Why You Should Consider Using San Diego's Alternative Airport Across the Border

San Diego has one of America’s most convenient airports. Situated just 3 miles from downtown, it’s a quick and easy ride to the terminal. But did you know San Diego has an alternate airport that can save you a lot of money just across our southern border?

How to Save on Flights to Mexico and Beyond Using Cross Border Bridge

Tijuana’s International Airport lies just on the other side of the wall separating the U.S. and Mexico and there is now a terminal on the U.S. side of the border just 20 miles from downtown San Diego. The Cross Border Xpress bridge opened in December 2015 and has been saving travelers time and money by connecting airline passengers between the U.S. terminal and the gates in the Mexican terminal via a short pedestrian bridge.

Cheap Flights from Tijuana Compared to San Diego

Taxes! Taxes! Taxes! This is the main reason why international flights are usually much higher than domestic flights. If you’re looking to travel to Mexico, save the hefty international taxes added on to flights departing from San Diego by simply crossing the border and taking a domestic flight from Tijuana. Plus, if you’re traveling to Mexico for less than a week, you won’t be required to pay the non-resident fee that is added on to flights departing the U.S.

Tijuana also has a lot more nonstop flight options to Mexico than San Diego. This can save hours over taking connecting flights. Surprisingly, San Diego (SAN) no longer has a nonstop flight to Mexico City (MEX). The only nonstop flights available from San Diego to Mexico are to Los Cabos (SJD) and Puerto Vallarta (PVR). On the other hand, Tijuana (TIJ) has numerous nonstop flights across Mexico and cheap connections to other countries throughout Latin America. You’ll even find nonstop flights to Beijing (PEK) and Shanghai (PVG) from Tijuana.

Since all of Mexico’s low-cost carriers fly out of Tijuana, fares are incredibly cheap. And the low-cost carriers in Mexico are not as stingy as similar U.S. airlines like Spirit and Frontier. Don’t expect 5-star service on these airlines, but if you fly on Interjet, Volaris, or VivaAerobus, one free carry-on plus a personal item is included in the lowest fare. There may be a low weight limit of 22 lbs., but if your bag doesn’t look overly large, it may not get weighed and the fees to add extra weight or checked bags are very reasonable if you book in advance or choose a higher tiered fare. Mexico’s flagship carrier Aeromexico will often have competitive pricing so if you prefer to fly a legacy carrier, there are still excellent deals out of Tijuana.

In certain circumstances, people who live in the Los Angeles area may also find it worthwhile to use the CBX bridge and fly from Tijuana. Los Angeles (LAX) has a lot more flight options and more competition to Mexico than San Diego, but if you are traveling in a large group or going to a smaller city such as La Paz (LAP), it may be the quickest and cheapest option for getting to your destination. Just add up all the variables beforehand to make sure any savings are worth traveling down to the border in order to catch a flight.

How to Get to Tijuana Airport from San Diego via Cross Border Xpress Bridge

It used to be the case that budget travelers looking for a cheaper flight out of Tijuana had to cross the land border with everyone else at either San Ysidro or Otay Mesa and then catch a taxi to the airport. For this reason, many did not find it worthwhile due to a lengthy commute and long wait times to return the U.S. Now, if you hold an airline ticket, there is a much easier and quicker way to get from San Diego to Tijuana’s airport via the Cross Border Xpress Bridge.

This border crossing is only open to passengers holding a boarding pass and can only be accessed within 24 hours of your flight departure or within 2 hours of landing for passengers returning to the U.S.

By car, the bridge is approximately 20 miles from downtown San Diego located at 2745 Otay Pacific Drive, San Diego, CA. There is ample long-term parking starting at $15/day, which is slightly lower than parking at San Diego’s main airport. Of course, parking fees could negate any savings if you don’t usually park at the airport. An Uber or Lyft will cost around $30 from downtown San Diego and there are also shuttles available from San Diego’s Santa Fe Depot, San Ysidro, or even all the way from Los Angeles.

The shuttle from Downtown San Diego costs $11 and leaves every 2 hours from 8:30 am – 8:30 pm. From San Ysidro, you’ll find shuttles for $6 leaving every half hour from 6:00 am – 9:00 pm and every hour from 10:00 pm – 1:00 am. The Los Angeles shuttle costs $25 and runs up to 10 times daily with stops at Santa Ana, Anaheim, Huntington Park, Downtown LA, and East LA. For more information on shuttle schedules, go to the CBX website.

Once you’ve arrived at the Cross Border Xpress terminal, you can check-in for your flight, get your boarding pass and purchase a ticket to use the pedestrian bridge if you haven’t done so in advance. Tickets for the bridge cost $16 one-way or $30 roundtrip when booked in advance directly on the CBX website or you may be able to purchase with your airline when booking your flight. There are discounts for multiple people crossing together so a family of four can cross for a total of $55 one-way or $105 roundtrip. And it’s just $10 more per person each way when traveling with 5 or 6 people together. Children under 2 years old are free. Tickets are 20% cheaper online so it’s best to book in advance.

It’s a very quick and easy process to cross the pedestrian bridge into Tijuana Airport from the U.S. side of the border. There are trolleys to use for your luggage and the walkway is only about 400 ft. long. Halfway across the bridge, you’ll notice a plaque marking the international border and once you reach Mexican immigration, you’ll have to declare how long you plan to stay in Mexico. If you are staying less than 7 days, it is not necessary to pay the non-resident fee. For stays of 7 days or longer, non-Mexican residents have to pay the approximate $25 USD fee since this fee is not automatically included on domestic Mexican flights.

After clearing Mexican customs and immigration, drop off any checked bags with your airline and proceed to security screening. On average, it takes about 30-40 minutes to get from the U.S. terminal to your boarding gate in the Mexican terminal, but some travelers have made it in around 20 minutes. This is very comparable to any major airport in the U.S. and traveling from Tijuana (TIJ) by taking the CBX bridge will seem just like you are flying from San Diego, except that you will clear customs and immigration before your flight rather than upon landing.

Returning to the U.S. is where the CBX bridge saves the most time. Instead of waiting in enormously long lines at the U.S. border in San Ysidro or Otay Mesa, the dedicated border crossing for airline passengers will save hours. And since it’s an enclosed bridge without the need to go outside, it will seem as if you’ve just gone through customs and immigration at any U.S. airport. Global Entry is also available at this crossing for those that are part of the trusted traveler program.

Tijuana’s airport is one of the few true international airports in the world since it has terminals in two separate countries. If you live in Southern California and haven’t tried it out yet, I would recommend giving it a try for a cheap getaway to Mexico or elsewhere in Latin America.

Featured image courtesy of TripAdvisor.

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