Best Cheap and Free Dating Sites
Published on By Jeremy Bender
OK Cupid is a high-traffic site with insightful questions whose answers can be ranked for importance in finding a match. Users can search for compatibility scores as well as for geography. An upgrade starts at $9.95 a month.
OK Cupid reviews trumpet this platform as a dating site winner. The evidence they cite includes the number and range of profile questions, the matching algorithm, and the massive size of the user base. In particular, the personality questions help OK Cupid stand out from the dating site crowd, with posers about demographics (e.g., age, religion, gender) and morality, as well as intimate matters you might be squeamish about sharing (e.g., "Do you have a desire [even if it's secret] to take part in sexual activities involving bondage?"). Users indicate how they would like another person to answer and how important each question is, on a scale of one to five. An OK Cupid review by Dating Gurus. attributes match successes in large part to this in-depth algorithm.
One of the most popular sites in the United States, OK Cupid blows away other dating sites in terms of numbers. It currently ranks 131 for traffic in the ever-expanding list of online sites, according to data compiled by Alexa, and keeps users occupied for an average of nearly 15 minutes during each visit. These numbers strongly suggest an engaged community, one whose members are active and ostensibly searching for partners.
Unlike many other dating sites that claim to be free, OK Cupid is, in fact, totally free. That means all essential functions, including messaging, searching, looking at profiles, seeing who viewed your profile, and answering personality analysis questions, of which there are more than 3,000. The working profile also includes a photo and several short personal essays in response to prompts such as "The six things I could never do without." Additional features include a "friend-finder" function, which reviewers note is particularly useful for people who are moving to a new city and want to find friendships, never mind romantic attachments. There is also a "quiver" feature that occasionally suggests potential matches to contact.
The site generates revenue from ads, and users whom we queried for their assessment of OK Cupid claim that the experience is seamless and the interface visually appealing. OK Cupid also maintains a well-reviewed mobile app that has been downloaded from the Google Play Store more than one million times. It earns four out of five stars and is the target of some griping about minor glitches.
Paid memberships at OK Cupid are also available. A monthly fee of $9.95 for six months, $14.95 for three months, or $19.95 for one month earn you a spot on the "A-List." The benefits, however, seem dubious: the ability to browse profiles invisibly; search through matches based on appearance, body type, or personality; see when someone has read your message; change your username; and kill ads.
All in all, OK Cupid is the go-to site for anyone who is keen to try online dating and understandably hesitant to commit hard-earned dough to the adventure. If you're looking for love, can you afford to say "no" to a free ride?
Where to buy
Plenty of Fish is fully functional when free, but paid memberships starting at $6.78 a month (for 12 months) garner higher listings in searches. Inactive accounts are purged every few months, and match questions focus on personality.
Plenty of Fish is one of the oldest dating sites and boasts a moderate-sized user base. Data compiled by Alexa put its rank at 14,119 on the Internet popularity list. Although the site claims to purge dormant accounts every few months, multiple Plenty of Fish reviews at Site Jabber complain it's full of scammers and inactive users. Nonetheless, the assortment of free functionalities, the seriousness of the profile questions, and the swell of reviewers reporting success stories warrant naming Plenty of Fish an online dating site with potential.
The average user may spend little more than two minutes on the site, but Plenty of Fish boasts several redeeming qualities. One of the more appealing features is the dating forums. Plenty of Fish reviews posted at About.com reveal that many users join the site specifically for access to the advice found within. The forums cover dating-related and heartbreak questions, host philosophical discussions, and even facilitate in-person meet-and-greet events.
The personality assessment tool is another plus. A series of about 100 questions designed to yield a psychological take on the user's dating profile, it measures five broad categories -- self-confidence, family orientation, self-control, openness, and easy-goingness -- with answers based on a five-point scale from "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree." After answering two different assessments -- one for the user, one for the user's ideal partner -- Plenty of Fish then displays potential matches for your personality. In a Plenty of Fish review we conducted in person, one user said the algorithm generally yields fairly good matches, although by no means fantastic, so users shouldn't hesitate to conduct their own independent searches. The interface, however, doesn't measure up to the standard set by OK Cupid in terms of simplicity and visual appeal.
All essential functions at Plenty of Fish are accessible free of charge. Users can view profiles, take personality assessments, send messages, and engage in the forums. A paid subscription to Plenty of Fish costs $6.78 a month for 12 months, $8.50 a month for six months, and $12.90 a month for three months. The upgrade means showing up at or just shy of the top in searches, seeing a user's extended profile, seeing if your messages were read, and being able to use themes (e.g., designs and colors) to make your profile stand out -- features that seem more like frills than necessities.
Plenty of Fish has a strong mobile app and has been downloaded more than 10 million times from the Google Play Store, where it garners an average 4.5 stars in reviews. A few users report minor operational problems but otherwise offer praise for its clean structure and ease of use.
The personality tool is the standout feature at Plenty of Fish, and one reason users take to this dating site. Even if online dating isn't your thing, consider this an opportunity to learn more about yourself.
Where to buy
Tinder is a free mobile dating app that builds profiles out of users' Facebook profiles. This is basically a "hot-or-not" ranking system based on a picture of potential matches in nearby locations but protects against unwanted contacts.
Tinder is a free dating app for smartphones that gets mixed reviews: positive from users who seem to be seeking short-term encounters and negative from users who bemoan the superficiality of a match system that's all about physical appearance. The naysayers assert in Tinder reviews, like these at Venture Beat, that the site attracts people with off-putting and cavalier attitudes about dating and relationships. And, they add, there's no tool for filtering users who actually are interested in a romantic connection. Other reviewers, however, are comfortable with the quick hook-up nature of Tinder, through which matches are made solely on the basis of photos. The pro-Tinder camp likes the way the app mimics real life, with its focus on first impressions.
Tinder's saving grace, and one reason it earns a spot on our list of top picks, is the privacy it affords. Unlike other online dating sites, such as Plenty of Fish and OK Cupid, users only receive messages from other Tinder users after a display of mutual interest. According to a Tinder review at Marie Claire, this feature eliminates bombardments of spam and unsolicited contacts. Another affirming feature is the display of mutual Facebook friends, which serves as a quasi-screening of potential dates. Users report feeling more secure about meeting an online match with whom they already have some sort of connection.
Many users also value what they consider the no-pain side of Tinder. As a review in The Guardian notes, making contact solely on the basis of looks -- and hastily, at that -- allows users to feel as though they have lost nothing if a date doesn't work out. The quality of such encounters makes Tinder a popular choice for young adults who are eager to meet people without dedicating hours to building a profile.
Tinder has no website and automatically fills in a user's profile through information and photos found on Facebook. The match-making process is simple: Based on GPS, Tinder finds other users in the general area and displays a picture of each. By swiping one way, a user whose photo doesn't appeal is dismissed; by swiping in the opposite direction, interest is registered. If two users are attracted to each other, Tinder opens a dialogue box. The goal is to arrive at matches quickly and spend as little time online as possible.
Tinder is certainly not the dating app for everybody. But it's totally free, with no hidden costs, and the ease of use is an incentive. Tinder is still a relatively young application, however, and currently works better in population-dense cities than in suburbs and rural areas. It remains to be seen how its features and user base will evolve.
Where to buy
How About We Review
(From $7.99 Think Twice)
Instead of focusing on questions, How About We prods users to focus on activity by connecting them through shared visions of an ideal date. The premise is intriguing, but How About We is relatively new and beset by small bugs, glitches, and a structure that frustrates users. Signing up is free but useful features require a subscription.
How About We is a relative newcomer to the online dating scene that offers an unusual matching model. While some reviews seem partial to an approach that relies on the where, what, and when of an ideal date to determine compatibility, others balk at the absence of personality indicators/ and messaging baby steps. The underlying assumption is that users are tired of the usual (and tedious) profile-building and search processes associated with online dating and would prefer to just get up and go. The How About We review by The Dating Gurus' generally likes the idea and assigns the site a B rating, but expresses reservations about the casual indifference to suitability factors.
Some How About We reviews also grouse about conceptual flaws in the program and structural flaws in the platform. The site offers limited functionality for its free service -- create a profile, browse others' profiles, and scroll through the forums -- but everything else requires a paid subscription that starts at $7.99 a month for one year, and cost more on a monthly basis for shorter periods. And therein lies one source of user frustration. How About We reviews at the Google Play Store, for example, carp about being left in the dark after sending a message that doesn't generate a response: is the recipient just not interested or not a paying member? Additionally, some carp about not being able to post photos and others about not being able to follow through on a proposed date.
With a paid membership, users can search, respond to other people's date requests, as well as suggest their own date ideas. They can also send messages requesting additional information. When we tested How About We, we found few dating opportunities in less densely populated areas; the majority of users were clustered in and around major metropolitan areas. That said, site's associated community is fairly large; Alexa ranks it 2,812 in popularity in the United States and reports the average user spends 4:32 minutes on the site.
Much like Plenty of Fish, How About We hosts an active and vibrant community section where date ideas, heartbreak, and general relationship advice is readily available. How About We also has a free mobile app that earns three stars at the Google Play Store.
An interesting premise, but the price, lack of personality-based profiles, user base mostly confined to large cities, and software glitches argue against a rush to sign up. This site needs time to grow and evolve.
Where to buy
With almost four out of five singles in America having tried online dating at some point, it's no wonder that the industry is booming. Of course, its popularity is buoyed by the prevalence of free and cheap online dating sites, increasingly with their own specialized approach to matchmaking. Some offer helpful dating tools and others, not so much. We've identified the best bargain dating sites that may be worth exploring -- at least once, anyway.
Guide to Cheap and Free Online Dating
OK Cupid, with its smooth, eye-friendly interface and unique questions, is an obvious first choice for anyone considering online dating. It's easy to see why. The site offers full functionality for free and lets users browse for potential love interests almost immediately. Several thousand personality questions range from raunchy to insightful, and users can indicate their importance for matching purposes.
Our second-place pick is the free online dating site Plenty of Fish, which offers additional features that aren't really necessary for a small monthly fee. Plenty of Fish stands out for its personality assessment tool and, like OK Cupid, lets users search for partners right away. The interface is less engaging, though, and the ads can be a little distracting.
Some date-seekers may go for Tinder, an online dating app for smartphones. Tinder has a reputation for quick hook-up connections, but users like features that offer some privacy and partial vetting of potential matches. We're a little put off by Tinder's method of matching users based solely on appearance, but satisfied customers counter that the focus on looks makes online dating seem more natural and is little different from approaching an attractive person at a party or restaurant.
How About We, a relatively new dating site that stresses shared interests, is a novel approach but doesn't quite make the cut. Aside from the bare basics, How About We asks users what going on an ideal date would entail. Based on this information and geographic location, users can search for potential partners. Unfortunately, this site requires payment, to the tune of $7.99 a month for a year, for access to useful features. Users also report struggling with a not-quite-ready interface.
Features Comparison Buying Guide continues below table
What We Looked For in a Free Dating Site
Smooth Communication and Navigation.If users are investing time in, or paying for access to, a dating site, it should function seamlessly. In this regard, we paid particular attention to the ease of contacting other users, reading messages, and finding a possible contact. We also looked for sites that provide a decent amount of privacy and the ability to block potentially abusive users -- an unfortunate scourge of the Internet in general. While we also noted additional features the sites offer, such as online forums and in-person meet-and-greets, we only valued these utilities if they were easy to use and self-explanatory. Tinder is far and away the easiest dating tool for immediate satisfaction. Just create a profile through the mobile app and link to a Facebook account. Users then see photos of potential matches based on location and if two people like each other's photos, a chat window opens facilitating a meet-up. They're protected against unwanted contacts because messaging is possible only if there is mutual interest. With How About We, on the other hand, users can read and respond to messages only if they have bought a subscription, so it's impossible to know whether the recipient didn't respond due to lack of interest or for lack of a paid membership.
Compatibility Tool.Although matching tools on free dating sites are hardly the be-all and end-all of matchmaking, any half-way decent tool helps narrow the pool. As online dating has drawn in massive numbers of participants, the need for an efficient and effective way to sort through thousands of date possibilities is absolutely critical. In this dimension, OK Cupid offers the best personality matching tool, with more than 3,000 questions that run the gamut from "Are you a dog or cat person?" to "Do you like biting?" Users can select how much each question matters to them and the type of response they'd want from a partner, factors that influence the match suggestions. By contrast, How About We makes matches solely by location and users' definition of an ideal way to spend time together.
The growing industry of quick or blind online dating sites, such as Tinder and Grouper, play more to looks or location than to compatibility. Although these sites have a certain appeal, especially if you're into a one-time thing and/or convenience, personality-focused sites are more likely to suggest meaningful matches (i.e., with long-term potential).
Active Community.Online dating sites are only as good as their active member base. To assess this factor, we checked the Alexa ratings, which provide an unbiased compilation of usage data and site traffic, including how much time users spend on the sites and the gender breakdown. OK Cupid is tops in terms of engagement, according to Alexa. The average user spends more than 14 minutes on the site compared with slightly more than 2 minutes on Plenty of Fish. OK Cupid also leads the free and cheap online dating sites with a rank of 131 on the list of most popular websites in the U.S.
User-Friendly Mobile App.One-quarter of all Internet traffic now comes from mobile devices. Is there any doubt that users of online dating sites want to check in on the go? Tinder is the winner here. Of course, Tinder was built specifically for use on smartphones, and its interface and ease of use are excellent. OK Cupid, Plenty of Fish, and How About We also offer mobile apps, and each earns similar ratings at the Google Play Store.
Easy Sign-Up and Profile Creation.Our testing found that it's easier to create a profile on some free and cheap online dating sites than others. OK Cupid, with its range of quirky and interesting questions, is addicting and fun. Plenty of Fish puts users through their psychological paces before allowing searches. How About We and Tinder require almost no set-up, just a paid subscription with the former to access functionalities that matter and a Facebook profile to link to for the latter.
Dating Site Reviews
Reviews of online dating websites and apps posted by users are inherently biased. Users tend to write positive reviews if they had a good experience and negative reviews if the search or the match was a dud. With that in mind, we tried to give credence only to online dating site reviews that commented on specifics about the sites. We gave heavy weight to meta-review sites and professional journalistic sites under the assumption that the reviewers are more likely to assign non-biased ratings.
Our own testing and the overwhelming evidence provided by other reviewers revealed no meaningful quality distinction between paid and free dating sites. Demographics, however, vary by site and are relevant when deciding where to sign up. While OK Cupid, Tinder, or Plenty of Fish may work well for a younger audience that isn't necessarily interested in a committed or long-term relationship, older companion-seekers may prefer sites like eHarmony and Match.com. These two sites require paid memberships for complete access, and are relatively pricey -- $20.95 a month for one year and $23.99 a month for six months, respectively. How About We falls in the mid-zone, with a sampling of users across all age groups and a monthly charge starting at $7.99 (for one year) for the right to send and receive messages and use other vital features.
The two criteria that seem most critical to users in their assessments of a site's quality are the ability to connect with people who are interested in them and the effectiveness of the site's matchmaking tools.
Genuine Connections.An online dating site is useless if it doesn't lead to a date or some sort of communication. Many unscrupulous dating services either intentionally, or through poor moderating, allow their sites to fill up with inactive users or scammers. Both situations detract from the experience by hindering serious users from finding a partner. For those reasons, Tinder stands out as an attractive dating service, according to an online dating site review at Marie Claire. Although some people seem to rely on it as a quick road to sex, given the emphasis on physical appearance, users can be certain that the people they see pictured on the app are real, nearby, and looking for a connection at that moment. OK Cupid garners decent reviews for matchmaking, with most users reporting a surfeit of interesting connections if you manage to cull the less desirables from the offerings. Plenty of Fish ranks below OK Cupid in user-generated online dating site reviews, with a good share of complaints asserting that the site is full of scammers and people who are only looking for hook-ups; the POF community forums, however, fare better in users' estimation. Despite How About We's many failings, it seems to pass muster on the date-finding front -- assuming the message gets through -- according to online dating site reviews. Much like Tinder, there's no personality screening (but for clues left by specifying the components of a preferred date activity), although many users relish the spontaneity.
Grouper earns applause for taking the busy work out of dating, assert reviews posted at VentureBeat. Grouper is a dating concierge service that schedules three-way blind dates; sign up for a Grouper date and select two Facebook friends to come along while Grouper finds another threesome whose leader has been deemed a match by the algorithm and then sets a place and time for the groups to meet. Understandably, many people will not be comfortable with Grouper's dating model, which includes a $20 participant fee, but it's an easy way to organize group outings.
Effective Matchmaking.Many singles turn to dating services hoping that tools of the matchmaking trade will turn up a suitable and compatible partner faster than proceeding on their own. Some online dating sites unfortunately skimp on the details and post generic questions -- pertaining to things like body shape and your propensity to sleep in -- to determine matches. For anyone who is serious about finding a partner through an online dating site, the questions and matching algorithms are among the most important site attributes to be aware of. Our experience trying out these sites and corroborated in online dating site reviews, including one at About.com, indicate that Plenty of Fish asks a good set of psychoanalytic questions that could be worth answering just for the personal insight they provide (e.g., "How easily are you stressed?"), never mind their primary purpose of making matches. The Dating Gurus is keen on OK Cupid's questions, which number several thousand, and how the search algorithm responds to the answers, influenced as it is by the importance users assign to the answers and those of potential matches.
Additional Products We Considered
Many users like the specific learning algorithm that Match.com employs, according to reviews. It notes which profiles you visit and whom you "like." After enough user activity, the algorithm filters potential matches based on past search activity in an effort to help you narrow the field -- definitely a worthy goal given the large number of active users. Data from Alexa show Match.com to be the second most popular dating site in the United States, with a ranking of 132, slotting it right behind OK Cupid. Users spend an average of 9:52 minutes during each visit to the site.
Although a Match.com review by About.com posits that the relatively high cost of membership helps to elevate the quality of match-seekers, users who commented at Site Jabber and Consumer Affairs report a large percentage of fake or scam profiles. Some members have posted complaints about receiving numerous messages while in the trial stage only to see those accounts marked as inactive when they pay to join up. Whether this is a small-bore problem or an inherent flaw is difficult to assess.
Match.com offers paid subscribers a couple of enticing benefits, aside from the usual ability to interact actively with other members. It tries to create a vibrant offline community through member meet-ups and in-person events (which may incur an additional fee), for example, and the "last active" feature lets users see the last time someone was active on the site, which helps to winnow the field. Paid memberships start at $20.99 a month for six months, while the premium level costs $23.99 a month for six months that guarantees a match each month or the next month is free; slightly higher rates are offered for three-month subscriptions. A free subscription merely lets users create a profile, explore the site, send a "flirt" (pointless, because you can't respond to any messages), and participate in public events. The free sign-up is really just a trial intended as a lure to the full paid service.
Like the other online dating sites, has a free mobile app that earns better than average reviews; it has drawn more than one million downloads at the Google Play Store. Although some users grouse that it's slow and sometimes crashes, the majority say it generally works well.
The strong traffic and usage statistics help legitimize Match.com, assuming you can stomach the relatively hefty fees and don't run into dummy profiles.
Where to buy
eHarmony is possibly the most famous of all online dating sites, with years of experience and marketing muscle behind its brand. eHarmony reviews indicate that some users like the non-stress approach of hands-off matching, while others express disappointment at the forced reliance on the matching algorithm and the inability to conduct their own searches. Making a match may take weeks, according to users, and the site encourages patience. The Dating Gurus' eHarmony review asserts that the site is particularly useful for people who are marriage-minded and searching for committed, long-term relationships. It also appeals to people who are concerned about privacy; profile information and photos are not shared until relatively late in the matching process.
Still, there are a host of negative eHarmony reviews posted at Consumer Affairs.Users Users complain about poor customer service, automatic renewals and the difficulty of canceling a subscription, and the failure to find any good matches. Due to the length of time that often goes by before a match turns up, some critical eHarmony reviews wonder whether the site purposefully delays matches in order to reap more payments from members.
Reviews also caution that the site was originally intended as a Christian dating site and still retains many religious values. In other words, people seeking same-sex connections may not feel particularly comfortable or well-matched on eHarmony, and those interested in more casual relationships are also advised to look elsewhere. On the other hand, successful matches have been made through the site.
eHarmony is among the most selective of online dating platforms, sometimes refusing applications from people who don't fit the current match pool. Although some would-be members may balk, this strategy could be understood as screening out those with a potentially spurious agenda. For all that, eHarmony claims an active and engaged audience, ranking 668 on the Alexa popularity list with users who spend an average of 7:12 minutes on the site during each visit. Mobile users can download a free app.
Creating a profile on eHarmony is free, but access to the functions requires a paid subscription, which starts at $20.95 a month for 12 months. The sign-up process consists of 400 questions about your personality, with answers given on a five-point scale from "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree." After answering the questions and creating a profile, eHarmony encourages users to relax and wait. Once a match is made, the site ferries the dating process along four steps of increased communication, leading up to an in-person meeting.
The high monthly fees, coupled with the waiting period until a match is made, makes eHarmony an expensive proposition for frugal online daters. There are cheaper alternatives out there.
Where to buy
Unlike other dating sites, Grouper takes the matchmaking process completely out of your hands. Grouper reviews, however, indicate that users aren't always thrilled about relinquishing control. The model may be generating buzz and is certainly unique, but reviews at Venture Beat conclude it is inherently flawed. Grouper organizes blind dates between two groups of three friends, and expectations of chemistry between every participant -- especially in a group setting -- would seem to be an exercise in futility. One Grouper player asserts in a review that the six-person dates typically fizzle after the first round of drinks, although some participants have reported successful matches and the site generally garners an average rating from those daring enough to give it a whirl.
Each threesome is formed by a group leader who indicates when and in which city he or she would like to go out and then corrals two Facebook friends of the same gender to join the fun. Grouper matches two groups whose leaders seem compatible and dates and locations are in sync. There are no personality questions and user profiles contain only basic information, such as age, height, and preferred alcoholic drink, making the matching process somewhat of a mystery. Apparently, Grouper trolls through Facebook and attempts to match groups through distant connections and an algorithm that determines who has similar interests. The day before the date, Grouper emails logistical details to the leaders.
The general premise behind Grouper is that of a dating concierge service. It charges each participant $20, books a spot at a bar or restaurant, and buys the first round of drinks. Anyone with a serious interest in three-way blind dates can shell out $60 for a month and embark on four group dates. A free app is also available.
Grouper has little to offer beyond the blind date structure. It might hold interest for anyone looking to give non-traditional online dating a spin but is unlikely to be a source of matches for anyone actively seeking a strong one-on-one relationship through an online dating site.