Bamboozled July 4, 2016: The health club fees that won’t go away

Gyms and health clubs are infamous for billing issues.

Complaint boards and chat rooms are filled with complaints from customers who say they’ve cancelled memberships in writing, but monthly membership charges continue. They say when they try to follow up with the gym, the gym has no record of the cancellation.

Earlier this year, we featured a different kind of billing problem from a New York Sports Club (NYSC) customer. It was supposed to be fixed, but well, it wasn’t.

And now, the customer says, he’s also suddenly getting new monthly charges for a membership he cancelled in writing more than a year ago.

First, the old charges.

When we first met Peter Stewart, he was trying to get rid of bogus charges for personal training sessions he never approved and never received.

In the summer of 2015, he saw a promotion: eight weeks of one-hour personal training sessions for $316.

He said asked the manager at the West Caldwell NYSC how it worked.

“There was no written agreement,” Stewart said. “There was no automatic renewal provision. In fact, I was told I could cancel any time without penalty if I choose to do so for any reason.”

He tried it, and when the eight weeks ended, his credit card was charged $316, as expected.

But then in August, another $316 was charged — even though he said he never re-upped for another eight week session.

He said the gym’s management apologized and said he would be credited for the charge.

But instead of the charge disappearing, it remained, and there was a second $316 charge the next month.

The manager apologized again and again said the charges would be removed, Stewart said.

They never were.

That’s when Bamboozled got involved.

After some bit of back and forth and a heap of confusion, NYSC credited Stewart both $316 charges and also comped him three months of free membership for the misunderstanding.

That brings us to the Stewart’s current billing problems.

On May 13, Stewart received a letter from his credit card company saying one of the old $316 charges was being reinstated.

“The temporary credit issued to your account at the time you disputed the charge has been removed,” the letter said. “Based on the available information and the results of our research, we consider the charge valid.”

It seems even though NYSC told Bamboozled back in January that it was removing the charges, somewhere behind the scenes, the credit card company continued with arbitration for the disputes Stewart filed. He lost the dispute, and the charge was back on April 8.

Ex-bodybuilder can't muscle a refund with NYSC

Ex-bodybuilder can’t muscle a refund with NYSC

Despite cancelling a membership with New York Sports Club in writing, a former bodybuilder’s credit card was charged for more than a year.

Stewart contacted the credit card company and shared a copy of the Bamboozled column about his plight and NYSC’s decision on the refund. Nothing happened.

“To add insult to injury, I just received my monthly statement from my card and what did I find? You guessed it! A new charge to my card from NYSC in the amount of $36.35 – for what I have no idea,” Stewart said.

A little research showed there were actually three charges of $36.35. They were monthly membership charges for April, May and June.

Here’s the catch with that: Stewart said he cancelled his membership in writing on or about March 31, 2015. More than a year ago.

“I was not at the gym in the year 2016, the dates for these charges,” he said.

At the time of the cancellation, Stewart took steps to make sure he had a witness. He made the move in front of his NYSC trainer — just in case.

crop redacted.jpgA redacted copy of an email written by Peter Stewart’s trainer. He witnessed Stewart cancel his NYSC membership in writing.

And that’s a good thing.

Stewart didn’t have a copy of the cancellation letter he gave to the gym — but he presented to us a written affidavit of sorts, in the form of an email, from the trainer.

“This email is to confirm that Peter Stewart gave New York Sports Clubs [CQ] membership personnel proper, timely, and written notification that he would be leaving NYSC and to have his membership and personal training end on or around 3/31/2015,” the email said.

Stewart said after the cancellation, NYSC kept offering him free months, so he took them. But he never restarted his membership, he said.

None of Stewart’s efforts to have the charges removed yielded results, so he contacted Bamboozled again.

THE BIG LIFT

We reached out to NYSC’s parent company — Town Sports International (TSI) — about the charges.

While the company reviewed the situation, Stewart, interestingly, received a email solicitation to join NYSC.

“Why would they be asking me to join if I am still a member according to their records?” he said.

Great question, but we left that one alone.

In a few days, NYSC came back with good news.

It immediately refunded the $316 charge.

“We believed that it had been refunded to Mr. Stewart’s credit card and when the error was brought to our attention, it was immediately rectified,” said spokeswoman Lisa Hufcut.

She said when we reached out to NYSC back in January about the personal training charges, NYSC believed Stewart wanted to keep his regular membership, Hufcut said. At the time, the gym gave Stewart three free months. So initially, he wouldn’t have seen monthly charges. But when the three months were over, regular billing resumed, Hufcut said.

“We understand that Mr. Stewart maintains that he cancelled his membership in writing but we do not have any documentation of this, which is why billing continued on his account,” Hufcut said.

Despite that, the company refunded $109.05 in membership dues — the total for the months of April, May and June.

boozle-NYSC follow(2) (4).JPGA close-up of Peter Stewart’s notes written on a copy of NYSC’s cancellation policy.

We wanted to know if Stewart had to worry that charges might magically appear again someday.

“Mr. Stewart should have no concerns whatsoever about future charges,” Hufcut said. “His credit card has been removed from NYSC’s system and there is no way that he can be charged.”

Hufcut added NYSC is “committed to satisfying our members and we strive to minimize any mistakes and correct them as soon as we become aware of them, just as we hope we have done in this case.”

We asked why Stewart’s membership cancellation letter never got to the correct place.

Hufcut said NYSC had no record of the cancellation.

She said the gym does “not wish to engage on any debate on this” but that Stewart had “significant usage/club visits between May and December 2015.”

Stewart doesn’t deny visiting the club, but he said those visits were during the other free months he received from the gym — the free months meant to lure him back to rejoin, he thought.

He still has concerns about billing because his credit card continues to send him statements about charges that were in arbitration and reinstated in NYSC’s favor.

Stewart confirmed he received the new credits, and he’s hoping they stick.

To help make sure that happens, NYSC sent a letter to the credit card company saying there are no disputed amounts and the new credits are valid ones.

If the credits disappear, we’ll let you know.

Have you been Bamboozled? Reach Karin Price Mueller atBamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KPMueller. FindBamboozled on Facebook. Mueller is also the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com. Stay informed and sign up for NJMoneyHelp.com’s weekly e-newsletter.

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