This article originally appeared on VICE US.
If you’ve been using dating apps for more than a minute, you’ve probably noticed that most free services advertise paid upgrades that promise to transform the experience. Ranging from from $10 to $35 a month, the upgrades offer everything from showing your profile to hotter users to telling you when (or if) someone read your message.
Most daters aren't paying to meet people. Less than three percent of the millions of online daters in the U.S. pay, according to financial data collected by loan company Earnest. But that hasn’t stopped the services from heavily marketing the advantages of upgrades, as they can significantly pad their bottom line. On Bumble, for example, you get asked to upgrade after swiping on just a few dozen profiles—regardless of how often you decline the offer.
To find out if upgrading is worth it, I talked to dating app makers about what their data shows and asked daters to share their personal upgrade experiences. What I learned is that while some lucky users get many more dates by paying—most likely because more people swipe right on them in the first place—more often paying for matches just isn’t worth it.
How a paid upgrade can help
For some people, there are real benefits to upgrading. Men who pay on Coffee Meets Bagel, for example, have “a 43 percent higher number of connections (mutual likes) than non-payers,” said the dating app’s co-founder Dawoon Kang. She adds that the conversation length increases by 12 percent if you upgrade to the paid version for $35 a month.
Kristie Colorado, a transportation planner in New York, says paying to upgrade her dating app has been worth it. The 27-year-old first started using free Tinder after a break up in college and upgraded to paid in 2016. “I started meeting people so much quicker compared to when I wasn’t paying for it,” she said. She estimates that she gets about five matches per day with Tinder Gold, which costs $15 a month, and has had numerous dates and a handful of a relationships as a result.
“People have called me desperate for paying to use a service that could be free,” she said. “But when I did the free version of Tinder, I usually got one or two matches a day, because it took so much longer to swipe through and wait for the guys to swipe back.”
When paying to upgrade your free app just isn’t worth it
But not everyone who opts for the paid version is satisfied with the results. Danny Soto, a 29-year-old tech support expert from Houston, says he’s spent around $250 on Plenty of Fish, OkCupid, and Tinder in the last decade. Most of the time, Soto claims he’s used the app to seek relationships, but has settled for hookups during times that he wasn't ready for anything long term.
He stopped paying for the upgrades a few months ago, however, because he’s not looking for anything serious. “If you’re just looking for sex, paying isn’t worth it,” he said. “Paid sites and services can make things easier,” because you can see who already liked you, “but all of that is useless if you just come across as uninteresting to the other person.”
Paying to use dating apps ≠ more dates
Sometimes upgrading to the paid version doesn’t help your dating game at all. “I only decided to upgrade this past month for a chance to meet guys when I go back home to Texas for a while,” said Liam Evans, a 21-year-old photography student in Toronto who is currently using Tinder Plus. “However, the amount of dates hasn’t really gone up since upgrading,” so he doesn’t plan on renewing his subscription when it expires in early July.
“My logic behind upgrading was that it would allow me meet people in a different country, while only costing me the price of a pizza. But so far it hasn’t changed much in ways of my dating life, and my experience on the app hasn't changed much, either.”
How users can get more dates for free
If you’re upgrading to get more dates, other strategies may be more effective.
Start with your profile photo. “A picture is worth a thousand words,” said Alex Williamson, Chief Brand Officer at Bumble. “Your first photo should be your favourite photo of yourself and it should be current.”
More is better. “We find that people who take the time to upload six photos have a better experience on our platform because you’re really telling the story of who you are,” Williamson added. Same goes for your written profile. According to Coffee Meets Bagel’s Kang, users with longer profiles who spend more time chatting with potential dates are more likely to meet someone.
Not sure what to add? Take a few minutes to list some of your interests and give potential matches an idea of what you care about or how you spend your free time. A clever bio is one of the best ways to strike up a conversation, suggested Williamson, which can lead to a date down the line. “Getting past saying just ‘hi’ and making a move—that is engaging, shows off your personality, or invites banter—always leads to a successful connection.”
If you’re not having any luck with one free site, switch to another. Post profiles on various sites as you may find one works better for you than another.
And at the end of the day, putting your best foot forward online is free of charge. “It doesn’t cost anything to share yourself properly,” Kang added. “The key to success is engagement on your part.”
The price of upgrading—and what you get
Bumble Boost: Up to $25 a month to see who’s already liked your profile, rematch with your expired connections, and extend matches an extra 24 hours.
Coffee Meets Bagel Premium Up to $35 a month for exclusive access to user activity reports and message read receipts. You also get “beans”, which you can use to contact other members.
OkCupid A-List: Up to $10 a month for ad-free swiping, the ability to see who has already liked you, search filters for “body type and attractiveness,” and read receipts within conversations.
OkCupid Premium A-List: Up to $25 a month for one free automatic boost per day during prime time (which shows your profile to more users), the chance to see and be seen by more attractive matches, plus all the A-List features.
Plenty of Fish Upgraded Membership: Up to $10 a month to see who wants to meet you, if messages were read or deleted, and who looked at your profile, among other perks. The site claims upgrading will triple the number of profile views.
Tinder Plus: Up to $20 a month to swipe right on an unlimited number of profiles, rewind on the last swipe, five Super Likes per day, one Boost each month to be one of the top profiles in your area, and a passport feature, which allows you to change your location and swipe around the world.
Tinder Gold: Up to to $30 a month to see who has already liked you, plus all the features in Tinder Plus