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I have read the FAQ and the section on bounties, where it says "If you’ve asked a good question, edited it with status and progress updates, and still are not receiving answers, you can draw attention to your question by placing a bounty on it."

And a little later, "All bounties are paid for up front and non-refundable under any circumstances."

I had a good question (5 upvotes), but no answers. I really needed some info on the problem I was having -- it was holding up a project I was working on -- so I offered a 500 rep bounty. As it turned out, I got an answer just as my grace period was starting, so I was able to award the bounty.

However, if I had not gotten any answers at all, what is the rational for not returning the bounty in that case? Particularly on a question with multiple upvotes? As it is, the 500 rep would have just disappeared into thin air.

There is a somewhat similar question that talks about the same situation, but the answers/comments don't explain why the policy is as it is (bounty is not returned if there are no answers at all on a "good" question). This actually disincentives the OP from risking his rep on a future question with no answers.

Perhaps the bounty could be returned only if the question has no answers and the question has a certain minimum number of upvotes.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think this could use the tag "feature-request". (I don't have enough rep to edit.) \$\endgroup\$ – radagast Sep 23 '13 at 8:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ @radagast Based on the answers and various comments which seem to support my idea, I have added the tag. Thank you. \$\endgroup\$ – tcrosley Sep 23 '13 at 13:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ What would prevent a person from posting a low-quality answer just before the bounty expires and collecting on some of the bounty? or doing it just to prevent the OP from regaining their rep? not saying it can't be done, but it may create some loopholes for people looking to game the system \$\endgroup\$ – user2813274 Jun 10 '15 at 2:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ If question's upvote count is high and answers' are low, then that loophole is avoided, the bounty should be able to be refunded. \$\endgroup\$ – Ayhan Jan 27 '17 at 11:53
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I think you have a valid case. This is probably something the designers just didn't consider. In all other cases, I think it makes sense that the bounty is not refunded. But if you don't get any answer at all, then the bounty didn't work, and you should get your money back.

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The way to think about a bounty (If you don't have an answer) is that you are paying reputation to advertise your question. See the quote from the meta.stackoverflow FAQ on the matter:

What happens if there's no answer after the bounty period?

If after the end of the bounty period a question has no answers, no bounty will be awarded and the question will no longer be featured.

Bounties are best understood as exchanging reputation for higher question visibility and increased answerer motivation. A bounty does not guarantee a response and is not refunded if none are received.

In theory, you should also be getting a partial refund of your bounty by the upvotes on your question over the week it is featured. I would not count on bounty refunds or cancellations unless you have an extreme/unusual circumstance.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Fee for advertising is a good way of putting it. One occasional problem is with bounties being used to prop and gain attention for questions that are just not very good questions to begin with, so having to "pay" for the advertising - especially in the cases where it's not going to accomplish anything - seems fair. \$\endgroup\$ – Chris Stratton Sep 23 '13 at 15:49
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I think the rationale is to avoid people offering lots of bounties but not rewarding them. I agree that if there isn't an answer that you should get it back.

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A bounty has more positive consequences than getting answers:

  • More views
  • Possibly helpful comments
  • More upvotes => more rep

Even if you don't get an answer, people have seen your question (might respond later to it) and that's what you 'paid' for.

However, I agree with you that not getting anything back isn't so nice. Perhaps it would be an idea to refund half of the bounty amount?

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think perhaps it should be based on whether the question got upvotes or not (i.e. was it a good question with no answers?). The more upvotes, the higher the refund (20% per upvote maybe?) \$\endgroup\$ – tcrosley Sep 18 '13 at 12:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ @tcrosley agreed, better questions deserve a higher refund. \$\endgroup\$ – user17592 Sep 18 '13 at 12:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ How do more views help if you don't get an answer?? \$\endgroup\$ – The Resistance Sep 18 '13 at 12:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TheResistance 1. that people might give an answer after the bounty expired 2. for the badges (but that's minor, of course - however there are people that buy the 'popular question' badge e.g. by offering a bounty) \$\endgroup\$ – user17592 Sep 18 '13 at 12:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ -1 for "Even if you don't get an answer". After the bounty expired there's nothing that would bring the question to attention. It will disappear in the background. If the bounty doesn't get an answer, then how would you get answers if the question basically becomes invisible? \$\endgroup\$ – pebbles Sep 20 '13 at 16:05

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