Qantas now lets you pay to have an empty seat next to you

Pricing for the airline’s ‘Neighbour Free’ option begins at $30 on short-range flights.

By David Flynn, May 17 2023
Qantas now lets you pay to have an empty seat next to you

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.

Also read: The secret to unlocking the best Qantas seats is this little-known ‘T-80’ rule

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1189

I hate to sound cynical but this is just Qantas monetising something and really giving nothing in return.  There is no guarantee at all about what you are buying but it means Qantas will earn revenue on a seat that will otherwise fly empty and earn them nothing.  As a shareholder it is a brilliant piece of revenue optimisation but, as a customer, I'm non-plussed at best.

06 Oct 2021

Total posts 3

Are you paying to keep seat vacant or for extra sleep space (assuming armrests lift)?

Might be awkward in a row of three where passenger in aisle buys extra seat and then has to explain to passenger in window seat that middle seat is his alone to expand into. Conversely, if you find yourself next to vacant middle seat, will it be de rigeur to ask third seat occupant if he has bought it?

08 Feb 2018

Total posts 129

This is the sort of rubbish I hope ends under new leadership at QF. They need to return to focussing on customers and being an airline, rather than money and being a financial services firm. Not only do I think the offer is not worth considering, it is another tick in the cons column for me.


09 May 2020

Total posts 541

 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.”

With this kind of condition, who will be stupid enough to pay for this? When the plane departs and no one is sitting on those seats next to you, why should anyone pay for something that had already happened?

06 Oct 2021

Total posts 3

Yes, the last minute confiscation condition means that effectively what you are paying for is only to have exclusive use (instead of sharing with the person on the other side) a seat which would have been empty anyway. 

I assume that as well as last minute sales they can put waitlisted staff into the empty seats at the last minute.  

Cathay Pacific - The Marco Polo Club

01 Oct 2021

Total posts 16

For sure they will have a condition that says if they really need that seat you can apply for a refund .

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

31 Oct 2020

Total posts 1

Another complicated money making program by Qantas.

And, why does the FF in the pic have carry-on on the seat?

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