Domain name retention and why I ditched 123-reg


On the 25th October 2011 I accidentally let two domains, and expire. I was aware they were due for renewal but do occasionally lose track of which domains are set to auto-renew and which aren't, given that I usually have 50–60 at any one time registered with 123-reg. This article isn't a dig at their control panel—though it is frustratingly opaque at times—but either way, the domains expired. My bad. It's happened before, and it'll happen again, and the usual course of action (until now) has been to renew the affected domains as usual during a “grace period” in which the domain has technically expired but the registrar offers the usual renewal process (and price) to the owner.

Fast forward to mid December when I first realised that the domains were offline (yes, I should have been monitoring them) and immediately logged into my 123-reg account to see what their status was. To my relief they were still listed under my domains, and I could renew them as normal. So I did. Phew. Order hopefully restored as soon as 123-reg process the invoice—paid as always up front.

Eight days later (admittedly with Christmas day sandwiched in the middle), the domains still weren't back online. Something was afoot. Had I not renewed the domains after all? I checked my email and sure enough had receipt for my invoice for both domains. I logged into my account thinking that perhaps the DNS for the domains had been reset given that they had been expired for longer than usual, only to find that both domains had now completely disappeared from my list. Uh oh—time to get in touch with 123-reg…

Customer ‘Support’

Here's where it all starts to go wrong. After jumping through the usual hoops just to get to a support form, I diligently typed in my message only to realise it would be better if I referenced my invoice number—to speed things up a bit. I found it, returned to the form, focused on the message box and… my message vanished. Completely. For your enjoyment, I have included a textarea below with the exact same JavaScript code 123-reg use to provide this excellent bit of user experience. Imagine you've typed the message below and have for some reason (like, ooh, clicking anything else on the page) caused the textarea to lose focus. Give it a click, and enjoy:

Wahey! All gone. Fantastic. Clearing inputs with JS in this manner was in vogue a few years ago but only if the input was pre-populated with some default text (now thankfully superseded with the placeholder attribute in HTML5), but not in 123-reg land. That message is getting wiped whether you like it or not. Don't bother turning JavaScript off temporarily either, or you won't be able to submit the form at all. I'd like to think the whole thing is actually part of some evil master plan to make support queries as difficult as possible, but in truth I think it's just straightforward ineptitude. In any case, I got there in the end, and hoped things would be resolved promptly.

They weren't. To their (rare) credit, 123-reg replied promptly, but quite possibly only because they were so eager to tell me how screwed I was. I have omitted the templated pleasantries surrounding the actual content of the message which is otherwise shown in full below:

“Your domains and were renewed too late. The renewal at a regular price for this domains should have been made within 40 days after expiry. These domains are now in Redemption Period for which you will need to pay an extra fee to redeem them. For the you will need to pay £65+vat to get it out of Redemption and for the domain you will need to pay £50 +vat.”

“Do you wish to be charged to have these 2 domains out of Redemption so as you will not lose them completely?” 123-reg support

What the? This response is filled with so many kinds of wrong I nearly had kenco coming out of my nose when I read it. Maybe I've misread it. Let's try again:

“Your domains and were renewed too late.”

Nope, it definitely says that. Funny, because I'm pretty sure I renewed them through your system.

“For the you will need to pay £65+vat to get it out of Redemption and for the domain you will need to pay £50 +vat.”

Wait a sec, you want another one hundred and fifteen pounds?! I've already paid for them! Couldn't you have told me when I renewed them through your system and paid the price you charged me?

“Do you wish to be charged to have these 2 domains out of Redemption so as you will not lose them completely?”

Steady on. That sounds an awful lot like a threat to me…

No mention was made of the fact I had already paid to renew the domains—in good faith—and no explanation as to why I was allowed to do so was offered either. I was a little incensed that the fact I had already paid for an invoice eight days earlier was being completely ignored. When were they going to offer up this golden nugget that my invoice and the money I had already paid were completely worthless? I replied stating that I would like my domains back for the money I had paid, according to the invoice they had sent me, by following the renewal process they presented me with. I also added a query as to when they would have let me know my invoice and previous payment were pointless had I not contacted them.

Domain Redemption

At this point, let's take a break from the 123-reg love-in and examine the root cause of all these problems which, by the way, I completely admit was my fault for initially triggering—if I had renewed the domains promptly, this situation would never have occured (though that soon ceased to be the point). Redemption is defined as:

A farcical scam employed by registries engineered to bleed yet more money out of unwitting victims who fall foul of it, a bit like parking tickets.

Oops! No, that's not it. Let's try again, this time with a real definition taken from 123-reg's very own web hosting glossary:

Redemption – The redemption period is a domain registry period that occurs when a domain name is deleted after having expired. Rather than deleting your domain, the existing registry keeps a hold on the domain name. During this redemption period, the original owner of the domain can retrieve the domain from deletion by contacting their registrar (in your case, this is likely to be 123-reg).

Okay, that makes sense. Notice the absence of one rather useful fact: how much it costs to get your domains back. Arguably not the sort of thing for a glossary, but equally, quite a useful thing to know in advance. The definition makes no mention of any extra charges whatsoever.

A quick search found that it was fairly common practice to be charged when retrieving a domain from Redemption, as the fee is in fact imposed on the Registrar (e.g. 123-reg) by a Higher Registry (e.g. God? I'm not sure); so please do check your own registrar's fees before you find yourself in a similar situation. In fact, just avoid this situation altogether by renewing your domains in time. ICANN's infographic diagram illustrates where Redemption fits into the usual domain cycle nicely, though you might have to follow the link for a better view:

Domain name lifecycle process

More Customer ‘Support’

Back to my situation then. The next response I received seemed to hammer 123-reg's point home further about what a moron I was and how it was all my fault, explaining in tedious detail how I had let the domains expire, when they expired, and why they were subsequently now in redemption and what I would have to do to get them out of it—essentially what they'd already told me, but paraphrased as if I was somehow missing the point. My question as to what action they would have taken had I not contacted them was ignored, so in my follow up reply I separated it out into its own paragraph in the vain hope it would be taken seriously:

“I would also like to know what you were going to do about this situation had I not contacted you. Exactly when were you planning to tell me that my renewals had not been actioned, and what were you planning to do with my £23.98, which you still have, and for which I have nothing at all in exchange?” Nick (me)

I also ladled on a bit about how I'd been a loyal customer for years and had always renewed my domains in good faith (all true), and drew their attention back to the fact that I was not arguing the toss as to what status the domains were in, but that I had followed their renewal process and paid their price, and yet I had to contact them to be told that what I had paid wasn't in fact anywhere near enough.

The next reply might as well have been a carbon copy of the other two, explaining that my domains had expired (and when), although helpfully adding that “you should always check the renewal process for your domains to make sure they renew properly” (presumably the renewal process I had already been through and had an invoice and email receipt for). Still no answer to that sodding question though, so I'll try again, this time drawing attention to the fact I would like it explicitly answered. Cue a slight change of tack in 123-reg's reply:

“We will always endeavour to automatically renew and domain name which is set as such, however, as with all systems, this is not 100% error free. The onus to ensure that domain names do renew is with the customer themselves.”

“The domain name cannot be recovered without the redemption fee being paid, and the registry will not release without this fee.” 123-reg support

To paraphrase: here's some stuff you already knew, and a curveball about automatic domain renewals (???). Now I was getting a bit wound up but was determined to keep things civilized:

“Please, stop ignoring my question:

Exactly when were you planning to tell me that my renewals had not been actioned, and what were you planning to do with my £23.98, which you still have, and for which I have nothing at all in exchange?

Furthermore, stop deliberately misconstruing each of my responses. When have I ever argued that your automatic renewal process failed? I have never mentioned that. I have consistently said that I renewed the domains (myself) through YOUR system which is my point.” Nick (me)

To which I received a reply informing me that:

“The payment would have remained with us until you notified us that your service had not renewed. We always advise our customers to notify 123-reg should any of the services on your account not renew” 123-reg support

Do they? More fool me then for having been a customer for years and not paying attention to all those times I was told that.

By now, the devious overlord that was 123-reg support had well and truly defeated me so I capitulated, asked for a refund, defiantly announced that I would not be paying a penny more and signed off with a vain threat that I would be taking my 50+ domains away from 123-reg as soon as possible—which I like to think had them quaking in their boots, or at the very least produced a laugh round someone's computer at 123-reg towers.

The Point

Well, I suppose there are three of them:

  • Generally speaking, the domain name registry process is riddled with nasty surprises once you veer off the beaten track. Take the time to familiarise yourself with the Domain Name Lifecycle and make sure you don't fall foul of its many traps
  • If you do fall foul of the rules, expect the usual spider's web of support pages and forms and the usual defiant ignorance of your actual point
  • If 123-reg were a sales clerk and you bought something you found out didn't work, when you took it back he'd try and charge you £115 extra to sell it back to you in the condition you originally expected it in. And he'd be an arsehole.

Oh, by the way—I ignored the threats of losing my domains completely, and just waited for them to be released. I then re-registered them elsewhere, with a company which turned out to be part of the same group which owns 123-reg anyway. Up yours, corporate machine!


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