Should bounty be returned if there is NO answer at all? Or your contribution (to the bounty) only?

This is similar to many questions like this one (which was a duplicate itself), but I am referring to only when there is no answer at all. Not no upvotes - no answer.

  • 3
    Either way, SO should clearly state when placing a bounty on a question (Or within the FAQs) that bounty will not be returned if an answer isn't found.
    – Tr1stan
    Commented Nov 15, 2011 at 16:27
  • 1
    I second that suggestion. After reading the answers here I can see WHY point are not refunded, but as the creator of a question which will receive no answer because microsoft makes terrible software it would have been nice to know in advance that I was throwing my rep away.
    – Sinetheta
    Commented Jan 26, 2012 at 23:18
  • 3
    I think it should definitely be returned, though at a reduced amount (say 50% of original bounty).
    – Tuesday
    Commented Mar 11, 2012 at 18:23
  • I don't think it should be returned, as it will force the OP to look for solutions first before asking. Or Second case, if no answer received the bounty should be refunded and next time the bounty can be started, but from higher amount then the previous.
    – Bista
    Commented Sep 5, 2016 at 4:50

8 Answers 8


Yes. The bounty should be returned if no answers appear, I would also argue that this should be the case if no answers receive upvotes. Not returning the bounty is intended to prevent gaming the system, however, if you don't get an answer that anyone thinks is any good, I think the bounty contributed by the asker should be returned to the asker when the bounty period expires. Note that this wouldn't apply if there was an upvoted answer that also received downvotes to prevent the OP from gaming the system by downvoting an answer that would otherwise receive the bounty.

One argument against my position -- no answers or no answers with upvotes -- is that it encourages the OP to not vote for any answer that is helpful. That only applies as long as no answer receives any votes, however, so I don't think that is a realistic objection. If no one else votes for an answer, there is little reason to suspect that the OP should.

  • This is concerning only questions with NO answers, and as such, this argument against is irrelevant.
    – user135632
    Commented Sep 13, 2009 at 19:08
  • I've corrected the post to clarify that I was talking about my position in the second paragraph.
    – tvanfosson
    Commented Sep 13, 2009 at 19:49

I think a simpler solution would be to not let bounties expire if there is no answer (or maybe even no answer with an upvote).

This way, by creating a bounty question, you are going to lose points. But you also have some sort of "guarantee" that you will eventually get a response for your "investment".

  • But bounties have a time limit to encourage answers (or at least I assume that's one of the reasons behind the expiration).
    – ChrisF Mod
    Commented Sep 13, 2009 at 20:22
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    @ChrisF they also have a hefty point load to encourage answers. I think points are really what drive people on SO.
    – TM.
    Commented Sep 13, 2009 at 20:35
  • 1
    Maybe have the system add +50 to the bounty for every day there is no answer past the 7 day period?
    – hyperslug
    Commented Sep 14, 2009 at 1:46
  • 1
    @hyperslug surely much less than +50 a day I should think but I like the idea. TM's idea is certainly the first step though.
    – user135632
    Commented Sep 14, 2009 at 2:06
  • If a bounty wouldn't expire until the question had an answer, wouldn't that mean that I could post any answer in order to claim the bounty?
    – Dan Dyer
    Commented Sep 14, 2009 at 12:34
  • @Dan, you could post any answer to end the bounty. Unless you earn a net +2 upvotes or the question owner manually awards you within, say 24 hours, the bounty is lost.
    – hyperslug
    Commented Sep 14, 2009 at 15:40


Bounties are meant to generate interest in your question. If your question is low in the ranks, and you feel that you have already expressed yourself, then you add a bounty on it to encourage interest and people to answer.

Once you add the bounty, the rep is gone. If you are worried about getting no answers, you could increase the bounty to an even higher number, and at that point you can almost guarantee that someone will answer the question. But the bounties are meant to generate interest and answers. If there are still no answers after offering the bounty, it might be time to consider whether or not the question is too obscure to be answered.

Consider bounties to be paying for advertising. Once you've purchased an ad spot, you can't get your money back just because no one bought your product.

Obviously, we might want to consider changing the name since it doesn't act 'bounty-ish'.

  • 3
    Some advertising works on a pay-per-click (possibly pay-per-purchase?) basis. Commented Jun 8, 2011 at 3:47
  • "... you've paid for a service that wasn't delivered - that's a refund in anybody's book." From Andras Zoltan's answer.
    – user609796
    Commented Nov 9, 2019 at 23:05

Yes, I think if you don't get any answers, you absolutely should get your rep back; you've paid for a service that wasn't delivered - that's a refund in anybody's book.

I asked a question (and I don't think it was a crap one - quite clear, but it perhaps is a bit tricky) that had very low views for a few days and so I've whacked a bounty on it.

Still, as yet, no answers, and the number of views hasn't gone up.

If after the 7 days I still get no answers, then I'm going to end up paying with rep because the community could not help. So the SO message is "If your question is really difficult, and you incentivise the community to answer, but they can't, then you'll be penalised".

That roughly equates to "please ask only questions that somebody here knows the answers to".

If this Q of mine ends up getting a good answer now, then of course my comments here will be less relevant I suppose; however for those people that do ask good, bountied, questions but which nobody knows the answer to are being treated unfairly I think.


As a compromise, what about refunding 50% of the bounty? The user did get increased exposure on the featured tab, but did not get a much-longed for answer. Refunding 50% sounds like a reasonable compromise.


Adding this as an answer rather than a comment because I believe it should be part of the solution whatever the outcome:

The user interface for issuing a bounty should make it more clear exactly what the contract is.

Some may think, but it already says that! I ask that we consider a tenant of UX design, which is that when a significant number users do not "get it" as they go through a scenario, the design should change. It could be better emphasized, positioned, worded, whatever.

The content of the many questions, comments, and responses on this topic suggest that lots of people don't pick up on this until after the fact, yet it would probably be a pretty cheap design change to really boost the success rate.

Then we get the payoff: If going forward almost everyone is clear on bounty rules, we will find that the average points allocated for bounties either drops or doesn't change much. If drops, we can use this data to make a more intelligent decision on whether any of the bounty rules should change.


While it might sound superficially reasonable, I don't think it's likely to happen. Most bounties acquire at least one answer before they expire, as bounty hunters hope that even a mediocre answer will get the 2 upvotes needed for an auto-accept. Even if they don't, the question will then have answers.

Do you have examples of bounties that expired with no answer at all?

  • not yet, but I have a terrible suspicion that a recent question of mine will soon achieve this honor.
    – user135632
    Commented Sep 13, 2009 at 20:11
  • 2
    here is one example which had a bounty of 100 : stackoverflow.com/questions/2540149/… my own question with a bounty of 200 got a few more views but still no answer at all. Not even a bad answer or an unsatisfying answer, just no answer. I know the contract of the bounty is to attract more attention, but still no answer is quite frustrating. I don't see any moral issue with reloading the bounty for another week until the question gets at least one answer.
    – Jean
    Commented Apr 8, 2010 at 19:09
  • 2
    here another one: stackoverflow.com/questions/2537807/…
    – Jean
    Commented Apr 9, 2010 at 9:27
  • Expired bounties with no answers are particular problems for smaller sites. Here's one: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/14463/… Commented Sep 24, 2012 at 16:02
  • This one had a +500 bounty and another +200 bounty expire with still no answers at all. This is really not reassuring at all to a user contemplating setting a bounty who wants to an answer for their reputation.
    – CPlus
    Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 2:59

Yes they should, and since they aren't (and I wasn't aware of that), I don't think I'll ever place another bounty. I had a question with no activity whatsoever since placing a bounty, so the rep was a complete waste. Because of this, I think the bounty implementation is flawed.

  • 1
    I'm sorry @hae, but there is no lack of documentation about the bounty system. How does the bounty system work?
    – Lix
    Commented Sep 23, 2012 at 15:53
  • It seems unfair that this is the case. You should only pay for what you get. I realize that this is to prevent the OP having an incentive to NOT award an answer, but it also an incentive for me to NOT place a bounty altogether. I'm surprised no one found a compromise in between.
    – haelix
    Commented Sep 23, 2012 at 15:58
  • And, at least one other user Tr1stan above notices that "SO should clearly state when placing a bounty on a question (Or within the FAQs) that bounty will not be returned if an answer isn't found". Probably, as in "more clearly".
    – haelix
    Commented Sep 23, 2012 at 15:59
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    The bounty "payment" is for the post to be featured in the boutny tab. It doesn't guarantee an answer. When you place an advertisment in the paper, you are paying for the placement. If no one responds to your ad, you don't get your money back.
    – Lix
    Commented Sep 23, 2012 at 16:00
  • Here, you feel better now? By the way, you could read all the messages that appear when you start a bounty. It clearly says the bounty can't be refunded. Commented Sep 23, 2012 at 16:03
  • Sorry to have seemed so upset, indeed this is not a problem of documentation. I might well place other bounties in the future even if this is the contract, however I maintain my view that (at least) the reputation transfer/loss should be weighted by the OP's satisfaction (or even others' as well) with the answers/comments.
    – haelix
    Commented Sep 24, 2012 at 6:58

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