Tips and tricks for joining a gym without getting swindled, please!
January 5, 2011 9:37 AM   Subscribe

How do you get a good deal on a gym membership? Is now a good time or a bad time to join a gym?

Why don't gyms just have stated membership prices? Is it necessary to go through the whole song & dance and negotiation in order to sign up? It seems like such a hassle. How can you compare one to another?

Is just after new years the best or worst time to join a gym? Do they have good deals right now or jacked up prices? What should I expect to pay? How do I haggle/negotiate the rate?

I live in Seattle (Queen Anne and Ballard are my two home-base neighborhoods) and would welcome any specific recommendations. I heard that although they're pretty expensive, Olympic Fitness includes a monthly personal trainer session with membership. I would like a gym with a pool. Organized fitness classes are also a plus, I like that kind of structure.

My goals are to cross train outside of my regular practices, I work weird hours, and the QA community center pool's hours don't work with when I'm available to work out. Ideally I would like to meet with a personal trainer occasionally, but I probably can't afford it. Money is very tight so I want the best deal possible.
posted by palegirl to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You basically have to go in person.

I recently had a question regarding the presence of rowing machines — the owner wanted me to come in, presumably so I can get the hard sell. I have yet to find a gym staff that did not want to answer questions beyond the bare minimum posted on the website, preferring instead take my inquiry as opportunity to "sell" me in person.

Bring a clipboard with a list of your questions. Atop it have the names of various gyms listed. This tends to communicate "Hey, I am going to look around." It usually results in a less grubby approach.
posted by adipocere at 9:47 AM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Gyms are one of the last places left that still do hard-sell bullshit with their customers. Tell them upfront that you're not going to join today, that you're going to look at gym X and Y after they tell you the best deal they can give you. I travel for work and have visited a lot of gyms trying to get a 1-2 month membership without all the hassles of long, pointless tours, sales pitches, and ridiculous contracts. I think most gyms train their staff not to jump to the details until they've gone through everything in their checklist.

Things to be on the lookout for, that might be negotiable at your gym:

Total due at signup
Contract length
Contract termination fees
hard sell on personal trainers
"maintenance" fees

You've got to be comfortable saying "I'd like to pay less, I'd like to not pay that fee, I'm not interested in xyz service". I try to let them know that they have an opportunity to give me their best deal before I go look around, that puts the urgency on them, rather than me.
posted by bluejayk at 10:00 AM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Speaking as someone who has been going to the gym regularly for the last several years (I am proud of myself for being able to write that). The period just after new years is one of my least favorite times of the year from a usability perspective and I generally spend the next month or two looking forward to all of these new people to break their resolutions so that I can get back into my routine.

As far as actual membership go, I think the price is generally going to depend more on which gym you go to (prices will vary by location, so less hip = less expensive) than the time of the year.

Annecdotally I have heard that Gold's is generally pretty inexpensive (I belong to a slightly fancier east coast chain), and I think they are everywhere (except near me!). Also I am pretty sure Bailey's is out west and they look like they might be cheap.
posted by BobbyDigital at 10:04 AM on January 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Here in the uk it's agreat time to join, as they offer good deals knowing that many will give up once ny is forgotten.
posted by Not Supplied at 10:15 AM on January 5, 2011

Joining a gym is like buying a car. You kind of have to be willing to be a dick if you don't feel like playing the song-and-dance game. And read the fine print...I'm still peeved at a gym I quit years ago that charged me for an extra 3 months because I didn't (wait for it) give them a 3-month notice before I quit.

I currently go to a local county rec center. The machines aren't as new, but I only pay when I go (monthly passes and I think yearly passes are also available) and the crowd isn't as pretty. Which is a feature, not a bug as far as I'm concerned.
posted by JoanArkham at 10:19 AM on January 5, 2011

They often have monthly quotas/goals so near the end of the month they might work harder to close the sale. Might make it easier to negotiate
Always negotiate though.

If you do get ripped off you can cancel within 3 days. I think. It's the law in NY. Might be similar in your state.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:21 AM on January 5, 2011

The trouble with going now is that you can't really judge if the place is overcrowded or not, because it will be busy due to the new influx of part timers. I had trouble getting a treadmill yesterday at my gym, and they have at least 30 of them, which are usually only half full when I go after work. OTOH, if a gym is not crowded now, it will never be crowded.
posted by smackfu at 10:23 AM on January 5, 2011

It's too bad? you want classes and maybe a trainer or a pool ; ) not that there's anything wrong with that. Otherwise I'd say: go directly to Planet Fitness , the chain that has been proliferating the last couple of years which as a result of being 'no frills' in that way, is crazy dirt cheap compared to everything else out there.

They have a ridiculous amount of aerobic machines jammed in there, so even during peak hours it's almost never 100% full in that regard, and I've never been there at any time when I actually had to wait for weights (although once or twice I've had to wait on my fave nautilus-style machines that are specialized, like the seated leg curl).

I live in Austin, and pay $10 a month for my membership. The initial sign-up fee is something like $30? and there is no contract. Period. They do set up an auto-draft from your bank, but you can cancel whenever the heck you want. Sometimes during the year they have a sign up period that is "special" where you can join for maybe a dollar.

Yeah, it would be nice to have an aerobic room and classes and a pool, but that would raise the price significantly, I'm sure.
posted by bitterkitten at 10:31 AM on January 5, 2011

I loooove to negotiate things like this. The key is to know average prices for gyms in your area, and be willing to walk away if they won't come down in price. To find out average prices, google for gyms in your area + fees, or ask friends.

I was able to get all initiation fees waived at the LA Fitness I go to by comparing their fees (unfavorably) to the 24 Hour Fitness nearby, and pointing out that the 24 Hour one had a better parking situation, which made it more convenient. I had no intention of going to 24 Hour, because it was pretty skeezy, but they didn't know that. I saved over $100 off their already (allegedly) discounted "deal" by being educated about the competition and being very, very willing to walk away.

And if you walk away, you can always come back at a later time and get another gym rep who might be more willing to deal.

Be sure you absolutely know what you're agreeing to--is there a contract? What's the cancellation policy? What if you move away? etc etc...
posted by Bella Sebastian at 10:38 AM on January 5, 2011

Also look into your healthcare provider and see if they are willing to pay a percentage of your gym or even have discounted deals for members.
posted by jadepearl at 11:26 AM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

A lot of people join gyms just after the new year, so you're probably less likely to get a good deal now. I recall hearing (from a friend who worked at a women's only gym in Vancouver) that the best deals were available in the summer, because that when the fewest people join (it being nice enough to exercise outside and whatnot, more people being on holiday, etc.)

Even though I'm currently spoiled with an ultra-cheap, employees-only workplace gym, I hate going to the gym in January. Gyms this time of year are filled with people on their new year's resolutions who generally have no sense of gym etiquette, hog the weight machines during their ridiculously long 'rest periods' so that others can't work in their sets, don't replace their weights and mats, and neglect to sign up for cardio machines when there's a wait. Luckily, their resolve tends to wane by the end of the month, and they return to their couches letting the rest of us get on with our workouts with minimal irritation.
posted by Kurichina at 12:01 PM on January 5, 2011

This is a little like car shopping. To wit:

1. Gyms are not all alike. You need to check them out carefully. Make sure the equipment all appears to be working, that there is space to work out, that things look clean, and that the locker areas appear reasonably secure. If you're interested in attending fitness classes, go watch a few.

2. Once you know which gyms appeal, follow Bella Sebastian's bargaining suggestion and play them off against each other. You can get a very good deal on gym membership if you bargain.

If you don't want to do any of this, I recommend Gold's Gym. They are well run and equipped, the classes are good, and you can use your membership to go to multiple locations.
posted by bearwife at 12:02 PM on January 5, 2011

I recently joined 24-Hour and while I'm not super stoked on the gym itself due to it always being crowded, the best deal available was through Costco. No haggling and no issues. I talked to one of the managers and he was pretty cool about it - I felt like I was cheating someone out of commission and he said that they were moving to a non-commission model. It may have just been a line, but he said for them it only mattered that they were listed as your "home" gym, becuase they got more funding from corporate.

At my previous gym (which went under) getting a deal was all about haggling and having numbers. Me and six buddies got a way better deal than if you came in by yourself.
posted by Big_B at 3:54 PM on January 5, 2011

i recently went gym shopping. i visited a big chain gym and a locally owned gym. i went local because a) the prices are non-negotiable, b) there was no hard selling because the prices are non-negotiable, c) they gave lots of freebies (free classes, free trainer once a month, etc), and d) they were so damned friendly and NOT pushy. i can't say that the price was all that different than the big chain, but the other benefits balance out the costs.
posted by itsacover at 6:29 PM on January 6, 2011

don't forget about the y, if there's one near you. it's usually no frills (although the one in boise, id was pretty spiffy ~ 10 years ago when i last visited, so definitely don't rule it out as 'no frills' before visitng), but should be sufficient. i always thought you had to join the y on a long-term basis, but we pay month-to-month. there was nothing hidden or unclear in the terms, and the director that gave us the tour bent over backwards to find some way to reduce what seemed to be the lowest fee we could pay. you'll get some sort of reciprocal benefits with other y's, local or not -- i go to a y on the ct border but i have four visits per month included to the y's in worcester. these are also the few gyms in my area that even have pools, and they're generally nice pools.

ha, ha, the only thing i haven't liked about the y is that they do cater a lot to kids/families with kids. trying to 'personalize' the tours, we ended up getting shown all the kiddie facilities, since the director was completely convinced that my husband and i must be right on the verge of popping out six kids (and i saw no reason why i had to keep on trying, beyond, 'we're only interested in the cardio and pool areas').
posted by Tandem Affinity at 6:34 PM on January 6, 2011

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