It appears that lifetime Bally Total Fitness members, who originally appeared to have been left out in the cold after their clubs were purchased by LA Fitness earlier this month, will have a place to work off the holiday pounds after all.
According to a statement posted on the LA Fitness website late last week and follow-ups from Patch to previously unhappy customers, the company has doubled down on its decision to honor lifetime agreements, now to the satisfaction of almost all those affected.
"LA Fitness has decided to simplify the access rules and give all of the acquired Bally Total Fitness (“BTF”) members access to current LA Fitness clubs as described below," reads the statement, which also bullet points the following guidelines:
- BTF “Local” Members will have access to LA Fitness clubs and acquired BTF clubs in the state of enrollment*;
- BTF “National” Members will have access to those clubs in all states*; and
- Acquired BTF members who only have single club access will continue to have access to that single club (or, if that club has closed, to another BTF or LAF club nearby).
- *Except for New York clubs (unless you enrolled in NY) and clubs designated now or in the future as Signature and Athletic clubs.
Late November deal leaves customers angry
Word of the acquisition originally reached Upper Dublin Patch after customers at the location on December 4. LA Fitness had purchased 171 clubs throughout the country from Bally's, including 13 in the Philadelphia region, and all customer contracts at those locations, with the exception of lifetime memberships.
This left many customers, some of whom had paid thousands of dollars for their memberships up until federal law made the creation of such contracts illegal in the mid-90's, feeling like they had been kicked to the curb.
“We’ve been members since 1984, ever since my husband and I got engaged,” said Upper Dublin resident Joan Tait, who paid roughly $2,000 for a lifetime membership. “There were years where we wouldn’t go at all, but for the last decade or so we’ve been going several times a week and never had to pay anything.”
Customers began to share similar stories and organize on message boards such as the Patch comment section and Ballyssuit.com, an online forum created by Michigan resident Jeff Levy with the ambitions of forming a class action law suit.
LA Fitness announces they will honor lifetime memberships
Levy began speaking with attorneys from the Philadelphia based law firm Berger and Montague, P.C., but before any litigation was filed, Paul Norris, principal for LA Fitness, contacted Patch and others to announce that the lifetime memberships. Norris told Patch this was done not because of a legal obligation, but as a service to customers.
"We don't want to disadvantage our members, especially the people who've been around for 20 years," Norris said. "We're doing it for good will. There's not many [lifetime members], but we don't want anybody to be at a disadvantage."
Over the following weeks, many members began to report that their memberships were now being recognized by the LA Fitness computer systems.
Round two: customers say they should have nationwide access
Still, many Bally's lifetime members were not satisfied and worried that a clause in the new LA Fitness contract allowed the company an 'out' to begin raising renewal fees. Many members also took issue with LA Fitness allowing access to only one or several area clubs, as opposed to the nationwide access they had as members of Bally's.
Patch spoke to a Philadelphia-based attorney about the complaints, who said that the customers had little legal ground to stand on.
"They're completely wrong about LA Fitness having an obligation to give them nationwide access," said the attorney, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "That claim would be dismissed. That's not the benefit of their bargain, their bargain is access to Bally's gyms."
However, according to its most recent statement, LA Fitness has now agreed to allow nationwide access to its members. Levy says the company should be credited.
"LA Fitness has been one hundred percent [helpful], they've gone over and above what they had to legally do," said Levy. "I had an attorney say to me 'no way you are going to get access to all the LA Fitness gyms, you didn't have that access before so you were never wronged.'" We should be praising LA Fitness."
Levy says Ballyssuit.com will remain for additional issues
Some members on Ballyssuit.com continue to file complaints against the company, but other members involved in the process say that these are rare "worst case" scenarios. Many involve members whose lifetime memberships were originally purchased at a Bally's location that hadn't been purchased in the deal, but had been regularly using a different Bally's that was shutdown. Levy says he is still working with these cases on an individual basis, and has a direct contact to an LA Fitness representative who is responsive on requests.
"I get the [customer's] info, name, phone number, and can take that right to my [contact] and it goes right to corporate," said Levy. "He comes back and tells me if it's not going to get fixed and why, or he says that it is fixed and they're now in the system."
Levy originally planned to close the Ballyssuit.com site in late December, but says he now plans to leave it up through January in order to continue assisting former Bally's members. He told Patch that any readers who still have questions and complaints should post to the site's message board if they're not receiving satisfactory help from customer service representatives.
Levy says that he has administered the website out of a desire to help other customers, and despite being offered money from several grateful individuals, has refused.
"I did this out of a pure motive," said Levy. "Because of [news articles] and the Ballyssuit website, it gave the greatest gift of the season to Bally's Members."