Sweating over the cost of a gym membership

When 'Good Things Guy' Brent Lindeque received an email last week informing him that his Virgin Active membership fee was being increased, he started asking what others paid.

His fiancé pays half of what he does and various friends pay different fees for a range of benefits. So he turned to social media as a dipstick.

"The price for me to go to one club was going up to R450 a month and Andrew (his fiancé) pays R215 to go to any club he wants to. I put up a post on social media to try figure out if this was the norm, if people pay different prices.

"I was absolutely disgusted when the comments started flowing in... over a hundred people replied and it turns out everyone pays a different price and no one can really explain why."

A screengrab of Brent Lindeque's Facebook post ask

But Virgin Active has an explanation.

"Virgin Active has 140 clubs around the country that members may choose to join. Each prospective member and current member has different requirements and would therefore select a club according to their lifestyle needs, fitness goals, location, budget, time available etc," the company said in a statement.

"We have built up our estate of clubs since taking over the existing Health & Racquet clubs in 2001, and each club has a specific price point. We do not offer one standard membership rate." 

Price structure 

Virgin Active explains that the price is structured on factors such as classification of club (whether it's RED or the more upmarket Collection), operating costs of the specific club, membership types, which vary if you're a pensioner or a student or have premier membership. It's also impacted by legacy contracts which relate to a very special limited membership fee sold when Virgin Active launched in 2001. 

The other major impact on pricing is relationships with rewards partners. These include Discovery Vitality, Momentum Multiply, Bankmed and SAPS. These can all influence how much members pay each month if they receive a benefit. 

"Just as one may review insurance and medical aid annually to ensure the best and most relevant product suited to your specific needs, please feel free to do the same with your Virgin Active agreement," urges the company. 

But Lindeque says he still doesn't think the explanation makes sense. 

"It seems that the club versus the amount of times you go versus when you signed up is a factor but here's the thing... if I move to a national membership and visit the clubs for the allocated times, then my membership fee will be less than what I am paying now... R438 to use clubs around the country!

"If I hadn't put this up on social media and started a conversation, then I would have never known that I could be getting a better deal. And looking at all the comments, it's evident that people using the [Virgin Active] gyms have no idea why they are being charged what they are being charged. It's also so bizarre that we're all being charged different prices for ultimately the same thing."

Brent Lindeque asked his Twitter followers how muc
This screengrab shows some of the replies Brent Li

Personal finance guru Maya Fisher-French says it is really up to consumers to find out what fees they are paying and what they are getting in return.

She also advises consumers to do their own research before signing up for any programmes.

"It looks like it is all about reward programmes - both with Virgin [Active] and with its partners. The lesson here is that if you are paying more than R300, there may be ways to reduce it - so spend some time figuring it out.

"Even R100 less saves you R1 200 a year. If you aren't going that often to justify the spend, that could be a budget cut. It's a lot like bank fees - it's worth analysing to make sure you are getting value," says Fisher-French.

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