with his supervisor. He tells me that he is the head manager of Bally’s member services.

    I tell him going to the gym every other day is impossible to anyone working a regular job, somewhat unhealthy, and furthermore, what they did in charging me was somewhat fraudulent. The rep tells me that when I signed the member service agreement, I agreed to all their terms and thus I had no say in the matter.

    I didn’t sign anything close to that.

    I inform him of the matter. I also inform him that since I was not given a receipt, Bally’s was in violation of Visa’s merchant agreement. “Let me talk to my supervisor”. I’m placed on hold for 5 minutes. When he gets back, he tells me that my account has been canceled, and I should be receiving a refund check in the mail shortly.

    The check arrived 4 weeks later. My card was not charged anymore.

  19. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    I think there’s more to the story here. I agree with Twitch.. Fred had to have signed a contract of some sort, and obviously he didn’t read it thoroughly.

  20. bohemian says:

    Having had gym memberships in the past, when I signed up to use the fitness center that is coordinated with our HMO/PPO clinic I gave that contract a very close look.
    I also asked the person doing my paperwork the third degree about membership, cancellation fees, billing and the like. It was actually very straight forward. Month to month flat fee with a small joining fee or no joining fee and full payment or installments for annual. If you changed your mind the cancellation fee was the same as the joining fee so they essentially just convert you back to month to month to let you cancel.

    Never give anyone direct access to your checking account. Even a debit card gives you a layer of protection at most banks.

  21. KifoFox says:

    Hello, I would like to comment on Crunch’s behalf. I’m a member at Crunch in SF, and have absolutely loved their service. I’m sorry that this type of thing happened to you, but I think you may have gotten a rotten rep or something. When I was about to sign-up for service, the rep I got asked me if I worked or was going to be working at a corporation nearby. I said that I would be working at Charles Schwab starting a month later and she said that I would get a considerable discount from them. I said that I wanted to go to the gym, but I wouldn’t want to join now if I got a really big discount later. She comped me for the entire month and asked me to bring in a note on company stationary or a business card to qualify for the discount.

    Basically, she didn’t need to ask me about where I would be working because I was already going to sign-up, but she went the extra mile to save me money… and I plan to refer other people to her because she was so great.

    Also, many of the staff greet me by name… even if they only met me once. I love that they have free, clean bath and face towels, soap, lotion, shampoo, deodorant, conditioner, q-tips, iron, ironing board, etc.

    I must also stress that I am not on their staff, but a very happy customer. I would be willing to answer any questions you may have (but would likely not be going back to this article to read it).

    I agree that what happened to you was horrible, but I don’t think that this is the case for the whole company.

  22. Buran says:

    @KifoFox: Not on their staff. … but sound like a shill.

  23. urban_ninjya says:

    Any Gym that says you need 30 days notice is obviously up to no good. It’s not like some sort of expensive apartment where they need to find a new Tennent immediately.

    You should be able to just cancel immediately or cancel @ the end of the term.

    On that note, I wish more gyms have pay per use or pay per hour usage. I think this whole membership angle is just there to get couch potatoes to sign up and pay membership fees and not go. Seems like instead of using some of the money to expanding the gym, or building more gyms, they’re just letting them over crowd and people end up paying for a useless membership.

  24. evixir says:

    The YWCA a few blocks from my apartment charges $75/month if you pay month-to-month, but only $50/month if they can direct-debit it from your checking/savings account. I find that profoundly lame.

  25. urban_ninjya says:

    @Zwoda: I had a similar experience @ Ballys about 10 years ago. They are as shady as Gyms get. They’ve been basically have thier sales reps misinform people about how easy their monthly membership while hiding behind the scenes it’s a 3 year financed agreement. I think the fact they are bleeding red ink and been delisted from the major exhanges as Devine Justice.

  26. shamim316 says:

    this is why i continue to go to my college gym (as an alum)

  27. medic78 says:

    Makes me really appreciate the Y near me. It’s clean, friendly, cheap (27 a month for 2 of us), and there are free classes and instructors. You don’t even have to sign up for the classes, just show up.

  28. humphrmi says:

    I agree with others who said it here: look into your park district. Some suck, but some have great programs. Ours (Skokie, IL) even has it’s own gym (I don’t mean “gym” in the sense of a field house, I mean gym in the sense that they compete with Gold’s / Bally’s / Crunch, with equipment and trainers and the whole ball of wax.)

    Even without all those extras, just taking a physical activity class one or two days a week will put you way ahead of not working out at all. My wife skates, I swim, my kids take soccer and swimming, we’re doing more with our park district than we ever did at stupid blood-sucking clubs.

  29. LiC says:

    @Zwoda: “I inform him of the matter. I also inform him that since I was not given a receipt, Bally’s was in violation of Visa’s merchant agreement.”

    Woah, is that right?
    What about when you go out to dinner and handwrite a tip on a credit card receipt? The copy you get doesn’t give you the amount you are actually charged for.

  30. UpsetPanda says:

    I think the assumption there is that unless you’re a money-grubbing scammer, you’d write the tip amount on the check they give to you as the customer and on the check you give to them to tell them the tip.

  31. P41 says:

    Look on the bright side. If it’s an enterprise, now it’s racketeering…

    Dispute the charges. Be sure to get the name of the person you told to cancel, so when you file a charge of fraud you have a name to give.

  32. gniterobot says:

    @Jasmo: +10, He wants his crunch and munch it too.

    damn, so lame.

  33. GearheadGeek says:

    Corporate gyms aren’t in business to provide you with a place to work out. They provide a place to work out as a honeypot to get you to come in and either finance your membership with them (Bally’s) or sign a contract with an automatic periodic charge. Since they’re not in business to provide workout facilities, they don’t care if they wildly oversubscribe the facility (and in fact know that most people will not come in very often, and won’t get around to canceling for a long time or (with Bally’s) even if they want to cancel they aren’t actually paying a membership fee, they’re paying off a credit account for a lump-sum payment they financed on day 1.

  34. CapitalC says:

    I’d stand out front of the store handing out flyers with your story on them. Provided you’re on public property, they can’t do shit and I guarantee you’ll prevent new members from signing up.

  35. curmudgeon5 says:

    I despise that whole “we can’t give you prices until we take all your info and talk to you for half an hour” BS. I called the Gold’s Gym near me recently and was told they wouldn’t give me prices over the phone and I would have to come in. I told them I’d just hang up and not come in then, that I absolutely wasn’t taking my time to come in until I knew their prices, and after about five minutes of arguing with me, the guy finally gave me prices. If more people held out, I think they’d be forced to abandon that routine. The reason they can keep it up is because people let them get away with it.

  36. XTC46 says:

    @skrom: or working out to be healthy…being fit isn’t only to look good (looking good in the eyes of some people is a perk)

  37. GrantGannon says:

    @skrom: Mmmm, enjoy that angioplasty.

    I’ve heard similar horror stories of the gyms around here. I joined up with a local hospital that offers a great gym. The gym itself is probably at best a break even situation. It’s in the business of provide a service to keep employees of the medical complex healthy, not make money. Thankfully they open it up to the general public. I signed up for a one-year contract knowingly. They offer very favorable terms re: moving and injury. They won’t give you a refund if you’re lazy which is they way I’d want it to be.

  38. daddygrant says:

    Some thing like this happened to me a few year ago at Crunch. They will take you for everything you’ve got. Synergy and NYSC also use that 30 days in advanced policy. Is there any decent Gyms left? Please let me know, I live in Long Island and I really want to dump synergy.

  39. Zwoda says:

    @LIC – My credit card company told me that merchants are required by Visa’s policy to provide receipts. Bally’s didn’t in this case. It would be like the restaurant taking your slip, and not giving a receipt period, regardless of how much you tipped.

    Plus everything restaurant I’ve ever been to that accepted credit & expected tips has given me an identical ‘customer copy’ of the credit slip, complete with tip line for me to fill out myself.

  40. SuperAdge says:

    I signed up for a large corporate gym’s “trial” period and then canceled within the time allotted because, honestly, it kinda sucked. I was shocked to discover they had gone ahead and overdrawn my bank account for two months membership (which happened to overdraw this particular account that had previously been in good standing).

    This shit happens more often than one would think. So f’em – I called their headquarters (I’m sure you can find Crunch Gym’s easily online), left two messages and talked to a CSR twice. I told them that I knew this was an illegitimate practice, that I had been misguided by their local CSR who told me that I could cancel without fault, that I would tell all of my friends (I worked in a well-respected running store too so I had access to lots of athletes, you can just make that part up), and would write letters to IHRSA (the int’l health club org) and the BBB.

    The next day, they not only refunded the two months membership, but they covered my overdraft fee. Sometimes good does prevail over evil – fight the good fight!

  41. SuperAdge says:

    I signed up for a large corporate gym’s “trial” period and then canceled within the time allotted because, honestly, it kinda sucked. I was shocked to discover they had gone ahead and overdrawn my bank account for two months membership (which happened to overdraw this particular account that had previously been in good standing).

    This shit happens more often than one would think. So f’em – I called their headquarters (I’m sure you can find Crunch Gym’s easily online), left two messages and talked to a CSR twice. I told them that I knew this was an illegitimate practice, that I had been misguided by their local CSR who told me that I could cancel without fault, that I would tell all of my friends (I worked in a well-respected running store too so I had access to lots of athletes, you can just make that part up), and would write letters to IHRSA (the int’l health club org) and the BBB.

    The next day, they not only refunded the two months membership, but they covered my overdraft fee. Sometimes good does prevail over evil – keep fighting the good fight!

  42. SuperAdge says:

    Godamnit, I always post twice.

  43. Bunnymuffin says:

    I have to jump on the YMCA bandwagon here, absolutely love it. I was afraid to leave my small town gym run by a gruff yet loveable old dude for the big city and all it’s megagyms, but the Y has been a great fit.

  44. guymandude says:

    I found an older used bowflex on craigslist for 250$. I’ve been using it for 6 weeks and I’ve already lost 15 pounds. When I decide to get rid of it I’ll still be able to get about what I paid for it. And it is ULTRA convenient being able to simply goto the basement and workout without having to deal with the chatty sorority girls and dumbass muscleheads that think the gym equipment is some kind of forum for a conversation. And of course there’s no high pressure or ILLEGAL sales scenarios with which to contend. So… my 2 cents is to forget the “gym”. Get some used workout equipment and take of business yourself.

  45. jermscentral says:

    @Bunnymuffin: agreed. I don’t know if other YMCAs do it, but ours has an income-based membership pricing, and they give you the pricing when you walk in and ask for it. You can even go online and get a dollar figure for your income bracket. My wife and I have a $56/month joint membership, and I couldn’t be happier! Tons of free programs (I’ve done the spin class and am in the “First Steps” program), and the staff are so friendly. You don’t see the muscleheads here. I mean, sure, there are some well-built folks, but no one is there to impress anyone else. I love it!

  46. Marko_Vulvic says:

    @skrom:

    And that’s why America is fat.

  47. Trackback says:

    Old escalators at Macy’s via Flickr/rickweller Local · Due to a series of lawsuits, gallery Salander-O’Reilly may have to cancel show [NY Sun] National · The Better Business Bureau overhauling their image [NY Times] · On Crunch gyms’ sleazy billing practices [Consumerist] ·…

  48. rjhiggins says:

    @csdiego: Glad you’re getting into running, but remember that running alone isn’t a complete fitness program. Strength training is equally important. Of course, you don’t need to join a health club to get that, but it’s the best way for many people.

    My experience with my local Gold’s Gym has been just fine, though I realize that’s not universal. I believe they are franchises, so your mileage is likely to vary.

  49. King of the Wild Frontier says:

    @skrom: No reason why you couldn’t ride an exercise bike while you’re watching TV. Being in good shape doesn’t necessarily equal being “ripped”–having body fat in the single digits isn’t particularly healthy, that’s why women bodybuilders stop menstruating–but it does translate to better health and, therefore, more time spent with the family.

  50. EagleTheta says:

    Another bad Bally’s incident.

    I signed up at one gym, but knew it was going to close in a couple of months. They were opening up a new one much closer to me, so they write the contract for my membership to transfer to the new one. So far, not a bad deal.

    A few months after I started working out at the new open gym and the old one closed, I’m told my membership isn’t valid there, since I didn’t sign up for a “all clubs” level of membership. They tell me my membership transfered to a gym as geographically far away from me as their standard contract would permit – despite there being nearly a dozen closer gyms. Of course, this is a fraudulent tactic to get me to upgrade my membership.

    While I tell them that my contract is for this gym, one of the “sales rep” type dudes tell me that I should just upgrade my membership and leave them alone. Fortunately, I did have my contract and tell them they were in breach of their contract. The finally fixed it.

    Getting told to leave them alone + horrible customer service phone (previous poster comments on times/etc is true), I’ve cancelled my membership and never EVER going back there.

  51. magic1 says:

    Bally’s bought Crunch a few years ago, which is when Crunch *really* started to go downhill. I happened to be walking by a Crunch in my neighborhood and was curious about their spin classes. (I belong to a gym but their spin classes suck – I’ve had good ones at Crunch in the past.) But the bitch at the entrance desk wouldn’t even let me see a class schedule without filling out a form! This is the same damn schedule you can get on the Crunch website for free!

  52. jesirose says:

    @LiC: They give you two copies so you can write the same tip on both for your own records. They still give you a reciept. You can also tip cash if you’re nice.

  53. meehawl says:

    Also impressed that the Crunch sign-up table has an obese person stationed at it.