Philly’s coronavirus response

Some Philly gyms delay membership freeze, fueling customer outrage

If you tried to cancel and you’re still being charged, you’re legally owed a refund.

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Updated Apr. 13 with comment from Planet Fitness

Are you still being charged a gym membership fee? While some fitness centers froze monthly charges right away, others dragged their feet — and may legally owe members a refund.

With 14 locations in Philadelphia, Planet Fitness says on its website that memberships are on hold anywhere stay-at-home orders forced closures. A spokesperson from the company said no members were charged since March, when memberships were frozen.

South Philly resident John Quinn tried to catch it early.

“I saw a charge go through on March 17, when they closed down on the 16th,” said Quinn. The 56-year-old IT professional tried calling the Planet Fitness number to cancel his membership, but it just played a voicemail and then hung up, he said.

“I called multiple times — morning, afternoon, sometimes after 8, on a bunch of different days,” Quinn said. “But there was no way to cancel it.”

Members like Quinn will see adjustments on the next billing cycle “when the club reopens,” according to Planet Fitness spokesperson Becky Zirlen. “Should the company receive cancellation requests, they are processing those at this time.”

Pa. Attorney General Josh Shapiro has received 33 complaints from gym members who’ve said they’re still getting billed during the statewide shutdown, according to his office.

“What we have asked for is for gyms to stop billing members while they are closed due to the public health emergency,” said Shapiro spokesperson Jacklin Rhoads. “We have also asked that gyms make it easier for members to cancel by email, phone or regular mail.”

If a gym closes for at least 30 days, a Pennsylvania law known as the Health Club Act mandates the business allow for cancellation and provide refunds to members.

To avoid the issue altogether, the Attorney General has asked gyms to freeze recurring memberships until the pandemic has subsided.

Six of the 33 total complaints received by the Shapiro’s office were levied against one company, Town Sports International, which operates the five centers known as Philadelphia Sports Clubs. According to a letter sent to members, the company began freezing memberships on April 8.

Retro Fitness, which has a location in Spring Garden, instituted a proactive freeze on all memberships back on Mar. 17. A Sweat Fitness spokesperson said the gym froze memberships at its six branches, but you have to call or email a third-party billing company to cancel, according to its website.

With half a dozen outposts around Philadelphia, City Fitness is asking members to submit a cancellation request, which can take seven days to process.

“Many of our members have reached out, since the beginning of the closure, to say that they want to continue paying their dues and supporting our clubs and staff,” City Fitness CEO Ken Davies told Billy Penn. “We decided to give members an option during our closure. All members who kept their membership active during the closure are receiving a dollar for dollar credit after we reopen.”

Quinn, the erstwhile Planet Fitness member, found a back-door method to stopping the monthly fee. He called his bank directly and asked them to block any future charges from the gym.

To officially receive a refund under the Health Club Act, members should send a snail-mail letter to their gym confirming their cancellation.

If that doesn’t work, you can submit a complaint directly to the Attorney General’s office.