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Gym memberships offer healthy discounts

It's off-season for gyms and trainers. Beating the New Year's resolution crowds can pay off.

By Karen Datko Oct 25, 2010 3:22PM

This Deal of the Day comes from Sarah Morgan at partner site SmartMoney.

 

As if virtue -- and thin thighs -- weren't rewards enough, there may be significant financial benefits for those eager to commit to workouts throughout the holiday season.

Between the flagging economy and the annual seasonal drop-off, gyms are especially eager to make a deal now, industry experts say. Gyms attract just 9% of their members during November and December, compared with 12% in January alone, according to the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association.

 

It's true that you won't see splashy promotions right now, because most gyms wait to publicize big promotions until the New Year's resolution rush. But if you walk in and ask, you'll find they're very willing to give a discount to get you to sign up. Right now, gyms are likely to waive joiner's fees, typically between $49 and $150, because most will offer that perk in January anyway, says John Rowley, wellness director of the International Sports Science Association. "That's probably the easiest $49 you're ever going to save," Rowley says.

 

As a bonus, exercise can also help manage holiday stress -- and avoid holiday weight gain -- says Kelli Calabrese, a master trainer with Adventure Boot Camp in Texas. And if your employer offers a fitness reimbursement -- more than one in four do -- you can get cash back from the program for 2010 and still have the benefit reset in 2011.

 

Here are three ways to save this fall on fitness:

 

Look for the stealth deals -- or ask for one. Absent those splashy New Year's promotions, start with the websites or window displays of gyms in your area. You may find an early round of stealth promotions denoted only by small signs, or online. At 24 Hour Fitness, for example, three different promotions run through the end of October, available online or in clubs. MySportsClubs is running a $19-to-join promotion through Oct. 27.

 

If you don't find a quietly advertised offer, don't be deterred. Go in person, and ask if the current membership price is the lowest price they'll be offering in the upcoming year, says Penny Ray, a DealPro for Savings.com. Posing this question won Ray a promise that if his local gym drops its prices for a new promotion later, he'll get the lower rate, and if the initiation fee drops, part of the fee he paid will be applied to a future month's membership.

 

Make a commitment. If you can pay upfront for a 12-month membership, you may be able to score a discount, says Mike Allen, the founder of Shopping-Bargains.com. You can ask for the same rate those New Year's resolution joiners will get in just a few months. If that tactic falls short, ask for November and December free in exchange for paying for 2011 upfront. Either way, paying for a full year or more can yield significant savings. At 24 Hour Fitness, a 15-month prepaid membership costs $260 -- 42% less than monthly payments over the same time period. And a two-year membership is a better deal yet: At $370, it's just $10 more than a one-year membership at the monthly price.

 

Most trainers will also offer discounts to clients who commit to a longer program, Calabrese says. Buying 10 or more sessions could save you 10% or 20%, she says. And you'll be more likely to get your pick of days and times if you start now, says Graham Melstrand, vice president of operations for the American Council on Exercise, so no fighting with the January crowd for that coveted 6:30 a.m. slot. Alternatively, consider sharing a trainer with a friend. Bethanne Weiss, an ACE-certified trainer and the owner of Orlando-based Better Butts by Beth, says that she's been pushing two-for-one deals -- where two friends can train for the price of one -- more in the past year than she typically would.

 

Get free money. Almost 70% of employers offer discounted gym or fitness club memberships, and 27% offer reimbursements for membership costs, but only one out of eight regular exercisers take advantage of those benefits, says Frank Napolitano, CEO of GlobalFit, a wellness benefit provider. For Jack LaLanne's sake, find out if you're eligible for reimbursement or a discount, because the deadline for submitting those reimbursements is likely coming up. Most programs require you to submit receipts between Oct. 31 and Dec. 31, says Arlene Singer, the CEO of WellCall, a national wellness program provider. The details of each plan are different, but it's possible that if you prepay for, say, a set of training sessions, you could get reimbursed now for future costs.

Many health insurers also offer gym membership discounts, Singer says. For example, Cigna's Healthy Rewards program offers discounts of up to 60% on fitness club memberships. Members can sign up at any time during the year and simply pay a discounted rate -- no reimbursement forms necessary.

 

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