Qantas adds ‘Neighbour Free’ seating to international flights

Want more space on your next economy flight? Now you can pay to keep the seat next to you empty.

By David Flynn, October 18 2023
Qantas adds ‘Neighbour Free’ seating to international flights

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.

But rather than leave the chance of an empty seat up to the fates, Qantas now lets travellers pay to keep that seat empty.

It’s called Qantas ‘Neighbour Free’ seating, and it’s already offered across the majority of the airline’s domestic network. Now, select international flights have been added to the mix.

From today, Qantas is trialling the option to keep the seat beside you free on 19 international flights from Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney and Perth. In the mix are Brisbane to Los Angeles and Melbourne to Dallas, as well as Sydney to San Francisco. 

The trial routes are:

  • Brisbane – Auckland
  • Brisbane – Christchurch
  • Brisbane – Los Angeles
  • Brisbane – Singapore
  • Brisbane – Wellington (Available from 29 October 2023)
  • Melbourne – Auckland
  • Melbourne – Christchurch
  • Melbourne – Dallas
  • Melbourne – Los Angeles
  • Melbourne – Singapore
  • Melbourne – Wellington
  • Perth – Singapore
  • Sydney – Auckland
  • Sydney – Christchurch
  • Sydney – Dallas
  • Sydney – Honolulu
  • Sydney – Los Angeles
  • Sydney – San Francisco
  • Sydney – Wellington
The airline says more routes will be added in the coming months, following the initial trial period. 

Qantas ‘Neighbour Free’ empty seat charges

So how much would you pay to have the seat beside you left vacant?

Qantas says passengers can pay between $30 and $65 to reserve an empty seat next to them, depending on the length of their domestic flight.

For example, the Qantas ‘Neighbour Free’ empty seat surcharge for Sydney-Gold Coast and Melbourne-Adelaide costs $30; its $45 on a Sydney-Adelaide flight, and $65 for transcontinental flights between Perth and other capital cities, as well as longer domestic routes such as Adelaide-Brisbane and Melbourne-Gold Coast.

For international hops, Qantas says pricing starts from $45 on trans-Tasman flights, $100 between Australia and Singapore, and $225 between Australia and America.

How the Qantas Neighbour Free program works

The Neighbour Free option is not available when you initially book your flight.

Travellers booked on a Qantas flight which has a sufficient number of empty seats will usually receive an email invitation to take up the Neighbour Free option up to 48 hours before their flight.

How the Qantas booking system shows your seat and your empty Neighbour Free seat.
How the Qantas booking system shows your seat and your empty Neighbour Free seat.

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.

You’re not actually ‘buying’ or ‘reserving’ an empty seat

It’s important to note this spare seat is not guaranteed, because you’re not actually buying or reserving the empty seat neat to you.

If the seat next to you is sold to somebody at the last minute, you’ll receive a refund of your Neighbour Free payment.

Qantas says 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.

How to get the best seat on your next Qantas flight

Another way to get seat-savvy is to get to know the Qantas seat selection hack known as the Qantas T-80 rule.

This opens up some of the seats at the very front of the plane on your next Qantas flight – seats which are usually reserved for top-tier Platinum One, Platinum or Gold frequent flyers, or even VIP members of the Qantas Chairman’s Lounge.

Using the Qantas T-80 rule offers a simple and completely free way to gain access to the full Qantas seat map, and without paying extra for those better seats.

Read more: Unlock the best Qantas seats with the ‘secret’ Qantas T-80 rule

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1209

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.

29 Jan 2012

Total posts 173

You are 100% correct. It is revenue for empty seats with no guarantee. QF could learn from NZ with their next seat free guarantee fares. Yes they may be a touch more expensive, but at least there is a guarantee. 

QF is all about the $ and not much else in my opinion. This product launch is giving with one hand and taking away with three. I'll pass and choose my own seat thanks.

06 Oct 2021

Total posts 6

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?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

12 Feb 2016

Total posts 6

You will likely get to talking to the person with the window seat and find out that you have both paid for the vacant middle seat.

12 Dec 2016

Total posts 10

Awkward, yes... seeing as it is unclear whether it is actually reserved for your use or not. The Neighbour Free seat reservation will appear on your boarding pass, but "you’re not actually ‘buying’ or ‘reserving’ an empty seat." Umm... what?

08 Feb 2018

Total posts 160

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.

XWu
XWu

09 May 2020

Total posts 570

 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 6

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 14

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 3

Another complicated money making program by Qantas.

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

Etihad - Etihad Guest

21 Jul 2019

Total posts 165

At least with Air New Zealand's neighbour-free proposition, you're actually guaranteed to get what you paid for. No ifs. No buts. No last minute nerves. I paid for this option for many years on numerous AKL-HNL flights when travelling economy, and was never disappointed.

20 Oct 2019

Total posts 2

If I cant keep my hand luggage or laptop there, what can I do with the seat? Of course cant do it during take off and landing.

29 Jan 2012

Total posts 173

Just to add to your comment, does this also mean not being able to use of the tray table?

JD1
JD1

03 Aug 2020

Total posts 17

I suppose I am like many people and always hope that I can get an early flight if I finish my day earlier than expected.  Flights seen to fill up quickly and to be honest I haven't been on many Qantas or Virgin flights this year that haven't been close to full. I wonder how long a refund would take. I'm not sold on this

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

17 May 2015

Total posts 75

Good luck getting a refund if someone is moved to the spare seat by the cabin crew (for operational reasons) and therefore there is no official record of the seat having been assigned. In this scenario, I wouldn't be surprised if obtaining a refund is so difficult that most people just give up. Even with Qantas platinum status I've found that any minor issue (eg, missing points, problems with gift vouchers, glitches with bookings) can often take hours on the phone and multiple attempts to resolve.

Rc
Rc

19 Oct 2019

Total posts 5

What good idea  I certainly would buy on long flights 

Armrest all go up in economy 

Not all of us can afford  Business Class 

QF

11 Jul 2014

Total posts 971

So now when I check in they don't say we will block the seat in the middle they say give us money and we will block the seat in the middle. Reminds me of hotels that give you an upgrade for the cost of an upgrade.

13 Feb 2015

Total posts 69

Surely nobody will be naive enough to pay for this? That is, paying for something you would have got for free…

Or is there something I’m not understanding?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

15 May 2019

Total posts 29

Yet another reason not to bother retaining platinum. One of the few benefits that WPs got on a semi-regular basis was a spare seat next to them towards the front of the aircraft (if available). Now we can add this to the long list of non-benefits that plats used to get: priority security, priority boarding, points upgrades, a half-decent lounge experience in Sydney etc etc etc.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Jul 2013

Total posts 57

Same goes for retaining Gold membership. No reason to maintain brand loyalty to Qantas any more, except perhaps for the questionable "luxuries" available in the lounge access experience. 

25 Feb 2015

Total posts 57

@bullswood, completely agree on all your points!

Especially the one about “does the armrest lift”. I had 3 seats to myself on one of QF’s refurbished A380s recently, and the damn design sees armrests only fold up 50 degrees or so…just such an oversight in what could otherwise be such a no-cost, value-add design element in economy seating.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Jul 2013

Total posts 57

Knowing Qantas, that 50 degrees folding would be intentional to deter economy passengers from getting too comfy. 

22 Aug 2022

Total posts 2

Yet another downgrade to real frequent flyers, Qantas just keeps downgrading what is a frequent flyer scheme to be a big spender non-flyer money making scheme. Wait for the onboard fights to start over who has the rights to the spare seat, or do they just want consumers to pay for the seat so it is spare so they can allocate it to transport their standby staff?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Jul 2013

Total posts 57

So they give you a seat at extra cost, but it's not really yours. If that neighbour-free seat is sold close to departure you don't have it any more. You can get a refund of course if that happens, but knowing how things work a refund will take an eternity. Another QF ploy to gouge an extra dollar or two out of the travelling public, for whom they have barely-concealed contempt.

You can just imagine the Qantas brain's trust in Sydney "workshopping" this move. It's a cynical money-making exercise that typifies how little Qantas values its passengers.

07 May 2015

Total posts 41

News flash for the people doing the usual knee-jerk complaining about this: Qantas is a business, and businesses are supposed to make money.  Maybe some people here don't run their own business and so the concept of finding smart low-impact ways to decrease losses and increase revenue is lost of them.

‘Neighbour Free’ seating is a simply way to monetise the fact that there are almost always a some economy seats left unsold on any flight, and those are counted as 'perishable inventory', as soon as the plane takes off the seats have zero recoverable value.

So instead of just leaving a few empty seats scattered around the plane this program lets Qantas sell them to a passenger who wants an empty seat next to them and is willing to pay for it. This takes the 'random' out of the equation. Nobody loses out from this, and the passenger who values an empty seat next to them gets it because they are prepared to pay for it. What's so hard to understand about this?

Aegean Airlines - Miles & Bonus

16 Jul 2019

Total posts 26

I agree to an extent. If the seats were guaranteed at, say , 48 hours before departure it would be one thing. You purchase the seat knowing that you have that space on the flight. But to pay for this seat knowing that it might be allocated minutes before take-off isn't at all attractive. I suppose there will be a hierarchy on which seats get nabbed first based on status, but it's still a gamble.  

I agree that QF are a business and should be able to make a recovery on every seat. But to make this work, they will need to offer more certainty to the customer. Otherwise, it comes across as pure opportunism at our expense.  

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

12 Dec 2013

Total posts 15

Spot on post.  You are NOT paying for a spare seat.  A spare seat costs $500-$1000 but this option is $50.  So if there are 30 spare seats on a plane of 300 then instead of it being random, you pay for the lucky seat to be next to you.  If 2 people either side of a spare both pay then who cares - you got what you paid for.

I think there are good arguements why these should be given to high status flyers and if they are smart they will offer the option to them in decending order but I can't see how this can be negative.  It seems a win/win.

Mc
Mc

BA

31 Mar 2014

Total posts 23

I note the reference to the payment being 'automatically' refunded within two weeks if there is a last minute change. Given QF's past history with refunds I will reserve my judgement.  This new scheme sounds more like a means of QF getting interest free loans with the prospect of actually being able to retain the money at a later if the seat remains empty.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

28 Sep 2021

Total posts 13

I'm Gold status, a recent flight QF2 LHR-SIN, A380 I selected window and aisle for my wife and I in a 3 seat config 5 rows from the back, 2 months out from the flight. The middle seat remained empty. Its a punt, I know, but got lucky for once

It was noisy at the back and bounced around, but better than rubbing shoulders, thighs and knees with a stranger. Would I pay? On any leg more than 4 hours? probably.

p.s. LHR Business lounge was surprisingly good, but very crowded.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

13 Jan 2018

Total posts 43

Hmmm... many comments seem to be asking "why pay for a seat which is going to be free anyway". I don't think it works like that.

If there are, say, 30 free seats on a plane and 10 have been paid for as "Neighbour Free Seats" if there is last minute demand, the 20 which are not flagged as Neighbour Free will be assigned first rather than a random assignment which may include your neighbour seat.

Rxm
Rxm

Jetstar Airways - Qantas Frequent Flyer

14 Jan 2017

Total posts 65

Couple of things are not made clear. Do you get exclusive use of just not have someone sit next to you. What are your rights if the neighbour encroaches and can both pay for the same middle seat? Seems this policy might create more problems. How does the neighbour know you paid to have the seat empty? 

22 Sep 2017

Total posts 79

What if I want to block the seat in front of me so they don't recline in my lap?


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