Dating apps: is it worth paying a premium to find love? | Online dating

I’m an accidental expert on dating apps – I’ve spent the vast majority of my life single, with a variety of them downloaded. The aim has been, as many dating profiles say, to find a reason to delete the apps.

Recently I noticed that Tinder was advertising one of its premium services to me, Tinder Gold. I’ve never paid for a dating app, instead opting for the free version most services offer, and at £14.59 a month it seemed steep.

I had just turned 28, so I wondered if I was being charged more than a younger user. If you’re single at 28, does big tech know you’re filled with enough existential dread that you’ll pay whatever it takes to get a date?

Tinder has three levels of subscription, Tinder Plus, Tinder Gold and Tinder Platinum, each with different prices. What I hadn’t realised until I started looking into it was that, as well as being linked to the different services on offer, the monthly fee was also linked to age.

I did some research, asking friends, friends’ younger siblings and Facebook groups I’m a member of – an unscientific sample of Tinder users. I asked them to send me a screenshot of the price Tinder was asking them to pay.

In this random group of users there was a clear distinction when it came to Tinder Gold – users aged about 30 were being charged £27.49 or £29.49, while those under 30 were being charged £13.99 or £14.49.

Tinder Plus seemed more random. I was being asked to pay £4.99 a month for that service, and while some users over 30 said they were being charged £19.49, most who responded were being asked to pay £4.99, £8.99 or £9.99.

How do the other options add up?

Tinder is not the only dating app to offer a premium service, many offer one or more price points, as well as a free version. We have rounded up the advertised prices and what you get for your money from each one. And it seems £14.59 a month wasn’t as steep as it first seemed.

One member of Bumble could be paying £14.99 a month for Bumble Boost, giving them access to features including the ability to swipe (show that you’re interested in) unlimited users. Another might be paying £32.99 for Bumble Premium, offering those services plus others, including the ability to see who has already liked them.

Coffee Meets Bagel charges £34 a month for its Premium service – for that price you can see and contact everyone who likes you. You will also get a huge amount of information on other users, including details of whether they have recently been online.

Grindr also offers a more expensive package, Unlimited, at £31.99 a month. The features include removing the limit on the number of profiles you can view. It also has some features that might make some users uncomfortable, allowing you to see when another user is typing and the ability to browse the app without being visible to other users.

Dating apps offer different levels of subscription. Photograph: Erik Reis/Alamy

Hinge claims you’ll go on twice as many dates with its paid-for Preferred membership. If you’re hopeful you can delete after only one month, it will cost you £29.49 for a subscription. But if you pay for three months upfront, it is £58.99, only £19.66 a month. For six months’ membership, you can pay only £14.66 a month.

While most apps allow you to pay for premium services for just a month at a time, Plenty of Fish has a minimum premium subscription of three months for £39.99, which works out at £13.33 a month. The minimum time period to subscribe to eharmony’s premium subscription is six months for £99.99, which is £16.66 a month. Like most apps it will give you a discount for signing up for longer and if you opt for 24 months of membership, it will cost you only £8.33 a month.

Sophie Thomas, a celebrity dating and love coach, says it is worth buying into a premium service. “It’s absolutely possible to meet your ideal match using free services. However, if you’re serious about this substantial area of life, then investing in dating is an act of commitment to show up at your highest level,” she says.

“Paid subscriptions also tend to grant better search facilities, which can save time. If you definitely want children, for example, then there’s no point scrolling through hundreds of people who don’t.

“Getting to know someone takes time, so rushing into committing to one person isn’t usually advisable. It can therefore make sense, once you know that you’re happy with an app, to buy a longer subscription in order to give yourself that time to date until you find the right person.”

James Preece, the host of the Love Machine podcast, agrees that it is worth spending money. However, he adds: “It’s not simply a case of the more you pay, then the better results you’ll get. If your profile, photos and messages are terrible, then you’ll still have awful results.

“If they are good, then unlocking extra features such as the ability to be seen by more people can boost your opportunities … Some upgrades – such as those on Bumble – allow you to use more filters when you are searching. That can really help getting quality matches.”

A couple on a date
Some experts say paying for a premium service can help getting quality matches. Photograph: asiseeit/Getty Images

The dating and relationships coach Kate Mansfield disagrees, however. She argues that the most dateable people will be snapped up before they sign up for a paid-for service.

“The truth is this: quality, confident people who love themselves and know what they want and deserve don’t need to pay for matchmaking or elite services – they are able to navigate the free apps and find the best partner for them,” she says.

“You might think that paying for an elite or premier service is the answer but throwing money at this is the absolute worst thing that you can do because while you might expect to be buying access to premier quality dates, it is in fact the opposite – you are now paying to be in a pool of people who are also struggling to make dating and relationships work.”

Instead of a paid-for app, she advises working on yourself: “Invest in coaching or therapy to get yourself in the best place possible and then use Tinder, Hinge or Bumble’s free version to find love.”

Tinder’s stance

To try to make sense of what my friends and I were being charged, I contacted Tinder. It told Guardian Money: “Tinder operates a global business, and in some geographies we offer discounted subscriptions to younger members. In addition, we frequently offer promotional rates, which can vary based on factors like location or length of subscription. No other demographic information is considered in our pricing structure.”

Tinder’s stance is that it is giving younger members a better deal, rather than older members a worse one. To Allan Candelore, a Tinder user in California, this age-based pricing seemed unfair, and he launched a class action lawsuit.

Tinder argued that younger users have less money. But the judge stated at appeal: “No matter what Tinder’s market research may have shown about the younger users’ relative income and willingness to pay for the service, as a group, as compared to the older cohort, some individuals will not fit the mould. Some older consumers will be ‘more budget-constrained’. And less willing to pay than some in the younger group.”

Tinder settled the lawsuit for $17.3m (£12.4m) and agreed to stop pricing based on age, but only in California.

Robin Allen QC says that in the UK “there is an exception to the Equality Act which allows businesses to give ‘concession in respect of a service to persons of a particular age group’. This means a business can give a discounted price to someone based on their age, like OAP deals on fish and chips or railcards.”

He says the act states that the concession provided should be “more favourable than the manner in which, or the terms on which, it is usually provided to the public”, which you could see as meaning the discounted price cannot be the price most people are paying. “If most of Tinder’s users are younger and paying a lower amount, there could be an argument that the concession wouldn’t apply.”

But he says it is unlikely that anyone in the UK would take a case because “best-case scenario, you would win the difference between the two prices, which isn’t very much here. There would also be costs of litigation. Age discrimination cases like this are very rare in Britain. Compared to the case in California, proportionality of costs of litigation, chance of success and possible reward look much different.”

The lowdown on dating apps and sites

Tinder

The dating app Tinder is shown on a mobile phone
Tinder offers services from fee to more than £35 a month. Photograph: Akhtar Soomro/Reuters

Claims to be the best free dating site and to have made 55bn matches. For free, you can swipe on someone you like and will be informed and linked up if they like you back.

Plus – £4.99-£19.94 a month: features include unlimited likes, five super likes a day, passport to any location, hidden advertisements.

Gold – £13.99-£29.49 a month: as above, plus see who likes you and new top picks every day.

Platinum – £18.14-£36.49 a month: as Gold, plus messaging before matching, prioritised likes and a record of the likes you have sent over the last seven days.

Bumble

The website of Bumble, an online dating app.
Matching and messaging is free on Bumble. Photograph: sjscreens/Alamy

App where women always have to make the first move. Matching and messaging is free but you can upgrade your subscription.

Boost – £14.99 for one month: features include rematch, allowing you to chat to expired matches; extend, giving more time to chat with matches beyond the 24-hour window; unlimited swipes and the chance to backtrack; spotlight – get your profile to the front of the queue.

Premium – £32.99 for one month: as above, plus Beeline – see who has already swiped right on you; Incognito – only get seen by those you swipe right on; travel, letting you change your location to connect with people in different areas; unlimited advanced filters.

HER

Woman holding smartphone
HER says it is the most loved” free dating app for LGBTQ women. Photograph: Westend61 GmbH/Alamy

The world’s largest and, it claims, “most loved” free dating app for LGBTQ women with 6 million users signed up. For free, you can view profiles, get matches, add friends, start chats, view events and join communities.

Gold – £14.99 a month: ad-free; premium filters; see who likes you; change location; browse incognito; rewind profiles.

Platinum – £24.99 a month: as above, plus unlimited swipes; see who is online; read receipts; one free boost a month.

Coffee Meets Bagel

A person looks at the Coffee Meets Bagel dating app on a smartphone.
Coffee Meets Bagel claims to be the ‘original anti-swiping app’. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Bills itself as the “original anti-swiping app” – for free, it sends subscribers a list of matches every day that have been “curated” by an algorithm.

Premium – £34 for one month: extra features including full access to contact those who like you; one “discover” like a day, allowing you to choose someone you haven’t been matched with; monthly profile boost; activity reports; read receipts.

Plenty of Fish

A Plenty of Fish app icon.
Plenty of Fish claims to have 3 million members logging in daily. Photograph: M4OS Photos/Alamy

Free dating app that claims to have 3 million members logging in daily across several countries. You can search and message people without having to match with them. The site claims a paid-for subscription will treble the number of people viewing your profile and more than double your chance of meeting someone.

Upgraded profile – £13.33 a month for shortest sign-up of three months: buys a long list of features including show up first on Meet Me; unlock every user’s Extended Profile; ad-free; see if your emails were read or deleted; upload 16 images.

Hinge

A page from the Hinge dating app.
The Hinge dating app says it is ‘designed to be deleted’. Photograph: AP

Styles itself as “the dating app designed to be deleted”. For free, you can send up to eight likes a day and message someone you have matched with.

Preferred Membership – £17.99 a month: you get additional filters for height, whether someone has children, whether someone wants children, politics, drinking, smoking, marijuana, and drug use; unlimited number of likes; option to view everyone who likes you at the same time.

eharmony

The eharmony website on an iPad on a wooden table beside a notepad.
eharmony offers unlimited matches and some messaging for free. Photograph: M4OS Photos/Alamy

More than 2 million people have found love through eharmony, the website claims. For free you get unlimited matches and some messaging.

Premium – from £7.99 a month depending on plan length. Shortest subscription is six months at £16.66 a month: unlimited matches; enhanced search features; photos of all of your matches; unlimited communication.

OkCupid

A person looks at the OkCupid dating app on a smartphone.
OkCupid’s standard service, which puts mutual likes in touch with each other, is free. Photograph: Chris Delmas/AFP/Getty Images

Users are matched by an algorithm after answering questions about the things they care about. The standard service, which puts mutual likes in touch with each other, is free.

Basic – £19.49 a month: features include no outside ads; send unlimited likes; specify dealbreakers.

Premium – £43.99 a month: as above, plus see everyone who likes you before you like them; see everyone’s public answers to their questions before you answer.

Grindr

The Grindr app logo.
The Grindr app tells you who is nearby and you can connect with them for free. Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images

Bills itself as the world’s largest social networking app for gay, bi, trans and queer people. Tells you who is nearby and you can connect with them for free.

Xtra – £15.99 a month: features include no third-party ads; view up to 600 profiles in the cascade; explore mode/global chat; saved phrases; read receipts.

Unlimited – £31.99 a month: as above, plus unlimited profiles; see who has viewed your profile; Incognito – browse without being seen; know when someone’s messaging you; undo sent messages and photos; expiring photos – send an unlimited number of photos that can be seen only once for 10 seconds; chat translate.

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