A reader asks about registries moving domains into premium pricing.
Domain Name Wire reader Collin Love reached out to me recently with a question about premium domains in new top level domains.
Premium domains are those priced higher by the registry. Most premium domains come with a higher initial registration fee and higher renewals.
Collin was lucky enough to register a lot of great .xyz domain names (e.g., advertise.xyz, encryption.xyz, hub.xyz) before the registry implemented premium pricing on the best names. He wrote:
I have been lucky enough to avoid this “premium” mess as all of my .XYZ domains have the registry’s default pricing (which, based on my registrar invoices, appears to currently be $8.56 per year). However, I recently had a prospective buyer ask me if the .XYZ registry could ever change the pricing of an extant default-priced .XYZ domain from the registry default to somewhere in the “premium” price bracket.
The buyer’s concern is if they acquire the domain from Collin and the registry later reclassifies the domain as a premium with higher renewal prices.
The answer to this question is in section Sec 2.1.c of the registry agreement. Here’s the relevant section:
(c) In addition, Registry Operator must have uniform pricing for renewals of domain name registrations (“Renewal Pricing”). For the purposes of determining Renewal Pricing, the price for each domain registration renewal must be identical to the price of all other domain name registration renewals in place at the time of such renewal, and such price must take into account universal application of any refunds, rebates, discounts, product tying or other programs in place at the time of renewal. The foregoing requirements of this Section 2.10(c) shall not apply for (i) purposes of determining Renewal Pricing if the registrar has provided Registry Operator with documentation that demonstrates that the applicable registrant expressly agreed in its registration agreement with registrar to higher Renewal Pricing at the time of the initial registration of the domain name following clear and conspicuous disclosure of such Renewal Pricing to such registrant, and (ii) discounted Renewal Pricing pursuant to a Qualified Marketing Program (as defined below). The parties acknowledge that the purpose of this Section 2.10(c) is to prohibit abusive and/or discriminatory Renewal Pricing practices imposed by Registry Operator without the written consent of the applicable registrant at the time of the initial registration of the domain and this Section 2.10(c) will be interpreted broadly to prohibit such practices.
This section states that the renewal pricing must be the same for all domains. There is an exception that allows registries to charge a higher renewal price for premium domains:
The foregoing requirements of this Section 2.10(c) shall not apply for (i) purposes of determining Renewal Pricing if the registrar has provided Registry Operator with documentation that demonstrates that the applicable registrant expressly agreed in its registration agreement with registrar to higher Renewal Pricing at the time of the initial registration of the domain name following clear and conspicuous disclosure of such Renewal Pricing to such registrant…
Domains can have premium annual renewals as long as the registrant is told about the premium renewal upfront. Registries that offer premiums with this model require registrars to tell registrants this when they register the domain.
The last sentence in the quoted text emphasizes what the reader is concerned about. ICANN is clear about why the registry contract includes a restriction on charging more for a domain renewal than other domains if it’s not marked premium when it is registered:
The parties acknowledge that the purpose of this Section 2.10(c) is to prohibit abusive and/or discriminatory Renewal Pricing practices imposed by Registry Operator without the written consent of the applicable registrant at the time of the initial registration of the domain and this Section 2.10(c) will be interpreted broadly to prohibit such practices. (emphasis added)
ICANN doesn’t want a registry to be able to say, “Gee, someone invested a lot of money in building a site on this domain, so let’s charge a lot to renew it because they’ll have no choice but to pay.”
So the answer to Collin’s question is no, a registry cannot decide the domain you registered at standard prices should be moved to a premium tier when you renew it.
Registries can change the base price for renewals, though. Some registries have jacked up prices but, in all of the cases I’m aware of, the registry grandfathered existing registrations.
Also, if a domain name expires and drops, the registry can apply a premium to the next registrant. Two examples of registries applying premiums to dropped domains include .co and .xyz.
Well the other question is, if a domain happened to be a PREMIUM at the time of registration, can the renewals be arbitrarily increased significantly… example if the domain was 1k to register and had a 1k renewal at the time of registration, can it become 10k to renew…
Yes, they can be increased with no upper bounds. And while registry needs to notify registrar 180 days in advance, there is no such obligation towards registrants.
An owner transfer or a registrar transfer can both reset the consent to premium renewals. So the concern expressed in the question is reasonable.
Thank you for the reply. Let’s hope common sense prevails in these situations..
Andrew Allemann says
An owner transfer can? Like an intra-registrar push? Can you point me to where this is allowed?
All it takes is agreeing to that when doing the intra-registrar push. That lack of agreement to variable pricing was applicable to the previous owner, what will be applicable to the new one is the T’s&C’s the new one will agree to. It’s in there that it preserve the previous status or not.
I’ve had all my old OneWord.biz registrations converted to premium when I switched registrars. In this case I switched to PorkBun and they charged me premium pricing on and after the transfer. Granted it’s not a whole lot more but from what you are saying they should not be doing that.
I believe they could do it. If they should be doing that or not, that’s on them.
This does not seem to be the case with GRS Domains, where a lucky domain purchase was gratuitously reclassified as “Premium”.
The Registry claims they don’t need to talk to registrants.
The Registrar says only the Registry can do it.
Is the appropriate next action to file an ICANN Compliance Complaint?
And should the target be the Registrar or the Registry or both?
Andrew Allemann says
I suspect you are talking about a situation where you registered a domain at the registrar and then the registry told the registrar that it should’ve been marked as a premium. They usually catch this pretty quickly. It is an issue though and it’s one of the big issues with Premium domain programs. Registries sometimes provide his list to registrars in excel sheets or text files. It’s really cumbersome way of determining what’s premium and what’s not.
What’s the difference between “the registry told the registrar it should have been premium all along” and “changing the price on a domain because there’s more interest in it”?
In other words, how many years of renews are sufficient to establish the non-premium status?
Do you know of any recourse?
Your response suggests I won’t get too far with ICANN “Contractual Compliance”, because GRS Domain’s argument easily can be “it was premium, the registrar should have looked in the file cabinet in the disused lavatory”
Andrew Allemann says
The only cases I’m aware of a registry informing a registrar that it was premium are within days of it being registered, or at least when they invoice the registrar. Are you aware of this happening further down the line?
I’m not excusing the behavior, btw.
Yes. GRS Domains did exactly that to me.
Back in 2019, GRS Domains did not mark all 3 letter domains as premium – just dictionary words. I got a mostly non-dictionary 3 letter name, and was quite happy to have a short piece of virtual landscape.
Sometime between 2019 and 2022, GRS Domains pushed a change to mark all 3 letter domains as low-tier premium, and bumped up some dictionary words to a higher tier premium.
The only place I’ve seen this discussed has been here and one other forum — so I hope this behavior is unique to GRS Domains.
Andrew Allemann says
They are not allowed to reclassify a non premium as premium. Yes, you would need to complain to ICANN
My two .co domains have been reclassified to Premium
I owned them since 2015 and this year Porkbun is now showing them as premium renewals. 🙁
Andrew Allemann says
Those are country code top level domains which aren’t subject to any sort of ICANN rules. However, I’m surprised that the .co registry is doing that. Can you email me the domains and the details? andrew (at) domain name wire .com.