When Should Race Directors Offer Refunds?

Should Race Directors Offer Refunds

When should event organizers offer an refund?

This is one of the trickiest questions a race director must answer. Of course, we empathize with participants who are experiencing everything from injuries, illness and cancelled flights to deaths in the family. But races aren’t people–they’re businesses.

We’ve compiled the following best practices when it comes to offering race refunds, and ultimately the policy is yours to decide.

Clear Policy

First and foremost, the best practice is a clear refund policy that’s posted widely. Even when policies are stated on registration forms, not everyone will read the fine print. Place your refund policy on your forms, participant guides and your event website. Ensure event staff and volunteers who will be communicating with participants understand it as well.

Beware of Exceptions

A single participant may ask you to make “just one exception” to your policy. While it may seem harmless, it can quickly become a predicament. If you allow one exception and word gets out, you could easily be asked to offer hundreds of exceptions to your rules.

Injuries, Travel and Bereavement

Races rarely offer refunds in the event of injury. After all, this is an athletic endeavor and the competitor assumes the risks of participating. Cancelled flights and traffic delays on race days don’t generally lead to refunds, either. When a participant experiences a death in the family, however, it may be a time for sensitivity and flexibility.

The No-Refund Policy

Some races opt not to offer refunds at any time, under any circumstances. The policy draws a clear line in the sand with little room for participants to push back. However, we’ve documented problems with no-refund policies.


Sometimes, it’s you who must cancel the race, due to inclement weather. This was the case when Hurricane Sandy forced the cancellation of the 2012 New York City Marathon. Ultimately, race management must reserve the right to cancel the event if there’s a safety concern.

When this unfortunate circumstance occurs, participants may assume that registration fee reimbursements are automatic. However, many of the expenses have already been incurred when cancellation comes so close to race day. Some races offer refunds in these cases and others don’t.

Even if you choose to refund race fees, you may still encounter participants who have incurred travel expenses. Address these on a case-by-case basis, balancing the race’s good will and the concern that disgruntled participants may take to social media and review forums.

Registration Transfers

When encountering a registration cancellation, some race organizers offer transfers, allowing the participant to pass along their bib to a friend or family member who can attend the race instead. This can be a win-win. The participant doesn’t have to lose out on their entry fee, as the transferee often reimburses the cost. Plus, you don’t lose money and a new registrant gets to experience your race.

Registration Deferral

A deferral is another option, which provides a complimentary or reduced fee entry to next year’s event or entry into another event in your series. Finally, sometimes simply guaranteeing a registration spot in your next event is enough to satisfy the participant.

Registration Insurance

Similar to the travel industry booking insurance, it is a best practice to provide event registration insurance. This may provide participants with the confidence to register for an event without the fear of losing out in the case of an injury or cancellation. ACTIVE’s Event Registration Protection can instill confidence in your participants while allowing you to support a stricter no-refunds policy.

Learn more about Active Endurance’s Race Management.