What is it with fitness clubs?

There’s a law in Ontario that fitness clubs can’t sign up members for more than a year at a time. They get around the rules by charging a monthly amount and insisting that clients agree to automatic deductions from a bank account or credit card.

Then, after the year is up, some clubs keep deducting the monthly payments. And they make it really hard — almost impossible — for members to cancel.

Here’s an email from Bruno about a well-known fitness chain. He got so fed up he wrote to the landlord of the mall where the club is located, to see if it would take action:

I am very frustrated with a tenant in one of your malls and I felt I should bring this to your attention. In late January, I went into Premier Fitness at Yorkdale Mall and spoke to someone about cancelling my membership. I was told my membership would be cancelled as of February.

When March rolled around, I noticed that I was charged on my credit card for February and March. I went to Premier Fitness at Yorkdale, but they told me not to worry and everything would be fixed. When May rolled around, I noticed two more charges on my credit card. By now, they had charged me for four months without my authorization. My membership had expired in February and they toke it upon themselves to keep charging me.

The amount owed to me is $48, not a large amount, but it has been outstanding since February. As of Sept. 8, I have yet to receive anything. All I got were excuses: “The girl who does the refunds is off.” “The girl who does refunds was fired.” “We have a new person working and she is slow.” They kept giving me the runaround. I made several visits to the gym. I have also made several calls to them, but they would never call me back.

I am bringing this to your attention because they are your tenant and they represent Yorkdale Mall. I feel that they are not representing the mall in a good light. This experience has made me question what kind of retailers you permit in your centres and question whether I want to shop at an Oxford property in the future. This experience has left me questioning what kind of retailers/business you permit in your centres.

Even if I don’t get my money back, I just want just want to bring this to your attention. I am sure I am not the only one who has a negative experience with Premier Fitness. They currently have an “unsatisfactory record” with the Better Business Bureau of Midwestern Ontario, which processed 190 complaints about them in the past 36 months.

Let’s hear from readers. Have you had an experience like this? How did you get the fitness club to stop billing you? Tell others how you used your wits to stay financially fit.

Author: Ellen Roseman

Consumer advocate and personal finance author and instructor.

221 thoughts on “What is it with fitness clubs?”

  1. I’ve been going to Premier for a few years now. I pay yearly and only in cash.

    Premier has been taken over by Physiomed Fitness. They are rehab focused, best way to put it I guess. Their full body assessment is a couple of sessions and they are very expensive.

    I heard that their new memberships would cost a couple grand, but all memberships involve personal trainers and all the bells and whistles. If you just want to use the weights it’s $24.50 bi-weekly.

    They’re honouring current memberships until time for renewal. That means in August, I’ll be looking for a new place to work out.

    I hear pretty good things about LA fitness. I shudder to think of what will become of all those complaints to the BBB and consumer relations and unresolved charges.

  2. I am so glad to hear that Premier has been bought out. I hope it changes that gym for the better.

    I joined for a year, years ago. The gym ended up being under construction – with most of the equipment unplugged and shoved up against a wall – for the better part of my year there.

    The classes were fine, though several instructors required participants to pay extra (to them directly, in cash).

    Like many others here, I had problems getting them to stop charging my credit card after my year was up, despite sending a registered letter a month in advance informing them I was cancelling my membership.

    I eventually launched a complaint through my credit card company and Premier agreed to refund the money. (I’m still not sure I got all of it back, but I was pretty young and just glad to take what I could get and go.)

    I was a Goodlife member for years. I actually liked the gym, although I realize it’s a huge corporation with the same hard-sell tactics as many.

    My chief complaint was that they raised their rates on me several times without warning, and steeply. (Never give a gym access to your chequing account. Big, big mistake.)

    However, at least Goodlife didn’t call me six times a week and send me piles of junk mail asking me to sign up for personal training, which Premier did. Good riddance to that gym.

  3. Premier Fitness is gone. It has been bought out by PhysioMed and re-branded as PhysioMed Fitness.

    I have been a patient of Dr. Scott Wilson since 1996 when he had just one clinic at Premier Fitness’ old location on Davenport Road. Dr. Wilson is a very good person with your health as his primary concern.

    Over the years, he and I have become good friends and I know for a fact that he works extremely hard to ensure that all of his patients get first class care.

    He is currently working very hard to shed the incredibly horrible reputation the Premeir had and give his new business venture a reputation that everyone involved can be proud of.

  4. I had a gotten a membership for a year with Premier Fitness. I had heard so many horror stories about extra payments so i decided to pay for the whole year with cash.

    Every time I went in to work out, I either got someone trying to get me to upgrade or saying “we don’t have your banking information on file and need it to complete your membership”.

    I very firmly told them i have paid it cash for a full year and they will not be getting any credit card numbers or account numbers.

    After 8 months of dealing with the constant attempts to trying to get me to buy extra personal fitness trainer packages, and being told you will lose weight and not look fat, I finally stopped going.

    When they called to try to get me to renew, I had the pleasure of saying there is no way i will be renewing. I have joined a gym in a hotel and the customer service there is wonderful. You go in, do your thing and leave.

    It’s a smaller gym but it’s open 24 hrs, plus it has a pool, sauna, etc.

    I recommend people look into smaller gyms. I have never regretted changing over. Plus they are very clean and have towel service.

  5. Here’s the latest problem with Premier Fitness, which was operated by Physiomed for such a short time.

    Apparently, a deal to sell Premier to Physiomed was not completed and ownership/operation has been put back in Premier’s hands.

    The facility in Newmarket at the 404 plaza has had its doors locked since Feb. 26, with memos posted on the front door providing members with contact information for a Premier employee.

    I called last week & left voicemail but have not received an answer. Really, I just want to continue paying my fees and go to the gym. I really have no beef with them except that I am currently locked out!

    Any information on this situation you can provide would be greatly appreciated.

  6. A valiant effort, Physiomed, but sadly, anything that Neil Proctor and John Cardillo touched is worthless. Those two couldn’t run a lemonade stand, much less a huge chain of fitness clubs with thousands of members.

    It’s probably for the best anyway. The lingering effects of being associated with Premier Fitness might haunt you forever.

    Better to start from scratch than to pick up the pieces from those two idiots.

  7. The phone number for the Head Office of Premier Fitness is no longer in service. I’m trying to cancel my membership. I really don’t want to cancel my Bank account and set up a new one (too many automatic deposits and withdrawls for work/insurance/Gov’t) Two of our location in St. Catharines have closed. The remaining location is no where near me and is way too small. I’ve had it with this company.

    Ellen….what can we do to cancel our memberships? I can’t be the only one in this situation.

  8. Amazing how one scam business tried to take over another. Premier sells out to Physiomed who is so excited to take over and then backs out. I hope everyone knows that Physiomed is right up there as scammers.

    First off, a Physiomed clinic my friend went to for a MVA injury was pulling scams with insurance companies for money. They were working with a Peel cop. They got shut down.

    Physiomed was also BANNED by Air Canada for over billing their employees on orthotics. That’s just the start.

    They also increased the fees when they took over Premier.. seriously?

  9. I couldn’t be happier than to see Premier Fitness FINALLy close their filthy facilities and leave the industry.

    John Cardillo has beeen a SCAMMER for many years.

  10. Hello. As you are probably aware, Premier Fitness closed. In Milton, Ont., they closed our club and didn’t open under a new name.

    I went the night before they closed and was told that since my payment was bimonthly, they would stop charging my credit card.

    Well, Premier did stop, but Fitness Management continued. We told our story to AmEx and they stopped payments to Fitness Management.

    Yesterday, I got an email from National Credit Recovery Inc., which said I was still in a contract with Premier Fitness and I would still have to honor the contract until I could close it.

    Since there are no more Premier Fitness clubs, I called several that were bought out privately. They told me since they were not Premier, they could not cancel their contracts.

    I have not been able to get hold of Premier Fitness or Fitness Management.

  11. If a gym sent me a membership fee after I cancelled, I’d send a bill right back for wasting my time fee.

    Why do some people feel because they incorporate a company, they have a license to steal?

  12. Today was one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had.

    It all started when two of my friends told me that they saw a posting saying they were hiring at Extreme Fitness. I applied onlibne and received this email on Nov. 18, 2012:

    “Thank you for applying at Extreme Fitness. Your application has been forwarded on to the appropriate hiring manager for review. You will only be contacted if they need further information or to schedule an interview.

    “As a token of our appreciation for considering Extreme Fitness for employment, you can redeem this email for a 14-day trial membership. For details, print this email and take it to your local club.”

    Extreme Fitness

    I went with the coupon printed on Nov. 19. I dropped off my resume at the front desk to Samantha, a representative, and asked if I could use the coupon.

    After almost one hour speaking to Samantha about my diet and lifestyle, I said I was in a rush. She told me I had to book an appointment with her to try the facilities.

    I went in on Nov. 21. After she showed me the gym, she told me that the only way to get a free trial was to sign up for a membership.

    I underlined that I didn´t want to sign up any contract if I couldn’t cancel it afterward.

    She called an assistant manager, Jeff, who assured me I could cancel the membership before the credit card charge went through. He agreed to postdate my credit card for two weeks from that day (Dec. 5).

    I explained that I worked at a well recognized supermarket, so he gave me a discount, saying it was the best possible deal he could offer me. But he confirmed they wouldn’t charge me anything until Dec. 5.

    I signed a contract (unfortunately I did not read it in detail and I take responsibility for that).

    After a week (Nov. 28), I went to meet Jeff and said I wanted to cancel my membership. He asked me about the reasons.

    Then, he told me that they may have two months for free for me, but he had to ask next time because he had a meeting.

    Could I use the gym until Dec. 5, I asked, and still be able to cancel then? His answer was “of coursee, not a problem!”

    I went on Dec. 3 to cancel. Jeff was not there, since he was on vacation. I met with a general manager, Al, who told me that it was too late to cancel!! I couldn’t believe it.

    He told me that I had to pay the first monthly payment of $59 plus tax!!!!

    He was arrogant with me, saying that Jeff never said a 15-day trial. In the contract, it’s clear that you have 10 days for cancellation.

    He said I must to pay the first payment right away and I need to bring the earlier payment form in order to switch my Visa credit card I gave the first time they asked me to complete my “trial.”

    Ellen, the thing is how bad I felt today, trying to deal with the general manager. I think he wasn’t polite at all and was always putting me down.

    I couldn’t express my feelings in the best way as English is my second language. Now I don’t know how to deal with that, but I must to talk to Jeff next Monday after his vacation.

    I appreciate your time and consideration!

  13. Hello, I currently have a gym membership with National Fitness (previously Premier Fitness) at Carlingwood Mall in Ottawa. I paid the full membership fee for the year in Dec. 2012 and am still being charged biweekly payments!

    This has been an ongoing issue since I brought it to their attention at the beginning of the month.

    I even wrote a letter that the Carlingwood manager said he would send to the head office, since there was nothing they could do on site about it!

    I called today, a week after I gave the letter, and they said they were waiting to hear from the head office. If I am charged yet again tomorrow and have to pay for stop payment of my account, I will be livid!

    I cannot believe the poor customer service I have received and the incompetence of the staff at this location.

    I understood the manager is new and the owners are new to the location, but surely somebody should know what they are doing? Or is this just a scheme to steal my money?

    If anyone else is having issues with this gym, please share.


  14. Premier Fitness at Carlingwood Mall in Ottawa closed their doors without notice to us. My daughter lost $450 that she paid in cash.

    Does anyone have any contact information so we can try getting her money back? Of course we tried head office: “The number you have dialed has been disconnected.” Any comments would be helpful.

  15. Hi Linda,
    I’m in the same boat.. had paid full about 2-3 weeks before closure. I emailed Tim( t.chapman@national-fitness.ca ) from one of the Stoney Creek locations.. wrote him a long letter explaining my situation. Was told 4-6 weeks to process refund. its been that long now and have emailed another account as well ottawanational@gmail.com awaiting a reply…

    I have heard the company has declared bankruptcy. Surprise surprise! I’m sure all there fitness equipment is held under another corporation and they are “renting it” just like many other small private gym have done (Florida Fitness) .. If you look them up on BBB website they have several recent unresolved complaints due to “cannot find company to resolve issue”
    They are quite wise to not have a social media page such as Facebook as it would be pretty ugly.

    Good luck !

  16. I am in the same position. I have been trying to get reimbursed for the money National Fitness, Carlingwood Mall, owes me. Dealing with them is a nightmare.

    I have been attempting to deal with Tim Chapman and am getting the runaround… It has been almost 3 months since I first contacted them and STILL nothing.

    Has anyone had any luck with these people?

  17. I find it quite amusing to see how many people post here complaining about their contract being renewed. Then they admit they did not know it would be renewed because they did not READ THE CONTRACT.

    You people who sign a contract that you have not read are negligent and stupid. This is the consequence of your actions (your being charged large amounts of money for a renewed contract that you signed and agreed could be renewed by signing it).

    It is your own fault and the only one you should be blaming is YOURSELVES FOR NOT READING A CONTRACT THAT YOU WILLFULLY SIGNED.

  18. People these days don’t take responsibility for their actions. They sign a contract and then blame the company for their own negligence. They do not bother reading the contract.

    Grow up. You are adult men and women. Start taking responsibility for your own actions.

    Next time, read the CONTRACT! Do not sign it unless you know you can honour the TERMS of the CONTRACT. Period.

  19. I had an unauthorized payment of $1830.60 charged by Erin Mills Fitness to me last Dec. 13 for services that were not provided.

    I was scheduled for a fitness evaluation, where I was required to fill out and sign several service agreements for the evaluation (complimentary by Groupon).

    A no point was a service of $1830.60 discussed. And at no point had I given an authorization for this payment to be charged.

    The person conducting the evaluation urged me to try out a personal trainer because of my health issues.

    Before scheduling my first free personal training session, I was told I had to provide a credit card number for security and insurance reasons before I was able to use the equipment.

    However, I didn’t provide him with a credit card number. I was not carrying one and I needed to discuss this with my husband.

    The entire evening I received calls from him, which I was unable to return.

    The next morning, I was contacted again, and after seven calls in 20 minutes on Dec. 13, I was reassured that it was only for security/insurance reasons that he needed a credit card number. My mother gave hers.

    On the service agreement, I filled out my information as asked. I was asked to sign it while the middle was still empty and no payments or any authorization for payments was given. I was not given a copy of the agreement.

    In addition to this, the personal trainer did not show up for the first free session scheduled by him. To this date, I have not been provided with even a single session of personal training, yet I have been charged fully.

    He had filled out the form over the phone and assigned a payment date for the day after I had signed the agreement, without my knowing or authorizing it.

    Now they refuse to refund the charges. I have taken it up with MasterCard, which is collecting interest on this.

    The BBB can’t really do anything. I just need advice as to what I should be doing to get this sorted.

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