When my friends and I went to Mexico City in December, we used the new “border terminal” that goes straight to the Tijuana airport from US soil. The bridge opened in December 2015 and has had some growing pains (and price increases) in the past year but having used this service, I do recommend it.
Many of my local San Diego friends encouraged me to write about my experience since the cheap flights out of Tijuana are very alluring. Trying something new is much easier when you know someone who’s done it (like my friend Angela who used the CBX last summer and gave me the rundown). Here you go, guys!
How it works
First, find a flight out of Tijuana (I always start out with kayak) and book it. Some airlines show fares in dollars and some airlines use pesos, so I had a currency converter pulled up in a second tab while I was booking on my laptop. Some carriers (AeroMexico) will allow you to buy CBX when you book your flight, but I just bought mine from the CBX website.
We had to take an Uber to the CBX. If you are traveling with friends, it would definitely be worth it to all split this if possible because it was a significant added cost. I’ll get more into that later. If you have someone who loves you very much, try to get them to drive you. Here’s a map so you can see the facility location in relation to San Diego at large.
When you arrive at the CBX terminal, you fill out your Mexican customs form. There are not signs directing you to do this—just remember! There are, however, representatives from several different airlines at counters (similar to a very small airport) that can assist you. When you get into line to enter the bridge, you will present your passport, your CBX ticket and your airline boarding pass. Only those with an airline boarding pass valid within 24 hours can use this facility.
After you pass through the first checkpoint, you are funneled through a duty-free store and then through a security area that had a bag scanner and a metal detector. Then you walk across the famous bridge! After crossing the bridge, take an elevator or escalator down to Mexican customs, where your passport will be checked and you’ll get a stamp. Short visits do not need a visa. Secondary security has a button you will push (game show style). If you get a red light, they will screen your baggage again. If you get green, you sail right on through to the airport.
Let me say it was so nice not taking off my shoes, not having to pull my ziploc bag of makeup out of my suitcase, and all that. I did have to take off my jacket and pull my cell phone and kindle out of my purse. The airport was a bit shabby but not dirty. We found our gate very quickly and with plenty of time to spare. We were comically early, really, because airports stress me out. I took time-related notes on my phone because I knew I’d be writing this post.
Coming back: I had a little trouble finding the entrance into the CBX area after landing, but I admit I was pretty exhausted. Passing back to the US was very smooth, the line stacked up a little at US customs but was not bad. The Ubers/Lyfts were few and far between so we had to wait a while before one could come get us.
Was it worth it?
It’s crucial to price-check the round trip flight to Mexico City out of TIJ and SAN. The costs that come with using CBX do add up. There is the CBX pass itself; which comes to $30 RT, the Uber to the border if you don’t have someone willing to drive you almost 30 miles out of their way (from the Ocean Beach area, $35 each direction). This adds about $100 to the so-called “cheaper” trip out of TIJ.
I recently found out that there is a CBX shuttle that leaves out of the Santa Fe Depot in downtown San Diego, $10 each way. If I fly out of TIJ again I will make sure to use this service.
As an example, I just used Kayak to price out two round-trip tickets to MEX from each border city, using the dates 3/23-3/27. I found a round-trip on VivaAerobus from TIJ for $150 and a “fare hacker” round trip on United & Delta from San Diego for $315. BUT! This SAN-MEX ticket was not nonstop; it had a dumb stop in LAX with a very long layover. Even with the extra cost incurred by using CBX and Uber, let’s say $100, I still would save $65 and ten hours. I will note that flying VivaAerobus was a thoroughly unlikable experience. Look for AeroMexico or Volaris flights instead, even though they will be slightly more.
All photos, besides the Google map capture, by Staci Jackson for The Voyageer.