Health Spas and Gym Memberships
Looking for a way to get in shape? Joining a health spa, fitness center, gym or sports club can be a great way to improve your physical condition. Nearly 33 million people are members of some 17,000 health clubs in the U.S. today, according to the International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association. Although many consumers who join health clubs are pleased with their choices, others are not. The Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division has received complaints from consumers about high-pressure sales tactics, misrepresentations of facilities and services, broken cancellation and refund clauses and lost membership fees as a result of health clubs going out of business.
To avoid these kinds of problems, it’s best to look closely at the spa’s fees, contractual requirements and facilities before you join. Here are some suggestions to help you make the right choice.
- Visit the spa or gym during the hours you would normally use it to see if it is overcrowded. Notice whether the facilities are clean and well-maintained, and note the condition of the equipment.
- Ask about trial periods. Is there some time when you can sample the services and equipment for free and without any obligation to join?
- Ask about the number of members. Many spas set no membership limits. While the spa may not be crowded when you visit, it may be packed during peak hours or after a membership drive.
- Ask about the hours of operation. Some spas and gyms restrict men’s use to certain days and women’s to others. Some may limit lower-cost memberships to certain hours.
- Ask about instructors and trainers. Some spas and gyms hire trainers and instructors who have special qualifications. If you are looking for professionals to help you, ask about staff qualifications and longevity.
Watch for enticing but deceptive ads
The best way to shop for a health spa or gym membership is to visit several in your area to compare facilities and costs. Or, get a recommendation from someone you trust. Beware advertising that suggests you have “won a free membership” or have been otherwise specially selected. Usually, all you have “won” is the opportunity to be subject to a high pressure sales presentation. Some consumers who have been asked to “sign in” for a free month’s membership later have found that they actually signed a two-year contract. Some spas ask you to join – and pay – the first time you visit and offer incentives like special rates to entice you to sign on the spot. Resist. Wait a few days before deciding. Take the contract home and read it carefully. Before you sign, ask yourself:
- Is everything that the salesperson promised written in the contract? If a problem arises after you join, the contract probably will govern the dispute. And if something is not written in the contract, it is going to be difficult to prove your case.
- Is there a “cooling-off” period? Arkansas law requires that the purchaser be provided with the right to cancel the contract if done within three days of the sale. This right should be noted in the contract. If you exercise your right to cancel, you are entitled to a full refund.
- Arkansas law also allows the buyer to cancel the remaining portion of a health spa contract if the buyer becomes permanently physically disabled or if the buyer moves more than 50 miles from any location operated by this health spa operator.
- These Arkansas laws apply to most health spas and gyms, but not to bona fide non-profit organizations like the YMCA or YWCA.
- Can you join for a short time only? It may be to your advantage to join on a trial basis, say, for a few months, even if it costs a little more each month. If you are not enjoying the membership or using it as much as you had planned, you will not be committed to years of payments.
- Can you afford the payments? Consider the finance charges and annual percentage rates when you calculate the total cost of your membership. Break down the cost to weekly and even daily figures to get a better idea of what it really will cost to use the facility.
Research the spa’s history
Finally, before you join a health club, contact the Attorney General’s office and the Better Business Bureau to find out whether either has received any complaints about the business. Check to see if the health spa is registered with the Secretary of State.