Woman using leg press machine at gym

Gym contracts

Want a gym “to help you achieve your goals” and become your “best self” this year? We've compared the fees for seven gym chains and taken a look at the fishhooks in their contracts.

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Budget vs high-end

There’s a huge difference between what you’ll pay at budget gyms versus their higher-end counterparts. Among the seven chains we looked at, membership costs ranged from $410 to a steep $3430 a year.

To get the cheapest deal, you’ll normally have to sign up for a fixed term. City Fitness had the lowest price at $7 a week plus a $49 joining fee. But that price was only available if you joined for 12 months.

Gyms such as City Fitness that position themselves as the budget end of the market (under $10 a week) make a big deal about their 24/7 access: you can work out at midnight if you want. But they’re unlikely to have the same bells and whistles as pricier outfits. They usually have only a couple of staff on duty during the day and are rarely staffed overnight.

Behind the headline prices for cheapie deals, there can also be extra fees. Snap Fitness advertises its gym membership at $9.95 a week. But a direct debit fee of $1.49 is tacked on. The gym also charges a $99 joining fee and a $49 fee for an access card. All up, the cost is $742.88 for a year, or $14.29 a week.

At the other end of the scale is self-styled “fitness innovator” F45, which runs 45-minute high-intensity classes that it claims are the “most effective workout method for burning fat and building lean muscle”. F45 charges between $55 and $66 a week. The price is cheaper if you sign up for longer.

Out of the box

Have you been almost mown down in the street by a pack of enthusiastic, sweaty gym goers? Chances are they were taking a quick circuit out from a garage-based gym.

Often called “boxes”, these outfits are bare bones on facilities and equipment. Their exercise approach is built around structured classes and high-intensity training.

Many are affiliates of a company called CrossFit. They are owner-operated but pay fees to CrossFit and send trainers to mandated courses to use the branding.

Prices aren’t cheap, from $39 to $75 a week. However, contracts are rarely fixed-term.

Termination fees

While it’s easy to sign up, getting out of the deal is often the hard part.

If you’re on a fixed-term contract, you’ll have to pay to quit.

Jetts Fitness charges 95% of the remainder of your membership term. Quitting six months into a 12-month contract will leave you with a bill of $215. Les Mills requires you pay 33% of the money due for the rest of your membership term. Budget offering City Fitness charges $200 or the balance of fees for the remainder of your contract, if that’s less. Habit was the only player that wouldn’t let you terminate. It only lets you transfer your membership, for a fee of $50.

Open-term contracts give you the flexibility to quit without a fee. But the contract may require you to give several weeks’ notice. City Fitness and Snap Fitness both require a month.

Fees compared

Gym (number of branches) City Fitness (28) F45 (29) Flex Fitness (16) Habit (9) Jetts (56) Les Mills (12) Snap FitnessA (113)
12 month contract
Price/week ($) 6.99 55.00 16.00-20.00 27.00 8.70 26.50 n/a
Joining fee ($) 49.99 0.00 90.00B 95.00 45.00 29.00 n/a
Notice to cancel 4 weeks varies by location 10 days n/a 1 day 7 days n/a
Cancellation fee ($) 200.00 varies by location 150.00 n/a 95% of remaining contract value 33% of remaining contract value n/a
Open-term contract
Price/week ($) 11.99 66.00 22.00-28.00 n/a 10.95 27.50 9.95
Joining fee ($) 0.00 0.00 115.00 n/a 45.00 29.00 148.00
Notice to cancel 4 weeks varies by location 10 days n/a 1 day 3 days 30 days
Cancellation fee ($) 0.00 0.00 0.00 n/a 0.00 0.00 Not supplied

GUIDE TO THE TABLE OUR DATA are from gym websites and contracts. Joining fees include card access fees where charged. ASnap Fitness is the only gym that doesn’t have its contract online. Ba one-off $25 Debitsuccess fee applies in addition to the joining fee. n/a = not applicable.

Unfair terms

Alongside steep cancellation fees, unfair terms can also lurk in gym contracts.

Habit’s contract states “we reserve the right to change, alter or adapt timetables or facilities at any time”. But the gym doesn’t give you the option to cancel if the changes don’t suit.

Contracts can also give gyms the right to terminate your membership for minor slip-ups. Les Mills says it can terminate your membership immediately if you pay your fees a day late. In contrast, the gym requires you to give seven days’ notice to quit, even if you’ve come to the end of your membership term.

Gyms have already been put on notice to clean up their contracts. Last year, the Commerce Commission told the industry to get rid of unfair terms that risked breaching the Fair Trading Act. Despite improvements, we’ve found unfair terms continue to turn up.

Overseas

Unfair terms in gym contracts have been under the gun in other countries with similar legislation to us. Court decisions and guidance by regulators have signalled the following terms are likely to be unfair:

  • Membership terms of 12, 24 and 36 months that don’t allow members to cancel if their circumstances change, such as suffering an injury or losing their job.
  • Terms that let the gym make significant changes to its services but don’t let the member cancel.
  • Terms that unfairly restrict the ways members can give notice to cancel – for example, requiring notice to be in a specific form.
  • Terms that describe a membership as lasting for a fixed period when the contract continues indefinitely.
  • Terms that permit the gym to end the contract for relatively minor breaches and demand the member pays for their entire membership term.

We’ll be a making a complaint to the commission about the unfair terms we’ve found. If you think your gym is trying it on with unfair terms, tell it to shape up. Let us know too: email playfair@consumer.org.nz.

Tips for getting the best deal

  • Most major gym chains will offer you a free trial or session to check out the facilities and service. It’s worth making use of these freebies to see if the gym’s right for you.

  • While you can get a better price and perks signing up for longer, you should factor in what you’re up for if you want to cancel early.

  • Lunchtime workout sessions in public spaces are becoming more popular and can be cheaper than joining a gym. Check out options in your area.

  • Some gyms have short cooling-off periods in their contracts. Check the time limit before signing on the dotted line.

  • Gyms have to provide their services with reasonable care and skill. If your gym falls short, you may have grounds to cancel your contract under the Consumer Guarantees Act.


By Robert Kelly
Investigative Writer


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