Dear PoPville – Washington Sports Clubs “rate guarantee fee”!?!?

Photo by PoPville flickr user philliefan99

Dear PoPville,

I’m a WSC emmber, strapped to my contractual agreement to the club for fear of being punished with severence fees. On January 3rd I was perusing my bank account and noticed that WSC debited my account for more money than my regular monthly dues. Assuming it was a mistake, I called the club only to be told that it is the annual “rate guarantee fee”. My response “What?!?!” Apparently, to keep your rate at the “low” price that you received when you signed up, they require clients to pay an annual fee. It kind of defeats the purpose of the initial sign up fee and the monthly dues. Who’s ever heard of paying more than your contractual agreement to maintain the terms of your contractual agreement. I asked to speak to someone in corporate. They started to put up the “iron curtain” defense. After literally a week of trying I got impatient, went on LinkedIn, found the CEO’s name, and then figured out the recipe to the corporate email addresses. I emailed him directly about my concerns which are:

1. What is this crazy fee?
2. For all of the money you get from us in dues, it would be nice if your membership consultants spent 30 seconds explaining the fee – can you make that happen?
3. You could AT LEAST have communicated that we should be expecting this fee. Even a sign in the doorway would be nice. An email would’ve been better. You have ALL of my information short of my DNA coding.

Instead of replying back, he had the Director of Administrative services email me and offer to have a club manager get in touch. I explained – again – that the managers have no power over policy and directed me to her to get answers. She never replied, and today I got a call from a regional manager. I expect no success in my mission for answers and demands for better communication from the ivory tower where their CEO looks down on all of us wee members paying out $80/month to sweat on their treadmills, but I want to empower other folks irritated by this with the CEO’s name and email address so they can share their thoughts with him, and also the name and number for reaching the regional manager. I know they got hundreds of calls around the date of the “rate guarantee fee” debit, it would be great if all of those calls went to the corporate office instead of to the managers who really have no power in the situation.

CEO Town Sports International – Robert Giardina [email protected]
Regional Manager – Naveen 703-934-1777 x1555

106 Comment

  • it sounds like the marketing equivalent of protection money.

    Yo, if you gimme a little somethin’ now, I’ll make sure nobody raises ya rent, yaknowhatImean, hey!

    • total shake down! Pay us more money or we’ll charge you more money. Total BS. Everyone should email this dude.

  • That’s pretty lame, especially the way these places insulate themselves from having to respond to customers. However, was there a clause about this in the contract you signed? If so, it’s not their fault you didn’t read it.

    Maybe you could close your bank account and open a new one?

    • Yeah, Crunch Gym does this too. They really suck–before reading that on my contract (after the fact…NOBODY mentioned it…)and this post, I had never thought a gym would charge an annual fee. WTH.

  • Read your contract. If it’s in there, it’s in there.

    • This isn’t about a contract, it’s about how you treat your customers. We want to join a gym for fun and for health, not for a lesson on contract law and reading fine print. This is why people hate gyms and their slimy sales tactics.

      • I hear you! They befriend you during the tour. Call you by your first name. Introduce you to trainers. Show you all the oohs and aaahs. Then they start talking money. Make it all seem so simple. I go to the gym to get away from the “fine print” in my daily job. It’s sad that they can’t communicate better with their customers. They should be upfront about any money being debited from your account. It would take 10 seconds to mention. Sending an email around would be nice too.

        • It’s their job to be smart at marketing. They are just salesman like any other company. They are counting on people being gullible and pushovers, and they keep doing it because for the most part, people are.

    • Yeah, always read that stuff. Haven’t you seen the Human CentiPad episode of South Park?

  • That sounds like complete crap!

    I just looked at my statement and I don’t have any extra fee billed to me.

    I would seriously check your contract and see if this is on there. I have been a member for a long time and don’t ever remember this fee so maybe it is a new thing?

  • How much is the fee? I would have to dig out my contract from several years ago, but I have a vague recollection that this is in there. Not entirely sure though. BTW, I only pay $55.

  • I kinda feel like they spend so much time selling you on stuff that it would be nice if they spent a little more time explaining the fine print. The print is tiny, many pages long, but really – it says that Town Sports reserves the right to charge an annual fee. It does not say it will happen. So I agree that they should have given notice. They made tens of millions on those fees between their Philly clubs, NYc clubs, Boston clubs, and DC.

    • Ha! I can just picture if this got taken to small claims court or something. “But your honor, the text really long and really small!!!”

      • Companies purposefully bury fees and other ticky-tack stuff in a mountain of legalese fine print. It seems to me they should have to put straight out in an easy-to-read table all the fees they are able to charge you and why.

        • And because they do this is precisely why everyone needs to be extra vigilant when signing a contract of any sort. There is no law against wording things funny. Look, I agree the fees are ridiculous. But people need to have some personable responsibility.

          • So, I looked into this as well. I was so irate that I threatened to cancel my membership. their response: OK, but you’ll have to pay to break your contract. REALLY?!?!?

          • And people have the right to bring this up in social media so others aren’t similarly tricked. Why would they want to do this kind of crap to someone who is giving them money every month? Not only have they hurt the relationship with one of their customers, 100s are going to learn about it today from this post and will be wary of joining their club.

          • Anon he is saying there should be a law requiring them to make the fees and possible fees obvious and up front so you don’t have to scan the fine print… which we all obviously don’t do… including when we signed up for this website! (i clicked “I agree” without reading)

  • yet another reason gym memberships are a racket.

    vote with your money, go elsewhere or start working out outside/at home.

    • Was looking for a comment I agreed with and here it is… sadly you have to finish out the year then cancel, which is what I did when faced with fees I had not anticipated. Just make sure you cancel after the 12 months… obviously they will continue to charge you until you go through the (somewhat lengthy) process of cancelling your membership.

      • I think you have to give them 60 days notice to cancel! Does anyone else know?

      • Ability to cancel after a year wasn’t so, for me. The person who signed me up purposefully wrote “N/A” on the line for “Contract End Date” meaning I would be forced to pay the exorbitant cancellation fee no matter how long I had been a member. A detail I (admittedly stupidly) did not notice until too late.

  • I just love that picture. Where is it from?

  • I pay $150 a month plus parking every time I go to my gym Sports Club LA. I work out 3-4 times a week. What’s everyone complaining about?

  • start a petition on! i’ll bet with enough signatures and threats of canceled memberships, they’ll change their tune

  • I had the same issue. I get that it was in my contract, but at least I’d like to be able to talk to someone in the corporate office. I called to ask about the fee and was stone walled by the membership consultants. I said I wanted to talk to someone about the overall policy and they said that that was above them. I asked to speak to someone above them and couldn’t get a name or number. Thanks for sharing. I at least want to know that when I have concerns I can get someone on the phone that has the power to address them!

  • I think gyms, especially this one from what I read, really try to screw individuals who sign up as members on their own. The real deals come when you get your HR director at your work to do the deal for you. I work in a place that has about 150 employees and we got a deal for only 40 bucks a month there. Not everyone at work signed up for the gym and we still get that deal so I think they concentrate on volume over there and poor single members get the shaft a lot of the time. If you work in an office, try to start a movement to get a deal in bulk, so to speak. If you are a freelancer or whatever, Im guessing it wouldnt work but maybe if you belong to a professional assoc that has a lot of members, work it that way. good luck!

  • I have a better suggestion. Companies hate the threat of government investigations; you just need to show them you know what you’re talking about. Follow these easy steps:

    (1) Look up their corporate mailing address from their SEC 10-K filing, here:

    (2) Send by fedex or registered mail a letter to their CEO or General Counsel. These names should be in the filing or elsewhere on their website.

    (3) Tell them that the fee was not properly disclosed to you, and ask them to refund it. State that unless you receive a refund by a certain date, you will file complaints with the Federal Trade Commission, DC Attorney General’s Office, and the Better Business Bureau. FYI, the consumer complaint departments of the government agencies are here:

    Have fun, and knock ’em dead!


    • *applause

      on the money. sometimes you gotta work to get your money back.

    • Wouldn’t this only work if the fee was not properly disclosed? I just checked their website (to try to see how much the fee was) and it’s on there-if it’s on the website, I’m guessing it’s in the contract.

      • LOL – they refer to the “rate lock” fee as a privilege. So if it’s in the contract, and on the website, then why not just mention it when customers sign up? I have a friend that’s a trainer and he said they got literally hundreds of angry calls. The author of this post is clearly not alone in her confusion. If it’s such a wide-ranging issue then Town Sports should do something about it and make their customers feel good about being members. Also, instead of sending angry calls to the clubs, on the same day that the rate fee was instituted, they should have put something on their websites – perhaps a “Questions about our rate lock fee” hyperlink that could provide text from the contract and an 800 number that would send you to a call center for questions. Basic customer service – do not force the staff members who deal with your customers face to face every day to have to interact with customers who are angry and be unable to provide helpful solutions. This isn’t about the staff IN the clubs. They’re generally really nice. The corporate office should not have put them on the front lines of defending a policy that they have no control over. This is about the corporate office being willing to interact with customers and answer their questions in a clear and timely manner.

        • Not sure why you replied to me. I didn’t defend the way this was handled, just said that there are no grounds for filing a claim with the SEC as it was properly (in a legal sense) disclosed.

          • @kaylee – that wasn’t meant to be “at you” – sorry if it seemed that way. I was just adding on to the stream. Good point about it being on the website, and i also agree that they should be more explicit and have folks initial next to any contract portions that involve additional fees.

          • No worries! I just wanted to make sure my point was clear.

  • Uh… no, just because its hidden in the contract doesnt mean its fair. There are plenty of instances of hidden fees being unfair and against consumer protection laws.

    The whole “if you sign a contract you have to live and die by the clauses in that contract and you should have read the contract carefully” is only true in a limited sense.

    Besides, I’m positive that they insisted you sign on the spot and gave you no time to review it.

    Gyms are so sketchy.

    • No one can prevent someone from leaving with the contract and taking it home to review. If the person felt pressured or uncomfortable from the beginning, maybe they should have realized that place isn’t for them.

      • Fair enough, but when I went to resign my contract I decided I’d come back a few days later to do it. They called me twice a day every day until I returned. It was worse than a car dealership. I still signed because they’re close to my house, but I just wish they’d been more up front in sharing anything to do with money leaving my pocket.

    • What about this fee in particular is “unfair,” though? In what ways does it meet the legal burden?

      • Is the fee even disclosed in the contract at all? Were you required to initial by it?

        If they didnt specifically point out the fee, instead they left it buried in the small print, I think its fair to assume they intentionally kept it hidden.

        • I did not initial anything. No one mentioned it to me. I get it, it’s my fault for not reading the fine print, but a little more transparency would be nice. That’s no way to run a business that claims the names of our neighborhoods only to squeeze extra dollars out of customers.

          • I think if you yell loud enough, you’ll get it reversed. They’ll be kissing your ass come renewal time, if they know you use the gym a lot, so tell them you’ll be counting down the days till you can cancel. Write a letter to the DC AG and the DCRA, CC the CEO… write another letter to the CEO.

            How much was the fee?

      • I don’t have a copy of the contract in front of me, but IIRC, it’s pretty clear in the contract that they have the right to charge additional fees at any time. There’s no legal precedent stating a company must have customers initial such clauses.

        I get that this was handled poorly and I think the OP is right to complain, I just don’t think she has legal grounds to not pay the fee.

  • Hmmm, my rate goes up by a dollar or two each year. It was $49 when I first joined (before the CH location opened up) and now it’s $55ish. I saw a little sign about an option to pay a rate guarantee fee but never looked into it. I assumed it was a one-time fee, which seemed like a trade-off that was at least worth considering. But you’re saying it’s an annual fee? That is insane.

  • i have had so many issues with town sports. first, they continually overcharged me for months and it took me 6 phone calls to corporate, literally 6 phone calls, (after each phone call they told me that they would reimburse me but they never did and continued to overcharge me every month for months) before they finally reimbursed me. and two weeks ago they said that they’re blocking the columbia heights gym from my membership and when i left them a message, they never called me back. i live in columbia heights and it’s the only gym i ever use. town sports has absolutely terrible customer service. i wouldn’t wish it on anyone to have to deal with them.

    • Happy that I came across this thread – I had a great run / steam at WSC on CT Ave. last week through a friend’s membership, and was considering joining, despite having heard complaints in the past. Now, I definitely will not.

  • Clearly this person signed a contract and neglected to read it first.

    • Clearly a sports club should have more transparency than a cable company.

      • Why, exactly? Both are private businesses seeking to maximize their profits.

        • clevelanddave

          That is an awful defense. Might as well make bread out of sawdust if you have it in the ingredient list. Of course they can maximize their profits (in the long run I don’t know how that works here) but not by using deceptive practices any more than they can by using defective equipment. Call up Richard Cordray in the new consumer protection bureau! They have operations nationwide and would therefore be subject to any federal regulations- just like the fine print on credit card bills…

  • Haven’t these companies learned that nickeling and diming people to death is SO two thousand and late. Ask Bank of America: we’re over it! Charge a fair price for your service and then knock it off. I’ll never sign up for a membership with these people. Joining a gym is a stressful as signing up for a lease these days . . .

  • I belong to WSC. They told me about this fee when I signed up. It is a once a year fee and was explained to me. Even with the fee, it was still cheaper than other places I looked at. Always ask questions and read the contract.

    • Do you think it’s okay that she cannot even reach someone who is empowered to discuss this issue? Not a great way to keep your customers engaged!

  • I was a WSC member who signed up specifically b/c of the aqua fitness classes, which I made explicit when I became a member, as I have a disability. Halfway through my contract, the number of classes was cut from three per week to one per week. I left the club, because that really was my only reason for paying to go there.

    In DC, we’re lucky enough to have recreation centers that have full gym complements, as well pools…all of which we can access for free as citizens. In other words, we don’t have to pay to workout, and the prices for classes are substantially lower than the per-month fees for WSC, and you can go to any of the centers in the city.

    I’m glad I got out when I did, and I’ve not looked back.

  • Was the fee in the contract itself? Nobody has actually cited any language yet…

    • Well, I’m guessing no one has a WSC contract sitting at his/her desk right now, but the website does explicitly state that membership includes, “Rate-Lock Guarantee: Your monthly dues will never increase for the lifetime of your membership. A $29 maintenance fee will be charged each January for this privilege.” It’s not even hidden in the fine print on the website; it’s right there with the list of other things membership includes. Of course this is not a binding contract, but I’m willing to be if it’s so visible on the website, they didn’t forget to include it in the contract.

      • This is all over 30 bucks??? Please. Pay the fee! I thought we were talking about a re-up on the 175 “initiation fee”. Thats some serious cash… this is less than 3 bucks a month (i.e. probably what they would have raised your rate to if you hadnt had this rider). I assume at the end of your contract, you’ll have paid 60 bucks to avoid 61 bucks in fee hikes…

        Thats just my guess.

        Probably worth paying if you plan on keeping your membership well past the expiration of hte contract. In 3-4 years, the going rate will probably be 10 bucks higher a month, and you’ll be paying 30 bucks to keep it the same.

      • 30 dollars? I really thought all this outrage was over a lot more. I was expecting it to be around 100. Oh well…

        • I know it’s ONLY $30, but I’m 23, I work for a non-profit, and at the end of each pay period I’m watching literally every cent in my bank account. I understand what the post author is saying. I would have loved to know that this fee was being debited – and before you say it, yes I should have read the fine print, but maybe they also should have been forth right and told me. don’t know if you remember your paycheck to paycheck days, but for right now (hopefully one day this won’t be the case) $30 can get me through 2 days of Metro/food and an unexpected charge kinda messed me up.

          • It’s gonna sound kinda harsh, but if you are living on $15 a day, then you should seek out other methods of exercise/fitness. Gym memberships are a luxury, and it sounds like 30 bucks is a luxury you can’t realistically afford.

            Just sayin…

  • I don’t know why anybody gives their money to these clowns.

    I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: if you are really interested in getting fit, buy P90X and ACTUALLY DO IT. It works and it’s cheap.

  • Your doctor can write you a note that you can no longer use WSC (“needs more supervised fitness” or “will be going specifically to a physical therapy studio”) to get out of the canx fee. And if the fee is $200, you might be paying less than if you have 6 months left at $55/mo.

    I hate TSI. But I really like my trainer, so I guess i’m stuck for now!

    You can also cancel your credit card that they automatically bill….sneaky sneaky!

    • er, this sounds like a great way to ruin your credit.

      • Cancelling one credit card will ruin your credit score? Umm no it won’t. It might lower your score a bit, but that’s it. There are certainly a lot worse ways to ruin a credit score than closing a credit card account…

  • me

    I had an issue with WSC. A guy working there got my name, address, and phone number from my application and started harassing me. I would get phone calls from him at random (multiple) times during the evening, saying he was “downstairs with flowers”. I complained to the manager, who didn’t do much, but let me out of the contract with no argument.

  • Watch out for LA Boxing too. They have a couple spikes in their contract (and some not even in the contract).

  • If folks are interested in gym alternatives, here is one – Second Wind Training – that opened on 14th, up by Kennedy. I’m not affiliated with it or a member, but I live nearby. Higher prices, but not likely to have BS and it’s locally owned small biz.

  • I recently joined last fall and I was told that if you want to leave prior to your contract ending, let them know and they will try find another person to take over your rest of your contract. It’s not something they can do on the spot, but it generally can happen in a week or so. You can also freeze your membership for $15 a month to finish out the year.

  • Thanks for finding this. I plan to write this guy. I have written twice to the web-provided customer service feedback form, with zero response on each occasion. You’d think the CEO might care a LITTLE that his company is notorious for such horrific customer service. We shall see …

    • Woo hoo! I wrote yesterday as well. While we all may be guilty of not reading the fine, fine print, we do deserve better access to answers and better communication from their higher ups about rate adjustments etc. It’s called courtesy!

      There is no other way to really get the attention of a company like this than to pile on and all write in exactly how we feel. I just don’t feel like they value me as a customer – at all. Assuming I can avoid the contract termination fee, I’ll be taking my business elsewhere!

  • When I cancelled my membership I did it over the phone and only later discovered they were still taking out my membership fee. I was unable to get it back since I couldn’t “prove” that I had cancelled it by phone.

    Will never go back!

  • Town Sports International does have a Facebook page. I suggest you post something there. If they have a real social media staff they don’t like to see complints like this unanswered.!/MySportsClubs

  • When I signed up for WSC, they definitely mentioned this fee to me. I was a member for about a month, and figured out the price was not worth what I was paying. Paying that much for so little, I canceled and joined VIDA. So much happier. (You can typically cancel your gym membership contract if you move, even within the district)

  • Thank you so much for posting this information. The rate lock in fee was NOT in my contract because I had a core membership, but when I upgraded to a regional membership, they charged me a fee. But I never signed a new contract, nor did they tell me about this fee. When I tried to call and get an explanation of this fee, they gave me the run around too. As soon as I find another convenient gym, I’m switching. In addition to bombarding this guy with emails.

    • Please do! The more of us that write in the better chance we have of them adjusting their tactics.

  • Sport and Health does the same BS….they call it an annual maintenance fee..and I talked to 3 different people over there last year with then did it. I considered closing my gym account there in the fall – but the problem is that all the gyms in DC are 1) too expensive 2) tack on weird start-up and maintenance fees and are all 3) essentially a racket!

    If someone has a gym that they feel does not fall into those categories, and has decent hours please let me know!

  • so is this program an opt in type of thing? Or is it the type where you have to specifically opt out, or you’re automatically enrolled in the rate lock program.

    If it’s the latter, then I will agree it’s pretty dubious and the complaints are somewhat warranted – even though it was your responsibility to read and understand what you’re signing.

    If this was an opt in scenario, then I really have zero pity for the OP. I’m sure it was explained and the person most likely had to check a box or initial the spot where they agreed to the rate lock program and the annual 29 dollar fee. I just have a feeling people are forgetting they agreed to this program and now are crying foul…

    • I’m the original poster. I did not opt-in. I switched companies and they terminated my membership so I had to sign up again – not a new member, just re-enrolling without a corporate account. I have been a member for years. They did not mention the fee. I did not check a box. I did not initial anything. I know I should’ve read the fine print, but I also think they should have pointed the clause out. We’ve all been there, you’re in the office in your gym clothes excited to work out. They don’t mention any “special fees” everything seems kosher so you sign up….and then a random fee. I also understand that it’s just $30 bucks, but what happens when the “rate lock fee” goes up to $40 and then $50. To me it’s more a matter of communication and respect. I had no choice but to pay the fee because apparently that’s what I “agreed” to. I also would appreciate the opportunity to speak to folks in the corporate office about how this was handled and how it can be handled better next time, but i’m still waiting for my call back. so far, nothing.

      What really kills me is that in December a colleague of mine signed up at my urging. She got December free….but then as a month-old member got charged $30 in January. that’s ridiculous. I have sent so much business to that club, encouraging friends to sign up, investing in training and classes. I wish they would act like they appreciate my business.

      Thanks everyone for your comments! This has been interesting and very therapeutic – lol. I’m glad there are some people who can understand where I’m coming from and I hear the folks saying it’s my responsibility to read the fine print. Next time I will.

      I just wish they would treat us like customers not just numbers on their sales sheets.

      • Even though I was one of the folks who was saying that you are obligated the pay the fee, I have to say, I think you’re handling this perfectly. You realize that you (legally) have to pay the fee, but you’re looking to make it known to them that you disagree with it. I like that you’re letting others know about it through writing to POP, as well. Bravo!

  • SRSLY folks also hit their Facebook page and Youtube page. Interesting that they don’t have Twitter…as someone who works indirectly in Social Media I can assure you that is a good way to get attention!

  • For what it’s worth, I was once a member of the Fairmont’s gym. It was pretty expensive, I think more than $100 per month, but the best part is that they let you cancel at any time, without any fees or BS. You could just tell them you were done, and they stopped billing you. Which is what I did when I stopped going there as often as I should have.

    No run around. No attitude. It was crazy. I wish more places were like that. I think it was actually worth the higher fee knowing that I wasn’t locked into a nightmare.

  • Even the Jewish Community Center gym on 16th and Qst has these contract issues. And though it’s a Jewish Community Center don’t think they will be nice about leaving a contract early…even with legit excuses.

  • I called and they said they would not give me a refund. I am emailing this CEO everyday, and this Naveen character is MIA from the extension I called. Give me some more numbers and emails.


    • I’ve reached this Naveen guy at: 703-934-1777….I’ve also had success getting a regional GM at 203-797-8208…You may also want to try 917-351-6680….I would suggest asking for Naveen’s email address. It will be: naveen.(last name) It has been a bit of an absurd adventure. Good luck!!

  • Is it a one-time annual fee or do you have to pay more than once?

  • I understand the desire for consistency, but it’s hard for me to imagining dealing with something like this when you can consistently have a gym “membership” via Groupons and Living Social deals in DC without any commitments or outrageous rates. I’ve been doing it for months:

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