Pricing your conference

4 minute read

How high is too high? And how low means you won’t break even? Use these tips (and our event price calculator) when pricing your conference.

Pricing your conference can be a delicate balancing act.

Unlike with most corporate or consumer events, the goal in pricing an academic or research conference is usually to break even or fund other events – not to turn a profit. You’ve spent months and months on conference planning and your registration fees need to be high enough to cover the costs of organising and holding your research event. But they also need to be low enough to meet the expectations of your potential delegates or their affiliations.

And if you’re hoping to include under-represented groups or early-career researchers, be mindful of what they’ll be able to pay. Pricing your conference fees out of their range means you’ll narrow the accessibility of your event.

So read on for some tips on pricing your conference registration fees.

Work out your strategy for pricing your conference

Here are a few ways to approach pricing your conference. 

The retail approach to pricing your fees

While there’s no hard rule when it comes to registration fees for research conferences, organisers usually calculate them based on a combination of fixed and variable costs. (If you’re not sure you know your fixed costs from your variable ones, have a look at our post on budgeting that comes with a free conference budget template.)

Calculate your conference costs and divide the sum by the lowest projected number of delegates. This’ll give you a good idea of how you should be pricing your conference fees.

Or, calculate your conference costs and decide on an “ideal” price to charge delegates. This strategy has been used in retail for hundreds of years and will give you the number of delegates you’ll need to attract at this price. (Use our event price calculator below to help you do this.)

The market pricing approach to conference fees

Price your conference fees first, then work backwards to build your event within that budget, nearly the opposite to the retail approach. You base the fees on the market you are targeting and what they can afford. When you treat your delegates as a market, you’ll need to provide a high level of value to them or they won’t attend your conference. 

Limited-access conference pricing

Offer more features to delegates who pay more. For example, offer a basic fee that admits delegates to all your sessions. Then offer optional ticketed workshops, breakout sessions and social events on top of this. This tiered pricing model creates distinct value at each level those who can’t afford the higher price can still attend, while those who can afford it get extra experiences which can help drive demand. 

Incentives and penalties for delegates

Use pricing windows to encourage delegates to register within a certain time period. When deciding on the registration fee most research conferences structure their conference using techniques like early bird prices. Just make sure that any price hikes are clear in advance, or late registrants could be annoyed at having to pony up for additional charges. 

Using incentives and penalties on conference fees can be helpful in two ways:

  1. You’ll cover your fixed costs early on so you aren’t scrambling to raise money close to the event.
  2. Charging higher late fees can be important if you’re serving food, as lots of catering suppliers raise their prices on last-minute orders.

Use our event price calculator

If you’re using the retail approach to price your conference fees, we’ve created a handy event price calculator for you. It’ll help you work out your conference pricing based on your conference costs and how many delegates you expect to attend.

Screenshot of Ex Ordo's conference pricing calculator

Click the image to access the calculator

When working out your conference pricing with the calculator, don’t forget to consider things like different fees (e.g. student or member), pricing windows (e.g. early-bird or late pricing) and any ticketed events that are part of your conference (like workshops or social events).

Investigate sponsorship and funding

Your registration fees probably won’t cover all your budgetary costs. So when you’re pricing your conference, don’t forget to take into account potential income from sponsorship and funding.

Conference sponsorship

Consider your options for conference sponsorship. Put together some conference sponsorship packages and approach potential sponsors. Conference sponsorship is hugely important for the majority of research conferences. But make sure that whatever sponsorship opportunities you take that they comply with your organisation, region and industry guidelines. 

Conference funding

Investigate if there’s conference funding available from associations or organisations within your field, or tourism bureaux. Funding pots may have strict deadlines attached, and conference funding bodies may require you to comply with certain criteria (like holding your event in a particular country). So check if you qualify early on in the planning process.

Pricing your conference so it’s accessible

Boost the accessibility of your conference by offering lower fees to delegates from developing countries and early-career researchers. And consider bursaries for underrepresented groups. If you’re worried your prices are creeping up too high, think about reducing things like your conference venue costs.


Whichever way you calculate your conference pricing, you need to make sure that between registration fees, sponsorship and funding, your event will be bringing in enough revenue to break even. If you can anticipate your conference costs and estimate your attendance based on other years it can get you started on the right foot.  Without knowledge on this you’re going to find it difficult to understand which pricing strategy to adopt. 

Brian Campbell

Brian is a proud marketeer and is responsible for helping people find Ex Ordo. He works part-time as a lecturer for NUI, Galway and loves quizzing his students on the latest business trends and insights. Brian enjoys hanging out with his baby nephews, playing and watching sports, and dancing his socks off at Ex Ordo Fridays. He also likes to keep a keen eye on the scholarly research space and has co-organised an academic conference to boot.