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It's time to get a deal on a gym membership

Shop carefully, but everything is negotiable.

By Teresa Mears Dec 28, 2009 5:11PM

The saying “everything’s negotiable” has never been more true than when it comes to shopping for a gym membership.


The deals are even better this year, as clubs try to make up for revenue lost as customers cut back on costly extras such as personal training, The New York Times reports.


“Join in December and you’ll get the best deals -- across the board,” Howard Brodsky, chief executive of New York Health & Racquet Club, told The Times. “Health clubs are businesses just like any other retail business. They have numbers they need to hit.”

Most of the national chains are offering deals good through Dec. 31. If you don’t make it in until next week, it’s still worth asking for a deal.


Here are some of the promotions being offered nationwide this week:

  • 24 Hour Fitness is offering free workouts to all comers through Dec. 31. The gym is also offering several other deals, including a plan for $29.99 a month with no initiation fee.
  • Gold’s Gym nationwide is offering free enrollment (normally $149). AARP members can get $100 off enrollment anytime plus 20% off dues.
  • Curves has a join now, get 30 days free deal. AARP members also get a discount here.
  • Bally Total Fitness is offering free enrollment, $24.99 a month with a one-year contract or $27.99 a month without a commitment. This deal ends Dec. 31.

Most locations of those gyms are local franchises, so you might also find additional deals in your area or be able to negotiate a deal with the owner or manager. Also check to see if your employer or your health insurance plan offers gym discounts. Many do.

Many Medicare health or supplement plans offer free gym memberships through the Silver Sneakers program. Your local YMCA or YWCA may be willing to work with you to come up with a plan you can afford.


Before you join any gym, the most important question to ask is, will you go? If you think the answer is yes, you need to do some research before you make a commitment.


First, check out the gym you’re considering joining at the time you likely would go. Bally Total Fitness, Gold’s and 24 Hour Fitness all offer free seven-day guest passes. Through Gym Ticket, you can get free guest passes to other gyms. If you ask, most gyms will give you a free trial.


The Times noted that gyms have ended some of the deceptive practices that have made them the topic of so many consumer complaints, but you still have to do your homework.


For the best deals, if you want to pay month by month, it’s almost impossible to avoid a monthly electronic funds transfer from your account or credit card. Even if you have the right to cancel, the gym is unlikely to make it easy. You may have to request the end of EFT in writing.


It’s almost impossible to comparison shop by phone, lamented Mary Pilon in The Wall Street Journal’s Wallet blog earlier this year. Even in person, she found it difficult to pin down prices and found the salespeople pushy at several gyms she visited. All offered free trials, and all offered deals. "The language seemed more suited to selling used cars than gym memberships," she wrote.


Spark People, an online diet and fitness group, has some excellent tips for finding the best deal on a gym. Among the 10 ways to save money at the gym:

  • Shop during the slow season. That includes the end of the year and the summer.
  • Check out the competition. If you see a better price at one gym, ask your preferred gym if they will match it.
  • Avoid signing a contract if you can. If you do sign a contract, make sure you understand it, including whether and how you can get out of it if you move to another city or suffer an injury.
  • Be wary of “good deals” on extras, such as personal training.
  • If you know you’re going to be away for an extended period of time, ask to put your membership on hold.

And, all the consumer advocates remind you to ignore pressure to sign up immediately rather than think over a membership for a few days. The deal is not likely to go away.


Should you join a gym at all or is it more frugal to work out at home? That depends on you.


"A.B." at Modern Tightwad found cheaper ways to work out elsewhere. But to Jason at Frugal Dad, a gym membership is worth the money, even during a recession.


Related reading:



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