Trains and Buses from Orange County to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and San Diego International Airport (SAN)
This post was inspired by my recent Amtrak trip from Seattle to Los Angeles on the Coast Starlight (link). I was curious if/how it were possible to get from Los Angeles Union Station to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). After doing some research, I found out how to get to LAX from Orange County. Then I figured out how to get to San Diego International Airport (SAN) from Orange County. There are several airports in SoCal, but I did not look into flights out of Long Beach (LGB), Burbank (BUR), Santa Barbara (SBA), Ontario (ONT), San Diego McClellan-Palomar (CLD), or Palm Springs (PSP). This particular post is probably only useful for SoCal readers, but the thinking process can probably be applied to many other regions of the country.
To start, I looked at the Pacific Surfliner Amtrak train route. Since the train travels between San Diego and San Luis Obispo several times per day, you can probably use this train to get to and from LAX and SAN.
Amtrak has a special price for the Pacific Surfliner using Amtrak Points. For a coach seat, it costs 1,500 Amtrak Points per person, per trip. Since most of you have Chase Ultimate Reward Points, you can convert those points into Amtrak Points at a 1:1 ratio.
If you do not want to use Amtrak Points, you can pay for your Amtrak trip. Looking a week out, I see prices for $18 one way from Irvine to Los Angeles. When you pay for Amtrak trips, you will earn 2 Amtrak Points per $1 spent on your Amtrak travel, with a 100 point minimum on each trip.
If you divide $18 / 1,500 Chase Ultimate Reward Points, you get a value of 1.2 cents per point. If you then multiple 1.2 cents x 100 Amtrak Points, you will earn $1.20 in Amtrak Points for each paid ride. Personally, I can generate Chase Ultimate Reward Points much cheaper than 1.2 cents a piece, so I would convert Chase Ultimate Reward Points into Amtrak Points and book an Amtrak award ticket.
Anyway, once you make it to Los Angeles Union Station, you will need to take the Union Station FlyAway Bus to LAX. The buses leave every 30 minutes (top and bottom of the hour) and cost $8 per person, per ride. Ignore Google Map’s instructions of taking a bus between the Amtrak station and the bus terminal, they are right next to each other and is walking distance.
Here is some more info regarding the LAX FlyAway Bus (link). You must purchase your FlyAway Bus ticket before you get on the bus.
Alternatively, if you need to get to San Diego International Airport (SAN), you can take the Pacific Surfliner train the opposite direction. Since this train is longer, the ticket price is slightly higher at $24. If you redeemed Chase Ultimate Reward Points for this ticket, you get a value of $24 / 1,500 = 1.6 cents per point. This makes the case for using Amtrak Points even greater in my opinion.
Once you take the Pacific Surfliner to the San Diego Santa Fe Depot (end of the line for the Pacific Surfliner), you will need to walk across the street and get on 992 bus to SAN.
The 992 bus comes every 15-30 minutes and costs $2.25 per person per ride. It will drop you off right in front of SAN Terminal 1. More info can be found here and here.
Is all this public transportation worth it? Maybe yes, maybe no. Taking the train and bus to either airport will take 2-3 hours. Which might be a good deal if you need to get to the airport at a very busy time. Traffic in SoCal is not fun. The cost is unbeatable; you can’t park at either airport for less than $10 a day, so this might be worth it. If you have an early morning flight, it might be tight, but an afternoon or evening flight would be easy.
The purpose of this post (for me) was to expand my flight searches to LAX and SAN. I much rather prefer taking a $12-$15 Uber ride from my house to my local airport (John Wayne SNA), but if I get a great deal (paid or award ticket) out of LAX or SAN, I will now be more inclined to take those trips. For the record, I have not taken either of these trips, but I will try to in the next few months.
If you have any questions, please leave a comment below. Have a great day everyone!
If you get the app Hop Stop for your phone you can see ways to get to LAX using the OC and LA busses. Also Jet Blue out of Long Beach is a pleasure, both the airline and the airport.
According to Google Maps, from my house to LAX would take between 4.5 and 5.5 hours by bus, with a few transfers. It would take about 3.5 hours to get from my house to LGB. I haven’t flown out of LGB in many years, but it was very easy when I did.
How about getting from LAX to Orange County? Many times we arrive at LAX at midnight and we have to take the shuttle with many stops which is very inconvenient.
According to the Amtrak website, the last train that leaves Los Angeles Union Station leaves at 10:10pm. You might have to spend the night at an airport hotel, rather than take a Super Shuttle which can take a very long time. No real good options for getting home after midnight.
That’s what I thought. Plus super shuttle for 4 people is as expensive as taking a limo! Plenty of free nights in my hotel account and that my friend is the best solution. Thanks!
Hopefully you can snag a cheap SPG hotel nearby for 2,000-4,000 SPG points.
I’m from San Jose, CA, so I’m not an expert on the transit systems in Orange County. However, it seems like the Metrolink might be a better option than the Pacific Surfliner. It’s a one-way fare of 10.75 rather than $18. One thing that makes either option great is that it seems they allow long-term parking at Irvine Station, if you check in with security.
Anyway, it seems like public transit options from Orange County to LAX and SAN are inconvenient. The train doesn’t go anywhere near the airport.
Also, if you’re going to SAN, you can drive to Oceanside and then take the Coaster. It would be a lower one-way fare of $5.50 instead of $24, and they allow long-term parking at the Oceanside Station for up to 2 weeks.
That’s very helpful information, Brandon. My most likely plan would be to take Uber from home to Irvine station, then train either to Los Angeles Union Station or down to San Diego. That way I could leave my car at home the entire time. Then do the opposite to get home.
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