When are (alcoholic) drinks complimentary on domestic flights?


It’s something that seems to come as a shock to some people. Being asked to pay for drinks on a domestic flight. And by drinks, they mean alcoholic drinks. Like wine or beer.

If you have ever only travelled between capital cities in what you might call “business hours”, you may think free drinks are the norm. But, unfortunately, they are not. Generally, tea, coffee or juice may be complimentary, but not anything harder.

So what you see are passengers wondering why the have to pay. They write to papers, ask questions in forums and so on. In many cases, they word their questions in a way that make it sounds like paying for such a drink is something new.

Domestic Policies on Drinks

So, let’s start with the basic question. In the way many ask. And since it’s usually about Qantas, we’ll ask it that way.

When did Qantas start charging for alcoholic drinks on domestic flights?

The simple answer is, well, since always.

The longer answer is that while that is true, over time they have added complimentary alcoholic beverages on some sectors, at some times.

One of the issues in understanding when it’s complimentary is that the rules, while simple, are not self evident.

Both Qantas and Virgin Australia offer complimentary alcoholic beverages on some flights, but not others. And to confuse things, it varies depending on where you are flying, what time you are flying, and in one case, the type of aircraft you are on.

Let’s have a look at the published policies of Qantas and Virgin Australia


Qantas publish a handy chart on their inflight dining page. The details are shown here:

The time alcohol is served on Domestic Economy flights
Qantas flights operating between: Complimentary wine and beer served on flights departing after:
Perth and Adelaide/Brisbane/Canberra/Darwin/Melbourne/Sydney 12.00pm daily
Adelaide/Brisbane/Canberra/Melbourne and Sydney 4.00pm Monday to Friday
Canberra and Adelaide/Brisbane/Melbourne/Sydney 4.00pm daily
QantasLink Turboprop services 4.00pm daily

Outside the time mentioned above, you should expect to be opening your wallet if you want beer or wine.

Virgin Australia

Virgin Australia get off a little easier. Most remembers its roots when you paid for everything. However, as with Qantas the product inclusions have changed over time.

Basically, they provide two options for a complimentary beer or wine:

  • Flights between Perth to/from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane
  • If you’re scheduled to depart between 5 – 7pm Monday to Friday

While Virgin Australia spreads the love around the network more, they are more restrictive on time of day.

Summing Up

So there you have it. The policies of the two main airlines. So next time you are on a flight and are asked to pay, then you’ll know why.


About Author

Mark is the founder of FlyStayPoints, and caught the travel bug early in life. He discovered the benefits of travel loyalty programs in 2001, and is always learning how they can make travel better. While work takes him between Perth and Melbourne, he is always plotting his next adventure.