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Something that makes flying in economy class more bearable is having an empty seat next to you – especially if you rate elbow room alongside legroom in the comfort equation.
So how much would you pay to have the seat beside you left vacant?
Qantas reckons anywhere from $30 to $65 on top of your standard economy fare, at least on a dozen key domestic routes within Australia.
Those are the going rates under the airline’s ‘Neighbour Free’ initiative, which lets passengers ensure nobody is assigned to the seat next to them.
This has long been a free benefit enjoyed by top-tier Qantas Platinum and Platinum One-grade frequent flyers – that empty seat is called a ‘shadow’, and it’s blocked from sale – but Neighbour Free puts a price on the perk for anybody who doesn’t hold that lofty status and would rather not rely on sheer luck.
After launching a trial of Neighbour Free seating in September 2022, Qantas is now extending the program “following positive passenger feedback” across a wider range of domestic routes at the following prices:
- Sydney-Gold Coast: $30
- Adelaide-Melbourne: $30
- Adelaide-Sydney: $45
- Adelaide-Brisbane: $65
- Adelaide-Darwin: $65
- Adelaide-Perth: $65
- Brisbane-Darwin: $65
- Brisbane-Perth: $65
- Darwin-Melbourne: $65
- Darwin-Sydney: $65
- Melbourne-Gold Coast: $65
- Perth-Darwin: $65
- Perth-Melbourne: $65
- Perth-Sydney: $65
A Qantas spokesperson tells Executive Traveller there are “plans to further expand the initiative to other domestic routes in the months ahead.”
Qantas says Neighbour Free will be offered only on flights with many seats remaining unsold, so it’s a canny way to make some money from those empty seats – why sprinkle them around the cabin at random when you can ‘sell’ them to other passengers?
Other airlines with a paid empty-seat-next-to-you option include Air New Zealand, Emirates, Etihad and Malaysia Airlines.
How the Qantas Neighbour Free program works
Travellers booked on one of the routes where the Neighbour Free scheme is operating, and on a flight with sufficient empty seats, will receive an email invitation to take up the Neighbour Free option up to 48 hours before their flight.
(The Neighbour Free option is not available when you initially book your flight.)
After clicking through to their booking, they’ll select a highlighted Neighbour Free option next to their seat, provide their payment details and submit their request.
Passengers will see both their own seat and the Neighbour Free seat reservation appear on their boarding pass.
However, this spare seat is not guaranteed until departure; if it’s actually sold to a passenger at the last minute, you’ll receive a refund of your Neighbour Free payment.
Qantas notes this empty seat can’t be used “for infant seating or to place items such as carry-on baggage, or musical instruments.”
Also, Neighbour Free reservations “cannot be guaranteed as seats may need to be changed for operational, safety or security reasons” – in which case, the fee paid to reserve that spare seat will be automatically refunded within two weeks.