re: "why would anyone PAY for a service"
Who told you to pay?
I don't pay. As a freelancer, I get all Upwork services for fee.
The only time I pay anything is when I actually earn money. And even then, Upwork doesn't make me pay anything up front. They take a percentage fee out of the money I earn by working for clients.
Other than that, it's a totally free service for me.
You don't need to see other bids. Bid what you bid.
You don't need extra connects.
I use one connect per month, on average. Some months I use zero. Some months I use two.
When you're starting out, you'll use more, but you definitely don't need to use more than 60 per month.
You need to focus on:
- quality job searching
- high quality proposal writing
- studying in-demand skills and areas of expertise which are underserved
- learning those in-demand skills and areas of expertise so you can offer them as a freelancer, rather than offering overly abundant skills
The 60 connects per month limit helps you to do this. If you run out of connects, it means it is time to stop wasting time bidding on the low-level jobs you're bidding on, and it's time to study and learn better skills.
I started out with the same connects as everyone else. By carefully selecting the jobs I applied to and writing great proposals, I was able to land some decent paying contracts. This provided me with some recent feedback for future clients to review.
I didn't care what other freelancers were bidding, because their bids and proposals had nothing to do with my skills. I did choose to upgrade, even though I didn't have to. I likely will not continue the upgrade, because I'm sitting on 126 connects that I will probably still have two months from now.
I ended up raising my rates, AGAIN, because my schedule is now full and I can only fit in one or two articles here and there. I am not putting in proposals anymore and I'm sure quite a few members of this forum are thinking "told you it would happen if you did it right". Those forum members are awesome.
Moral of the story: Work smarter, not harder.
TL;DR - Focus on your profile and your proposals and forget about what other people are bidding. Go for jobs that are worth your time. Be patient. Spend time reading the ToS and the many helpful links for newer freelancers. If you put in the time and effort, it will eventually be rewarded and that will feel far more rewarding than a good vent.