Interdictum! Excluding Companies by Behavior

Sometimes a company will do something egregious. Something so irritating that it makes me want never to do business with them again. I then put them on a “secret” list, and I do business with them only if absolutely necessary or if they change their ways. This is an introduction to that list.

United Airlines was the first company that made it on the list. It was around the year 2002 and I was flying down to San Diego (from San Francisco) for the wedding of two friends. The wedding was on Sunday, so I flew first thing in the morning on Saturday to have a day at the beach ahead of the nuptials.

I got to the airport and made it through security. Two hours ahead of the flight. Gotta be ready, right? But somehow, the airline had overbooked the flight and kicked us out. It was annoying, sure, but there were plenty flights to San Diego.

The next one came and went. No empty seats, so they wouldn’t seat us. Then the next. Then the next. It was past noon, and we had been sitting at SFO for six hours already. Mind you, we had done everything right: we had bought our tickets well in advance, we had shown up well in advance, we had simply booked a ticket on an airline that sucks.

At the next flight that wouldn’t take us, I went to the front desk clerk at the gate. I asked what was going on, and he kept saying he was doing the best he could to find us a seat. I said that it made no sense for them to “try” on subsequent flights, well known they had overbooked the entire day: he should just tell us when they had a flight available for us and we’d come back for that.

He simply said, in the most annoyed and annoying tone I can imagine, “Sir, if you do not wish to fly to San Diego, I can proceed to a full refund right now.”

We ended up getting into San Diego around 8p that night. Of a two day trip, we had less than a day left. I have only flown United, since then, if absolutely necessary.

24 Hour Fitness is the latest member of the list – again. Also, and this prompted this post, 24 Hour Fitness is the case that shows how useless it is to engage in companies that made it onto the list – again.

In 1999, I joined 24 Hour Fitness in Portland, OR. They had just opened a new gym in the Pearl District, on my way to work, and I really liked the place. When it came to the membership agreement, they offered me a variety of options, pushing really hard for the multi-year memberships.

There was a 3 year plan for some $500-odd. It promised to be for all Active locations, which were, as the sales guy said, virtually the entirety of them. There were Sports locations, but they were in suburban areas where I wouldn’t want to live, anyway. He showed me the map, and he was right. I got a three year membership.

A year later I moved to San Francisco and went to the location on 16th Street. It was great, right between work and home, and never crowded. It also had a swimming pool I never used, but I liked the smell of chlorine: it reminded me of my college years.

One days, several months into my new San Francisco life, the front desk clerk told me, “I am sorry, Sir, but you cannot enter with your membership level. This is a Sports location now.” It turns out that 24 Hour Fitness had decided overnight to reclassify an enormous number of locations.

I asked what it would take to upgrade my membership. They said it would cost more than a new membership agreement. At once, I realized I had been screwed and I had to say good-bye to the gym I had gotten used to, and the new friends I had made. That’s right, I wouldn’t even get a chance to say ‘bye to them.

So, in the end, I suddenly had a really expensive one-year membership. There were other 24 Hour locations in San Francisco, of course. The nearest one would have been the location on Market Street. But I absolutely disliked the way this had been handled, and the company I worked for moved out of town, anyway.

Fast forward to this year. I rejoined 24 Hour Fitness, despite the Interdictum! (which, incidentally, is Latin for restraining order). They just blanket San Diego like no other gym, and I figured if I stuck with monthly fees no harm could occur.

Enters new roomie. I go online and get a Guest Pass. The site asks me all about him, then asks at what gym I’d like to pick up the pass. Then it tells me to print out the pass, or just show the smartphone with the email.

We go to the gym we specified. Point Loma, across the bridge. I’ve gone there for several months, maybe even more than a year. At the front desk, the lady asks me for my ZIP code. I tell her 92109. She says only people from 92110 can get a guest pass.

She is quickly joined by a personal trainer. I didn’t know her, but I knew him, and when he repeated the same story independently, I knew there was a higher authority at work. If I wanted my roomie to work out that day, I would have to pay a guest fee of (I kid you not) $20.

I left and quit the gym that very moment. On the one hand, I had a guest pass that said I should show up at the same gym that told me (technically: my new roomie) I had to pay $20 for the privilege of working out there.

It helped that it was the last day of the pay cycle. It was the 24th, and the 25th is when they charge you (the “billing cycle”) while my membership started on the 31st (I got a year end deal, so it was easy to remember – the “membership cycle”).

If you want to leave 24 Hour Fitness (maybe useful to others), you have to do so within the limits of the billing AND the membership cycle. So you quit today: you will have to pay until both the membership and the billing cycle are over.

To make sure it was clear when I had quit, I also went to the Garnet Street gym and quit there in person (the other one was a letter I sent that same morning). The guy there, real nice (not that the ones in Point Loma weren’t nice – they absolutely were), told me he was going to take care of it.

The next day, I went online to check what’s what, and my membership already resulted as inactive (either terminated, or cancelled, or whatever word they used). Then, weeks later, I received a final statement in which they refunded me $1 – presumably because I had quit one day ahead of the end of the billing cycle. That was odd. What was even odder is that, in the membership agreement, they state that you pay the first and last month up front. Which is what I did. But they didn’t refund me that last month.

I am sure they would chalk it up to a “billing mistake.” I like to chalk it up to that being business as usual for 24 Hour Fitness, which is now on a permanent Interdictum!

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