Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Restricted membership is good value

On Friday I picked up a handout at the lights. It was a promotional offer from my local Planet Fitness gym. You’re meant to scratch off the silver stuff to reveal whether you’ve won a 12-, 6- or 3-month Restricted Membership to the gym. I scratched and, as expected, I won the 12-month option. After reading the fine print and phoning a membership consultant, the full story behind the offer was revealed.

‘Winners’ deciding to take up the offer pay a once-off fee of R299 (plus R100 for an access card) and you get 12 months of access to the gym and its facilities. No monthly payments. R399 is the only sum that changes hands in this one-year period. It is an offer that is only available to people who have never been members of the gym.

The ‘restricted membership’ part? That has to do with the times you can train at the gym – off-peak periods. That is between 10h30 and 15h30 during the day and after 20h30 at night (this gym is 24hrs Monday to Thursday); and after 14h00 on weekends.

I met with Winnie, my new membership consultant, this morning to take a look around. Many of my buddies from the Bedfordview Virgin Active have moved over to this Planet Fitness and when I’ve bumped into them they have mentioned how nice it is. Spacious, newly built, running track, good location... And it is nice. Very nice - one of the MegaClubs.

Winnie asked me which offer I’d won. I replied, “12 months, but doesn’t everyone win this”. She started laughing. Apparently not every card is a winner and some people win the lower options. Ja, ja. I’m still to be convinced; I’ve won in the past too. I told her I thought it was just a good marketing mechanism to get people into the gym to sign up. She thinks I'm weird. And it does work. She said many people come in with the voucher but that they ‘upgrade’ to a full contract.

Winnie took me for a walk around and I found what I was looking for: spin bikes outside of the studio.

I cancelled my Virgin membership in July last year; I’d been a member at that same gym for 16 years (it was a Health & Racquet before Virgin came to town). Before this, from when I was 16, I’d been at an independent gym. Yes, gyms have played a major role in my training for almost 20 years; group classes (yoga, step aerobics, spinning) treadmill, other cardio equipment, circuit, weights, swimming... the whole works.

I cancelled my Virgin membership because I hadn’t been using it much, spending more time out on the road, running the hills of Kensington. Also, since moving a few kilometres further away from the gym, it was taking me over 20-minutes to drive there. I felt those 40 to 50 minutes could be better put to running instead of driving. And then there’s the expense... Not on a loyalty programme, gym membership costs upwards of R350 per month, which is fine if you’re using it four to six times a week but which I cannot justify if I make it to the gym only once a week.

My current training includes running, paddling and dance classes (twice a week). Biking is sorely lacking – as it always is. And for this reason alone my ears picked up when I saw the flyer: spin bikes are better than no bikes. I’m prepared to pay R400 for this year to have access to the gym at odd times purely to ride. The gym is about 4km from home and being freelance I’m able to make adjustments twice a week to run to the gym to train within the restricted hours. I do most of my proper thinking work (writing articles, proposals, creative design etc) at night anyway, so unless I have meetings this isn’t a problem.

All in all, this is a good deal and I hope to bump into some of my old gym buddies over the weekends. I'm really looking forward to play there tomorrow.

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