If you sign up for personal training at a gym, beware of pressure to buy extra sessions in exchange for discounts.
The experience of Jennifer (not the customer’s real name) shows that you may not save as much as promised. And if you fail to read the contract, you may not be able to get a refund.
Early last month, she went to a GoodLife Fitness club in Mississauga. She bought 200 personal training sessions at a cost of $11,700 (including HST).
“My plan was to get 25 to 30 sessions,” she says. “But they told me if I signed up for a bulk package, I could get a discount of $10 per session, plus a five per cent discount for paying cash and a $200 credit.”
Jennifer, 28, was using money she’d earned from a part-time job to get the cash discount. She has been a full-time university student for two years.
Later, she tried to cancel her contract, feeling it was too great a financial commitment. But she missed the 10-day cooling-off period under Ontario’s Consumer Protection Act.
Here’s the issue: When a customer spends a five-figure amount on personal training, shouldn’t she be informed verbally of the cancellation policy at the time of signing the contract?
Jennifer said she was not aware of the 10-day cooling off period. When she asked the club’s fitness manager and personal trainer about cancelling, she remembers being told she had 30 days.
She also recalls a phone chat in the first week with her personal trainer, who said they had to work together for at least 10 days before she could cancel her contract.
GoodLife insists its contract met all the requirements of the Ontario act, including a box in larger print that sets out a customer’s legal rights.
“You may cancel this agreement at any time during the period that ends 10 (ten) days after the later of the day you receive a written copy of the agreement and the day all the services are available,” is says.
Jennifer reviewed the contract at the club but said she didn’t see the box. She also failed to see that GoodLife had added a $50 cost-of-borrowing charge when she was paying cash and had omitted the $200 credit that was promised to her.
“I have been reading the Consumer Protection Act, which says if there are any changes to my agreement that are not written down, I have up to one year to dispute the whole contract,” she told me.
“Since I let them know between days 10 and 20 (and I used only 10 to 11 sessions), would they be willing to make an exception in this case?”
Carla Brown, GoodLife’s manager of member accounts, put through a $250 refund to cover the borrowing charge that was included in error and the credit that was excluded. But that was all she was prepared to do in this case.
“We agree that a consumer should have the right to cancel a contract within one year (outside of the 10-day cooling off period) if it lacks certain information,” she said.
Insisting that the contract had all the information required by law, she said, “We take great efforts to ensure that our members and personal training clients understand the agreements that they are entering into.
“We have investigated this situation and feel that our employees have followed the appropriate process.”
Jennifer said she was promised a $45 charge for each training session, but the actual charge was $55 a session. The lower rate did not appear in her contract.
The Ontario consumer ministry received 765 inquiries and complaints about health and fitness services last year, said spokesman Stephen Puddister. Just over half were about contract cancellation issues.
• Know your cancellation rights when you sign an agreement with a gym. Do not trust what you are told, which may be wrong or exaggerated.
• If you get into a dispute, you can’t rely on verbal assurances from staff unless you have recorded them. The only words that count are written in the contract.
• Go through the contract with care, and consult an expert if necessary. You do not have to sign on the spot.
• Life is uncertain. Remember that illness, injury, schedule changes or other priorities may interfere with your personal-training schedule.
• Do not buy more than 25 to 50 sessions at a time, no matter what attractive inducements you are offered. You cannot get a refund after the first 10 days. Your only recourse is to sell the sessions to a friend.