Figuring out how to deal with clients backing out of reservations last minute can be a tricky task. With so many online booking platforms, it’s easier than ever for clients to take a look at your weekly class offerings and sign up in advance. In a perfect world, your clients would all attend class — and for those that don’t, they’d give you a timely heads up that they’re not going to be able to make it, freeing up their spot for another member to join.

One effective way to ensure that type of courtesy from your clients? Enforcing a class cancellation policy. But how do you strike a balance between protecting your studio and making sure your customers are happy?

Here are a few ways to determine the right set of rules for your studio — as told by fitness owners who have put their own policies in place effectively.

Consider How Late Cancellations Affect Your Regulars

A last minute cancellation or no show means a missed opportunity for other members who may have wanted to sign up for class. But if you’re running a studio that requires reservations for a specific station, it can also mean someone’s losing out on the opportunity to workout at their favorite spot.

“We are a boutique studio and one of our disciplines is indoor cycling in a stadium setting,” says Donnie Stutland, one of the co-owners at WheelPower Studio. “While every bike is a great bike, many people get very particular about their bike and having consistency — or preferring the first, second or third row. So while every class may not be a waitlist, if someone books and doesn’t show, we do get guests that are upset when they come in and their favorite bike is now open. The late cancellation policy is a courtesy to other guests.”

To encourage members to notify the studio ahead of time, but also offer some flexibility in case something does come up, Stutland decided on a policy with less than a 24-hour window. “We offer a 12-hour cancellation policy,” she says. “Anyone who cancels within the ‘late’ window either loses a credit if they purchase class packs, or gets charged a $15 no show fee if they are a monthly unlimited member. We have had this policy since we opened, and have it specified in our terms and conditions on our website, and have it as a disclaimer in some of our confirmation emails.”

However, the owners are sympathetic to last minute issues that arise. “Our studio is owned by three moms, so we understand that circumstances come up where kids are sick, or a client is sick, or other emergencies,” she says. “If someone has an emergency we are not going to penalize them. We have tried to educate our customers to call or email in those cases. And truth be told, when someone has called and been honest and said they overslept for the 6 a.m. class (as opposed to with a true emergency to warrant an exception) we have given them a courtesy and the credit back because we appreciated the honesty, and want to build goodwill with our customers.”

In terms of how that fee is collected, Donnie decided not to go the route of having the charge be automated. “For our monthly members, our software doesn’t automatically charge them,” she says. “We have to manually go in and submit the charge. So we tend to give people a couple of times where we let it slide — but by their second or third time we remind them of the charge, and call or email. Once it becomes habitual and we know they are aware of the policy and are not attempting to call at all, we will charge our $15 no show fee for our monthly customers.”

Be Firm About Sticking To Your Policy

“When I opened my studio three and a half years ago, I created a cancellation policy,” says Janis Isaman, owner of My Body Couture. “I ran a home-based version prior to having a corporate space, and I was more flexible at that point with the cancellation policy. At first I tried charging a 50% fee for cancellations, but often found myself waiving it or feeling guilty for charging it. But now, I charge 100% of the fee for the session, which I’ve found to be more effective.”

It’s a steep cancellation price, but Isaman says she’s found it to be most effective. “With the 100% fee, the client is very certain that they have other, more pressing priorities for missing their session,” she says. “I make exceptions for illness or accidents, which, obviously, nobody can plan for.”

As for her tips for others who are trying to land on a policy, Isaman says to stick with whatever you choose to implement. “My advice to other fitness studio owners trying to determine a cancellation policy would be to settle on a cancellation policy and be completely unapologetic for it,” she says. “Any small feeling of guilt means you will waive it. I noticed that it was the same person or small group of people who would constantly miss sessions or be late and want to have the fee waived. Be firm, because the policy exists basically for those people.”

As for how Janis makes her clients aware of the policy, it’s clearly noted in her client’s sign-up forms. “It’s not on the site, but it is on the material when they enroll with the studio,” she says. “Clients get an email reminder when they book, and again 24 hours in advance. I also make my personal cell phone available 24 hours a day for them to cancel. Communication availability is key.”

It’s also worth noting that Janis’s policy works both ways. “If I need to cancel abruptly, I extend the same courtesy by offering them a free class or session in return” she says. “It happens.”

Be Understanding When Needed

“We implemented a late cancellation policy the day we opened, and still use the same one today,” says Crystal Widmann, founder of Y2B Fit. And it’s a very generous window of time. “In our studio, a late cancellation is any cancellation within a two-hour window of the class start time,” she says. “Someone who paid with a single class or class card will forfeit the class. A member is charged a $10 late cancellation fee.” To make sure her members know the details, she’s made sure that it’s clearly visible. “The late cancellation policy is listed on our website and it is also in the membership contract that members sign,” she says.

While the policy is necessary, Widmann encourages studio owners to listen to their clients when they have an issue making it to a class. “Be open and flexible to customer issues,” she says. “The policy is there for a reason — to prevent customers from late-cancelling frequently and taking up spots in the class that someone else could have booked. However, sometimes emergency situations come up and it prevents someone from making it to class. I always take this into account and make exceptions to the policy when needed. Customers really appreciate that!”

Widmann hasn’t had any issues with her policy so far, which she credits to making sure her clients know about it. “I think the key is to be upfront and make sure customers are aware of the policy,” she says. “If they’re aware of the policy beforehand, it’s hard for them to push back. But again, there are also always individual situations to take into account too — sometimes emergencies come up and I always take that into account. Of course, you can’t let anyone habitually late cancel with an emergency — but I haven’t experienced anyone abusing that.”