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While gyms froze members? accounts in the wake of shelter-in-place orders, 24 Hour Fitness continued to charge.
Counties in the Bay Area were one of the first in the nation to issue shelter-in-place orders in the wake of COVID-19. It forced businesses and schools to close their doors. One of them is 24 Hour Fitness, a gym spread out across 14 states.
On March 16th, before the official shelter-in-place date, CEO Tony Ueber sent an email late in the night:
As we all grapple with the enormous scale and impact of the coronavirus in the U.S., it reminds us of how precious life is and the importance of protecting our own health. For the health and safety of our members, team members and guests, we will be closing all 24 Hour Fitness clubs at 12 midnight tonight, Monday, March 16, until further notice.
Please be assured that your membership will be extended for the same period that our clubs will be temporarily closed??
I don?t see it until the next day, seeing they sent it at 8:26PM.
I?m guessing most members did not see it until later. As I?m reading the letter, I?m struck by this line: ?Membership will be extended for the same period our clubs will be temporarily closed.?
Wait, a minute? I have a 12 month membership. How would my membership be extended? I read the rest of the letter, but it gives no further detail.
I scratch my head, but shrug it off. I assume I just won?t be charged until the gym opens up. Right?
March 21st ? 24Hr Fitness? Online Social Distancing
I cannot shake off the feeling something is not right. I call the call center and I?m informed by an automated answering machine the call center is closed because of COVID-19.
I am sweaty and it is not because of a home workout.
I give the online contact form a shot and shoot out an inquiry about my membership. I receive an automated message that informs me that eventually someone will get back to me:
As to when they?ll get back? ?Up to several weeks!?
March 28th ? Members Are Charged, Twitter Loses It
I?ve been charged my full membership fee for the month.
I go to Twitter for answers, scrounging 24hr Twitter?s account (@24hourfitness) and I see enthusiastic videos on fitness and staying health. Pull back the curtain and I find members realizing that they?re continuing to be charged. Desperately, they message the account for help and to share their frustrations.
24 Hour Fitness did not freeze accounts as the end of March approached. They continued to charge the full amount to members.
The average cost for a 24 Hour Fitness membership is anywhere around $399?499 a year and $36?46 a month. Depending on additional services you?ve opted in on (such as Kids Club), that price can increase. This gym carries a hefty price tag.
To see this full charge, despite 24 Hour Fitness being unable to provide gym facilities and full services, is devastating, especially for those who lost jobs and/or struggling financially. This is NOT how you show your members you care about their well-being.
April 1st ?Desperate Measures
I?m upset and stressed. I?m not sure what to do. The website continues to reiterate I should visit my local gym or call to cancel/freeze one?s membership. I can?t do either.
Members on Twitter shared how they are taking on desperate measures to protect themselves, such as going to the bank and canceling cards to prevent future charges.
Another desperate measure is to call and pretend you are interested in becoming a 24 Hour gym member to get a hold of a representative. Yup, you heard me right.
@Cancel24HrFit, an account created solely to help members cancel their membership, laid out simple steps:
1. CALL 888?243?5002, 800?432?6348 OR 833?636?0003 2. ?You a member??? ?No? 3. ?Purchase, or other??? ?Purchase? 4. Rep picks up, firmly tell them you want refund &/or cancel. 5. If rep doesn?t pick up, call from a different phone line
I?m baffled! I called those exact numbers, but I?ve always received an automated message that the call center is closed and click. End call. My mistake was that I identified as being a member?
So I lied to get help.
I?m ready for this to be bogus. I follow the steps, say I wish to purchase a membership ? Hi, this is Phillip from 24 Hour Fitness, would you like to hear about our current membership deals?
Wow. It worked.
I demand to cancel my membership. I ignore Phillip?s attempts to encourage me to freeze my account for a fee of $12. No. Cancel. It?s done. To my relief, an email confirming the cancelation arrives and I receive a partial refund.
Sure, there is a better ending for me, but what about everyone else? I know it is because I stumbled upon suggestions on Twitter was this possible. There are so many members who are still unaware today of this solution and being charged despite efforts to freeze/cancel their membership.
No one should have to go through these steps to cancel a membership, let alone seek help. I hope this article helps those still looking for help.
What Is Happening Now?
Thousands of members found themselves charged for a service 24 Hour Fitness cannot provide. Sadly, 24 Hour Fitness isn?t the only gym that continued to charge members during COVID-19 closures.
To make matters worse, it appears 24 Hour leadership directed their workers to operate the ?Purchase Membership? lines only.
That decision speaks volumes.
Multiple lawsuits have already been filed against 24 Hour Fitness due to this poor business practice. Brenda Labib, a California resident, filed one of her own, stating that:
?The collection of membership fees when a gym is closed is unlawful?this practice violates the California Consumer Legal Remedies Act, the Unfair Competition Law, the False Advertising Law, and California?s Health Studio Services Contract Law.
The practice allegedly constitutes negligent misrepresentation, unjust enrichment, fraud, money had and received, breach of contract, and conversion.?
CEO Tony Ueber, in the wake of legal pressure, even sent out another email stating that he will: ?suspend all membership billings, including billings for any additional services and fees, effective April 16, if we are unable to reopen clubs by that time in your area.?
Instead of suspending billing immediately, weeks will pass.
Another uproar from members on Twitter, posting screenshots of being charged before the date. For Sydney, she noticed that her billing date moved earlier after the announcement.
24 Hour Fitness has, also, added on their website a form where you can submit for cancellation due to an increase of requests.
All in all, in a crisis such as this, we need to see business leaders rising to assist their clients, not undermine them. There are so many who are suffering due to COVID-19 and this is an unnecessary hurdle to jump over to financially protect one?s self.
When you attempt to hurt your customers, you will forever lose them and future customers. After all, you lost me.