Thursday, February 20, 2014

Does IRONMAN's new Pilot Transfer Program Stack Up to the Competition?

Ironman announced recently that they are instituting a pilot program for transfers for their North American full iron distance events.  The general overview is below.  You can find the full details HERE

"IRONMAN is piloting a new program to give IRONMAN athletes an additional option to the standard refund policy. Instead of taking the standard refund, athletes registered for select North American IRONMAN events now have the option to transfer their entry to another IRONMAN or IRONMAN 70.3 event in North America with general entry slots still available. Athletes may move to a race sooner or later in the calendar year (dependent upon availability) and may move to another IRONMAN event or to an IRONMAN 70.3 event."
The tricky part is that not many people know what the "standard refund policy" is, let alone what the details of this new pilot program means.  I admit I was one of many who initially thought "Hey, cool!  That'll be a nice option."  Unfortunately, as I'm sure we will find out very soon, this program does not change much. 

First, let me go over some basics of this new program.  Keep in mind this does not alter the standard withdrawal policy which I will go over later.

  • The pilot program is limited to 140.6 events in North America (excluding Los Cabos & Cozumel)
  • You may transfer into another North American 140.6 or a list of eligible North American 70.3s, but there is no program for transferring out of a 70.3 event at this time.
  • This program is limited to the year in which your original event is scheduled.
  • There is a $50 transfer fee.
  • You must pay any difference in entry fees, but do not get a refund for a negative difference.  
  • The race you transfer into must have open slots.
  • The race you transfer into must have had public registration open for 10 days.  
  • It must be at least 45 days prior to the event you are transferring out of AND into.  
  • You may only transfer an entry once.  

Kelly, a good friend of mine over at Some Random Thursday, posted a very good analysis HERE of how useful the program might be.

Go read her analysis first. I'll wait.

Done?  Good!

She concluded that if you know early in the year that you will not be able to race, you have an approximate 50% chance of being able to transfer, however that is most likely into a 70.3 event.  If you wait or do not know until late, your chances drop very quickly as many of the desired races, or simply those within traveling distance, sell out. 

In the past, Kelly as well as a number of other friends have all "eaten" the registration and associated fees in the past due to WTC/Ironman's previous policies.  And as we all know Ironman is NOT CHEAP.  While the announcement of the pilot program will undoubtedly be greeted well at first, I think it is safe to say that once you dig into the details, and especially once people begin to use the program, we will find that it falls quite short of expectation.

Breaking away from Kelly's analysis, I want to help shed a light on what this new program does.  Kelly gave us a look at how useful it might be.  I'd like to look at how comparative it is.  How does WTC stack up to other major 140.6/70.3 distance companies?  I am going to compare the WTC's policies to Revolution 3, Challenge, and HITS

How does the Ironman Transfer/Withdrawal Policy stack up?

In order to do this systematically, let's review each of the three companies policies.

WTC / Ironman - Transfer PolicyWithdrawal Policy
  • All withdrawals or transfers must be done up to 45 days prior to the event (subject to availability). 
  • You may withdraw from any race for a $75 (70.3) or $150 (140.6) refund; roughly a 27-37% or 21-24% refund depending on the event. 
  • If it is an eligible North American140.6 event, you may transfer to another eligible North American 140.6 of 70.3 event for a $50 fee + entry fee difference. 

Revolution 3 - Transfer Policy & Defer Policy
  • You may transfer your entry to another athlete up to 30 days prior to the event for FREE.
  • You may defer your entry up to 60 days prior to the event and receive a 100% credit to the same event for the following year for FREE.
  • With a medical reason and doctors note received 30 days prior to the event, you may withdraw your entry for a full refund of your registration fee.
Challenge - Refund Policy
  • You may withdraw your entry up to 83 days (3 months, 5 days) prior to the event for a full refund minus a $75 admin fee (87% refund). 

HITS - Refund Policy
  • Each athlete is allowed a one time free transfer up to 15 days prior to an event and must be credited to another open HITS race within a 12-month period.

Now that we've got all of the policies laid out, let's go through a scenario.  As we get closer and closer to race day, what are our options depending on which company the race is with?  And how do the companies compare?

Ironman - $75/150 withdrawal refund or $50+ transfer
Rev3 - Defer to next year, transfer to another athlete, or full refund (Medical)
Challenge - Full refund minus $75 admin fee
HITS - Transfer to another race

Ironman - $75/150 withdrawal refund or $50+ transfer
Rev3 - Defer to next year, transfer to another athlete, or full refund (Medical)
Challenge - NOTHING
HITS - Transfer to another race

Ironman - $75/150 withdrawal refund or $50+ transfer
Rev3 - Transfer to another athlete, or full refund (Medical)
Challenge - NOTHING
HITS - Transfer to another race

Ironman - NOTHING
Rev3 - Transfer to another athlete, or full refund (Medical)
Challenge - NOTHING
HITS - Transfer to another race

Ironman - NOTHING
Challenge - NOTHING
HITS - Transfer to another race

Ironman - NOTHING
Challenge - NOTHING

The winner of this little scenario is ultimately up to you.  Your priorities, work schedule, and such may vary greatly from me, but I can't help but rank them for myself.

My order of most athlete-friendly policies...
Revolution 3
WTC / Ironman

With our training volume and hectic lives, something is bound to eventually come up; injury, appointments, kids, family, mechanical breakdown, etc..  As athletes, we want to compete and we hate losing that opportunity, not to mention the money we spent to do it. 

HITS allows you to transfer your entry even 15 days prior to the event, no questions asked, but it's an up-and-coming race series, so not many people are participating.  My two cents is that they put on a great race!

Rev3, a triathlete's household name, restricts you to 30 days prior to the event, but offers a full refund for a medical issue and the option to transfer.  I have personally seen many friends take advantage of the transfer.  That option, however, is dependent on whether you can find someone to transfer to.  Living within 40 minutes of the Rev3 Quassy course, my chances for THAT race are pretty high.

Challenge may have the most time restricted option, but they offer a very sizable refund. 

WTC / Ironman is the ultimate loser in my mind, even despite the new program.  Yes, Ironman gives me roughly 1.5 months of more coverage than Challenge, but offers a significantly lower refund for a withdrawal.  And as Kelly pointed out, the likelihood of being able to find an available race to transfer to that is suitable for travel is low.  Most of us plan our yearly race schedule WELL ahead of time and there isn't a huge amount of room for changes.

What is the take home message?

The new WTC / Ironman pilot program for event transfer may seem useful, but when you get down to it, it A) is not going to be useful for the vast majority of racers and B) does not compare well to the programs offered by other rival companies.

I must say that I commend WTC / Ironman for initiating the program and hope that it will be altered in the years to come in order to be more useful to athletes (namely the ability to transfer to another race WITHIN A 12 MONTH PERIOD).  However, given the stamp that Ironman has made in this sport, I don't presume that this will happen unless given adequate pressure from athletes (aka. people stop signing up and races start dwindling in attendance).  The fact is, Ironman full-distance races sell out more often than not.  One highly probably motivation behind this program is to funnel athletes from the sold out 140.6 races into the 70.3 races that do not sell out.
If you are unable to do a specific full, all the other fulls within traveling distance are sold out, and the withdrawal fee is miniscule, then you will most likely opt for a close by 70.3 event.  Plain and simple.  That is unless you purchased your Allianz insurance.  If you did, then Ironman gets your money anyways!  

What races are you doing this year?


1.  Have you ever used one of the withdrawal, transfer, or deferral programs?
I've never needed to use any of these programs.  Until this post, I was unaware of what the details of the various policies were. 

2.  Have you purchased the Allianz Insurance during registration?
I have not yet, but am more intrigued by it now that I have gone through the details and scenarios.  It seems like a very fair offer and quite a useful policy when something comes up. 

3.  What is your take on the new Ironman pilot program for North American full distance transfers?
I think in a few months, once athletes begin to make use of it and the details come to light, it will not seem as useful as it does.  I applaud the initiative, but am highly weary of the motivation behind it. 

4.  Have you chosen a race (or counted one out) based at all on the withdrawal or similar policy?


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