Flying From Tijuana: Walking Across the Border for Cheap Flights to Mexico

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Flying from Tijuana via CBX

Why I Walk Across the Border for a Cheaper Flight to Mexico

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Looking for a cheap flight to Mexico? Have you considered flying to Mexico … from Mexico?

Hear me out. For residents of Southern California like me (and even others!), crossing the border to fly out of Tijuana (TIJ) should be on your radar. While it might seem like a headache, it’s both safe and simple thanks to the Cross Border Xpress (CBX) pedestrian bridge connecting San Diego straight to the Tijuana airport terminal. You won’t even set foot in the city streets.

Trust me: I’ve skipped my home airport of San Diego (SAN) and headed across the border for Tijuana several times, and I’ll do it again and again. Why? It can be much, much cheaper. Just last month, I saved hundreds of dollars heading down to Isla Mujeres by flying out of Tijuana instead of San Diego – and flew on a better schedule, as well.

Here’s what it’s like crossing the border to fly out of Tijuana and why this seemingly off-the-wall travel hack isn’t nearly as strange as you might think.

 

Why You Should Fly Out of Tijuana

Money. What else?

The main reason you’d want to fly from Tijuana is that it could save you a ton. It’s a no-brainer for San Diegans looking for a flight down to Mexico, while it may hit or miss for those living in the Los Angeles area.

For the rest of you living elsewhere across the U.S., it’s probably only worth flying out of Tijuana if you’re planning to visit Southern California before making your way down to Mexico – or if you’ve got a way to string together a cheap flight to San Diego with an even cheaper flight south of the border. More on that later.

But the reasons for flying out of Tijuana add up quickly:

  • Cheap flights: Simply put, you won’t find cheaper flights to Mexico than departures from Tijuana. Thanks to plenty of competition and low-cost carriers, you can regularly find roundtrip flights for around $100 (or less) just about anywhere in Mexico. You’ll also sometimes find that connecting flights to the Caribbean, Central America, or South America are cheaper than flying from California.
  • Fewer taxes: Another big part of why flights are cheaper: Unlike flying out of LA or San Diego, you won’t be paying high international taxes if you’re flying domestically within Mexico. Depending on how long you stay, you may not even have to pay the tourist tax.
  • More nonstop flights: You’ll be able to pick from 20-plus daily flights to Mexico City (MEX), plus nonstop flights all across Mexico, including well-known beach resorts like Cancun (CUN), Los Cabos (SJD), and Puerto Vallarta (PVR). But you can also quickly get to lesser-known destinations such as La Paz (LAP), Oaxaca (OAX), Puerto Escondido (PXM), Queretaro (QRO), and more. In total, airlines fly nonstop to nearly 40 destinations from Tijuana.
  • VIP lounge: The lounge at Tijuana Airport knocks any lounge in San Diego out of the park. It’s spacious and modern with comfortable seating, free food, drinks, and access to showers. Best of all, you’ll get to use a private security screening that leads directly into the lounge – and it’s all free with Priority Pass access.
  • It’s close and easy: Just like New Yorkers have Newark (EWR), San Diego has Tijuana – think of it as San Diego’s alternate airport. You can walk over an enclosed pedestrian bridge from the U.S. directly into the terminal.

 

Flying from Tijuana nonstop destinations

 

Savings in Action

Don’t believe me that it can be substantially cheaper? Here are some quick examples.

If you’re looking for a cheap flight to Cancun, you’re practically guaranteed to save by flying out of Tijuana. Check out this Google Flights search for flights from San Diego (SAN) to Cancun (CUN) in March – all three major U.S. airlines are charging around $500 roundtrip for 1-stop flights.
 

San Diego to Cancun Google flights 

Or, you can fly from Tijuana to Cancun on the same dates for $107 roundtrip with one stop on Aeromexico – or nonstop on Volaris for $130 roundtrip.
 

Tijuana to Cancun google flights 

The savings can go far, far beyond Mexico. Looking to use your Delta SkyMiles for a lie-flat business class seat down to South America? If you search from San Diego, you’ll often find ridiculous rates north of 700,000 SkyMiles roundtrip, like this example to Santiago, Chile (SCL).
 

San Diego to Santiago, Chile using Delta SkyMiles 

But you can often find flights from Tijuana to Santiago for just 155,000 SkyMiles roundtrip, flying lie-flat in Aeromexico business class with one quick stop in Mexico City.
 

Tijuana to Santiago, Chile using SkyMiles 

Those are just two quick examples of a trend that plays out again and again and again. The savings are undeniable.

 

How to Get to Tijuana Airport

Few U.S. airports are more convenient than San Diego (SAN), a short drive away from downtown. But Tijuana might be a close second.

The airport sits directly on the the U.S.-Mexico border, just 20 miles from downtown San Diego. That makes it quick and easy to get to from the city.

If you’re coming from further away, it’s about 75 miles from San Clemente in Orange County or roughly 140 miles from Los Angeles. The drive from L.A. may not be worth it for solo travelers … but if you’re traveling in a group, the savings multiply and could make flying from Tijuana worth the drive.
 

Tijuana Airport google maps

 

Use the Cross Border Xpress (CBX)

There’s no need to navigate the streets of Tijuana to get to or from the airport.

Instead, the best way to get there is to use the Cross Border Xpress (CBX) pedestrian bridge. Zooming in on the map, you’ll see this border crossing connects the U.S. side of the border directly with the airport terminal. It couldn’t be any easier.
 

Tijuana Airport satellite image of border 

The CBX can only be used by ticketed airline passengers within 24 hours of departure or within two hours of landing in Tijuana when you are returning to the U.S. The 390-foot pedestrian bridge opened in 2015 and has been saving travelers countless hours and stress when flying out of Tijuana.

If you’re driving, be sure to put the Cross Border Xpress (not the Tijuana Airport) into your GPS so you don’t end up driving into Mexico. It’s about a 20-minute drive from downtown San Diego. Driving times from the L.A. area will depend on traffic, but plan on it taking at least three hours.

 

Parking at the Cross Border Xpress Bridge

Driving yourself down to Tijuana means you’ll need a place to park. Don’t worry.

Street parking near the CBX starts at $15 per day. There are also lots on-site starting from $18 a day or cheaper off-site lots that will shuttle you to the CBX bridge. If you’re taking a short trip, there is free street parking along Siempre Viva Road. Just keep in mind that California law requires you to move your car every 72 hours – and I would guess they keep a close eye here.
 

CBX parking rates

 

Uber/Lyft & Transit Options

Don’t want to leave a car? You’ve got options, too.

An Uber or Lyft from the San Diego area should cost around $30 to $50 each way – a little more than what it costs to get to the centrally located San Diego Airport. You can connect to San Diego’s trolley with a shuttle to either San Ysidro or Santa Fe Depot for $8, but it only seems to run five times per day. You can find schedules and pricing on the Los Limousines website at eplalimo.com.

There are also long-distance shuttle buses with stops in several cities throughout California, including Anaheim, Huntington Park, Los Angeles, Santa Ana, and more. The network reaches as far as Sacramento or El Paso, Texas, but that would be a bit of a hike. A one-way ticket from Los Angeles seems to run around $30 at the time of publication.
 

CBX shuttle services

 

How to Use CBX to Fly from Tijuana

When you arrive at the CBX, it will feel very much like you’ve arrived at an airport terminal in the U.S. In essence, that’s exactly what it is.
 

Cross Border Xpress entrance

 

Buy a Ticket

You’ll need an additional ticket in order to use the Cross Border Xpress.

You can buy a ticket in advance online on the CBX website. Prices range from $18 to $26 one-way or $35 to $46 roundtrip depending on the season, with discounts for families traveling together. Some airlines will sell you a CBX ticket included with your airfare if you choose that option when booking your flight. You can also purchase a CBX ticket from a kiosk on the spot.
 

CBX ticket machine

 

Check-In for Your Flight & Fill Out an Immigration Form

You’ll need a boarding pass in order to use the CBX.

Check-in for your flight online or at a kiosk or check-in desk inside the CBX terminal on the U.S. side of the border. You’ll still have to bring your checked bags across the border with you but there are free luggage carts you can use.
 

cbx free luggage carts 

You’ll also need to fill out an immigration form before you cross the border.

You can do this beforehand online but it’s quick and easy to do at the CBX facility. There are several computers set up and agents to help you fill out the form.
 

CBX immigration form

 

Scan Your CBX Ticket & Boarding Pass, Then Walk Across!

A quick scan of both your CBX ticket and your boarding pass is all it takes to open the gates to the pedestrian bridge. There’s a duty-free shop if you care to buy anything before you cross the border.
 

scan cbx ticket and boarding pass 

It’s a quick, five-minute walk across the pedestrian bridge to the airport terminal building on the Mexican side of the border.
 

Sign to Tijuana Airport from CBX

Departures sign escalators and elevators at cbx bridge 

It will feel just like you’re walking to another side of a terminal at any old airport around the world – only this time you’ll be crossing an international border in the process.
 

crossing the border on the CBX bridge

border crossing CBX

 

Go through Mexican Customs & Immigration & Check Your Bags

Once you reach the terminal, you’ll go through Mexican customs and immigration.

If you are staying seven days or more, you’ll need to pay approximately $30 to cover the tourist tax. If you’re staying six days or less, you don’t need to pay it.
 

passing through mexican immigration when flying from Tijuana 

If you have bags to check, find your airline’s check-in counter inside the Tijuana airport terminal to drop off your bags. If you don’t have any checked luggage, just proceed directly to security screening.
 

tijuana airport check in counter

 

Head Through Security & To Your Gate

Once you’ve checked your bags, find the security screening and proceed to your gate. It’s that simple.

Thrifty Tip: Follow the signs to the VIP Lounge. It has its own private security screening directly into the lounge on the secure side of the airport. You can continue directly to your gate after visiting the lounge. You can pay about $35 for a day pass or get in for free with Priority Pass.
 

Tijuana Airport VIP lounge entrance

VIP lounge Tijuana security screening

 

What It’s Like Flying From Tijuana Airport

Really, it’s just like any other airport around the world.

Sure, the signs will be in Spanish (and English) and announcements will be made in Spanish before English. But you’ll find the same types of restaurants and a clean and open terminal when flying from Tijuana. Chocolate lovers may want to stop here.
 

Tijuana airport casa de chocolate 

While masks were required to fly within Mexico on my most recent flight, as of Oct. 12, 2022, masks are no longer required which brings Mexico in line with U.S. rules regarding mask usage when flying – where the mandate was lifted back in April.

TSA PreCheck isn’t available when flying from Tijuana, but you can get expedited security screening by visiting the VIP Lounge. It’s well worth the cost for a day pass and it’s free for Priority Pass members. The lounge was recently renovated and expanded into a wonderful space to enjoy complimentary drinks and a meal before your flight. You can even take a shower.
 

VIP Lounge Tijuana Airport

 

Which Airlines Fly from Tijuana?

You won’t find flights on Delta, American, or any other U.S. airline when flying from Tijuana. Instead, you’ll be flying Mexican airlines such as Delta’s partner Aeromexico or low-cost carriers Volaris and VivaAerobus. There are a few other smaller carriers but those are the main airlines flying from Tijuana. And Volaris being the dominant carrier by a long shot.

Flights are usually incredibly cheap, but keep in mind that the initial price you see doesn’t include much. As with any low-cost carrier, you’ll need to be diligent when booking to make sure you add everything you’ll need from bags to seat assignments during the booking process.

The good news is that these add-ons are relatively cheap when compared to what similar airlines in the U.S., like Spirit and Frontier, charge. I would recommend paying the small upcharge to get a seat with extra legroom and always book a “classic” or standard economy fare rather than a basic fare.

 

Using Tijuana Airport for Positioning Flights

Flying from Tijuana is great if you live in Southern California, but does this make any sense for travelers scattered across the rest of the country?

Depending on where you’re trying to get to in Mexico (and when), you could potentially save money by first flying to San Diego, spending a few days enjoying the sunshine, and then continuing on from Tijuana to your destination in Mexico. Not only could you save money on your flight to Mexico, but you’ll get the chance to visit America’s Finest City on the way.

Say, for instance, you want to visit Tequila, a small town in the Mexican state of Jalisco known for producing one of the most popular spirits in the world. The closest city you can fly into is Guadalajara (GDL). If you’re flying from Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP), you’ll often find prices over $700 roundtrip.
 

Minneapolis to Guadalajara Google Flights 

But Thrifty Traveler Premium members know we sometimes find nonstop flights from Minneapolis to San Diego (SAN) for closer to $200 roundtrip – even less from other cities.
 

thrifty traveler premium deal to San Diego 

Combine that with a $68 roundtrip flight from Tijuana to Guadalajara and you’d wind up saving around $400 – per person!
 

Tijuana to Guadalajara Mexico 

It may not be for everyone, but there are cases where it could make sense to connect in San Diego, transfer to the CBX, and fly from Tijuana to your destination in Mexico.

But that’s not all …

If you’re looking to book an award ticket flying business class on a long-haul international flight, you may have a better chance finding the award space out of Mexico City (MEX). Residents of Southern California can book a cheap positioning flight from Tijuana to Mexico City and then fly lie-flat from Mexico to Europe or South America.

Emirates flies a fifth-freedom route with lie-flat business class nonstop between Mexico City and Barcelona (BCN). It’s relatively easy to find the saver award space on this route, which costs just 100,000 Skywards miles roundtrip. If flying Emirates business class is on your bucket list and you want to check out Barcelona as well, flying from Tijuana to Mexico City to catch this flight could be a great strategy.
 

Mexico City to Barcelona biz class award on Emirates 

Lufthansa First Class is another high-value award that is easier to find availability departing from Mexico City. You’ll need to be spontaneous because Lufthansa generally only releases First Class award space a few days ahead of time.
 

Book Lufthansa First Class with Aeroplan 

Luckily, last-minute tickets from Tijuana to Mexico City are relatively cheap as well.

 

Crossing the Border Back to the U.S. When Flying into Tijuana Airport

When it’s time to return home, you’ll be glad that you booked a ticket to use the Cross Border Xpress.

In my experience, it took no more than five to 10 minutes from baggage claim to curbside in the U.S. – and I never set foot outside the terminal buildings.

Of course, times may vary depending on how busy it is at U.S. Customs & Immigration, but it was pretty empty on my most recent flight. The process to cross back into the U.S. is very similar to when you crossed into Mexico. There are signs for the Cross Border Xpress as soon as you deplane. You can’t miss the signage for the CBX at baggage claim.
 

Sign for CBX at Tijuana Airport baggage claim 

Once you scan your ticket and boarding pass, keep following the signs to the USA.
 

follow the signs to the USA 

There is a separate line for Global Entry which starts pretty far back. If it were busy, having Global Entry could save quite a bit of time here. On the day I traveled, there were no lines at all.
 

CBX Global Entry line 

You’ll have to put all of your bags through a scanner after passing through immigration. Once you’re clear, you’ll exit into a pretty impressive arrivals hall.
 

CBX arrivals hall 

And just like that, you’re back in the USA. Easy peasy. Take a shuttle, call an Uber or Lyft, or get picked up curbside outside the CBX facility in San Diego.
 

CBX San Diego pickup

 

Bottom Line

Flying from Tijuana is safe and easy. The Cross Border Xpress pedestrian bridge connecting San Diego directly with the airport terminal makes it a breeze.

So if you’re looking for a cheap flight to Mexico (or beyond), keep your options open and search for flights from Tijuana as well.
 

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

12 Responses

  • I usually save the CBX fee by taking an Uber/Lyft to the next trolley station, crossing the San Ysidro border on foot (X-ray scanners), and then taking a Mexican Uber to the airport. (trolley $2.50, Uber in MEX approx. $4.00). The way back is equally easy. Sometimes Uber has issues picking you up at the exit, so I walk a bit to the left to leave the taxi pickup area.
    I use TIJ whenever I travel to Mexico or South/Central America. Make sure you get an FMM form when you cross the border in San Ysidro – You will need it if you connect to another flight out of MEX (e.g. Columbia).

    • Hi Markus,

      I also do this for the most part. It’s a great way to save the CBX fee if you’re comfortable navigating the San Ysidro border and getting an Uber to the airport in Mexico. I was gearing the article towards using the CBX for simplicity. It really does make it just like flying from the U.S. if you use the CBX. And yes, you’ll need to make sure you get an FMM form wherever you actually cross the border (you need to ask for it when crossing at San Ysidro). It’s technincally needed once you step foot in the airport – even if you’re just flying within Mexico.

  • Great article! This is a true little known facts article. Didn’t know this existed at all.
    I wish I was closer to be able to use it at least once in my travels. Another travel bucket list!

  • This is the worst airport and so much scamming going on there. Please be very careful and if you can avoid it do so. The absolute worst airport experience I have had in the last 30 years of my heavy traveling life. Despite cancelled flight they let us go through the security and when we finally found out that we will not be able to fly that day they would not let us go back through where we entered from San Diego and had paid for a two way entry pass. We had to take a taxi to the Otay boarder entry line 5 minutes drive for $30 where we were on line for hours to cross back into San Diego. They would not refund our tickets despite opening claims and the tickets were insured. I have vacationed in Mexico and had no issues in other part of Mexico but this airport is one that I will avoid for the rest of my life.

    • Hi Almaz,

      I’m sorry you had a bad experience. I would think they should’ve allowed you to use the CBX going back to San Diego since your flight was canceled but have not had this happen to me personally. If you need to go to a different border crossing, I would recommend an Uber, which should cost around $5 – $7 to the Otay or San Ysidro border. Hope you give it another shot someday. I really enjoy flying from Tijuana for my trips to southern Mexico.

  • My family and I have been using the TJ airport and CBX Crossing the last 5 yrs 2x a year and this year they have really increased their prices on both the fee to use the airport and to use CBX when you have a family of 4 and have to pay for parking for a week it really adds up. Don’t get me wrong we love using this airport it’s A Great airport but with fees and parking and CBX Crossing fee it may not be worth driving from south orange county for us. Just a little heads up for other family’s

  • The airfares are low because Mexican airlines don’t pay U.S. salaries and I presume there’s no international ticket tax (if you fly within Mexico). Would strongly prefer more flights from San Diego Lindbergh Field rather than have to go to CBX.

  • Thanks for the info. We are planning on flying from TJ to cabo in February. Currently I only have a passport card, do you have any info if we would need a passport to fly from TJ to cabo?

    • Hi Cheryl!

      There are recent reports of people who have used the passport card to fly on domestic flights within Mexico but I would highly recommend getting a passport book before trying this as it is the official document accepted by Mexican authorities for foreign citizens. Also, the Passport book is the only document accepted for international air travel. If anything goes wrong, you may want to have the option to take an international flight directly back to the USA.

  • Can you suggest an airport close to the border that is reasonably priced. Our flight leaves at 5 am and we are not sure if we have access at that early hour. How long in advance we have to arrive…

    • Hi Karen!

      The Cross Border Xpress bridge is open 24 hours so you can use it to cross the border directly to the airport terminal in Tijuana for flights any time of the day. And I would suggest giving yourself a little extra time before departure because you will be clearing customs and immigration at the border before you go through airport security in Tijuana. I’m not sure I understand your question completely, but hopefully this helps!

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