With Event Tickets in hand and plans made for your flights, Olympics 101 continues with Tokyo hotels. When booking my lodging for Olympics, I found finding a place to stay (whether it is a hostel, hotel, or Airbnb) frustrating. No, infuriating. While I cannot guarantee this guide will alleviate this stress, hopefully it will help your Tokyo hotel search.
When You Should Start Looking for Tokyo Hotels
If you have not started looking for a hotel for the Olympics in Tokyo, you need to start now. This is because: 1) the demand is insane, which led to a hotel shortage in Tokyo; 2) most hotels start taking reservations 12 months out (and we are now within 6); and 3) the price gouging on hotels in Tokyo is INSANE.
The Tokyo Hotel Shortage
While plenty of new hotels are popping up for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, I don’t think anyone anticipated the demand. The Wall Street Journal are calling Tokyo 2020 they toughest Olympic ticket ever. This problem is exacerbated further by the fact that it is not just fans flocking to Tokyo, but also corporate sponsors. Don’t expect to find a room at your favorite chain. Marriott, Hilton, and Hyatt have been booked up for years as they allowed corporate sponsors to book all their rooms before us normies had access. This means you will need to be creative to figure out your Tokyo accommodations.
Hotels Start Taking Reservations 12 Months Out
With the corporate fat-cats taking all the hotel rooms (and opening ceremony tickets) was not enough, most hotels start taking reservations a year before the Olympics. If you are coming into Olympics planning late, it is that much harder to get a hotel. Given that a lot of us weren’t even able to get tickets until inside that 12 month window, we could either 1) get lodging and cross our fingers for tickets or 2) wait until we get tickets and see the hotel availability evaporate. This became an extremely tough call.
The Price Gouging
While I was surprised at the lack of airline price gouging, hotels are a different story. Hotels, Hostels, and Airbnb’s have charged an insane Olympic markup for Tokyo 2020. Hotels that go for around $50-60 dollars a night are charging markup upwards of 400% over $200 a night. Same thing with places like capsule hotels which are charging $150+ per person… to stay in a capsule. This type of insane price gouging seems to be getting worse as we get closer to the games. So start looking NOW.
Should I Consider an AirBnB instead of a Hotel in Tokyo
Sure. You should consider AirBnB, but you need to know the risks. AirBnB drives me nuts with their deceptive practices and the widespread AirBnB scams. Essentially, when it comes down to it, AirBnB does not provide you with buyer protection. I have heard many stories, and been involved in one myself, where AirBnBs cancel at the last minute and AirBnB support provides you nothing. Combine this with the the Hotel Shortage and Price gouging, if your AirBnB cancels at the last minute, you may be without a hotel and have to pay last minute premiums for whatever of the hotels are left.
I initially started looking for my Tokyo 2020 lodging at an Airbnb, because prices were significantly better than Hotels. Apparently, hosts had not updated their prices to their Olympic prices. I booked stays at 4 different AirBnBs with 4 different hosts all of which cancelled within 24-72 hours. Two didn’t give a reason for cancelling, one said they did not update their posting with Olympics pricing, and the final said that I could pay an extra $100 a night and send it to them via Paypal. Finally I found a host who confirmed a 2 bedroom apartment at the relatively reasonable rate of $150/night.
Of course this host was not a super host, and did not respond to my messages. Many people, myself included, are afraid of being stuck without a place to stay and booked back up refundable hotel reservations. After 5 months of silence, I lost confidence in my AirBnB I cancelled the AirBnB. So consider an AirBnB but make sure you’re comfortable with the risk.
What about Capsule Hotels in Tokyo?
Capsule hotels are a uniquely Japanese experience which is now spreading to the west. Capsule hotels are exactly what they sound like You stay and sleep in a small capsule which is just big enough to sit up in. Capsules are separated by gender, you are provided you a locker for your stuff, and have shared bathroom facilities. This is very similar to a hostel with bunk-beds, but a bit more private.
Generally capsule hotels are cheap averaging between $30-$50 a night some as cheap as $15 a night. Capsules are normally a great option for those traveling solo, they are generally centrally located, cheap, and convenient. Like a hostel there can be a more social atmosphere among tourists. However, people were shocked at the Olympic mark up. Early on the markup wasn’t too bad with capsules going around $80 a night, but as we get closer to the games the cheapest capsules are going for about $150/night. If you want to find a capsule cheaper some may be available to book through AirBnB.
Man the price gouging is real! This is a 8x markup!!!
By this point you know I am cheap, but I personally would not do a capsule hotel. First I travel with my wife, so they would separate us, and second, I value having a private toilet… I get a bad case of travel tummy. So I would only recommend a capsule to those traveling alone and who don’t mind not having much privacy for their entire trip.
Hotels in Tokyo
If you follow this blog you know I prefer hotels over all other forms of lodging. The main reason being I like that hotels will hold your bags before check-in and after check-out. I swear 99% of the time (that number is probably exaggerated) when I take a trip I need the hotels to hold my bags at least once. The issue is hotels are definitely the most expensive way to stay somewhere for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. But my Olympic trip is going to be a whirlwind (13 events in 6 days) and with a lot of events being outside in the extremely hot Tokyo Summer, I value having a private place to take a long shower and rest comfortable of the utmost importance. Even more important than saving money…. GASP!!!! THE HORROR THE HORROR!!!!
Currently 3-star hotels in neighboring cities will run you at least $160/night. As you get closer to Tokyo or higher in star-rating the price jumps significantly.
While I would be lying to you if I said you will find a cheap hotel in Tokyo, but here are a few tips to help you in your search.
TIP #1: You Don’t Need to Stay in the Center of Tokyo
Tokyo is extremely safe. There are not really bad areas in Tokyo. This Article lays out four areas that aren’t safe in Tokyo, but I have stayed in Ueno (one of the places listed) and neither me or my wife ever felt like we weren’t safe. Most of the concern in this article is to avoid places where there are regular protests. Even these areas are safe compared to the dangerous areas in the US.
Tokyo is the second largest city in the world by land area. With how spread out the city is, it is no surprise that Tokyo’s public transportation system is fantastic. It runs like clockwork and rarely encounters delays. Heck, a train operator released a public apology for departing 20 seconds early. As long as you are close to a train station you can quickly and easily get anywhere within Tokyo.
Additionally, the Olympic organizers spread out the event venues throughout Tokyo and neighboring cities. Be aware of where your events are, if you are regularly going to venues which are outside of Tokyo, the center of the city may actually hinder your experience. For instance both Basketball and some Soccer matches are in the Nearby city of Saitama. If you plan on seeing a lot of events outside of the city, if you stay near your venue you may actually save money on both transportation and hotel.
Given how safe Tokyo is and how efficient public transportation is, you may find more availability cheaper by staying further out from the city center or in a neighboring city.
Tip #2: Book a Refundable Reservation and Track Hotel Prices
Hotels are extremely expensive, but a lot of people have booked hotels. People have have a hotel/AirBnB reservation and a back up reservation in case something comes up. Other people have booked hotels but haven’t managed to snag even tickets (because they don’t follow my strategies because getting event tickets is easy). The theory is there are a lot of hotel reservations reservations sitting out there that people will not be able to use or don’t intend to use. There will be cancellations.
The theory is that hotels are going to want to have every room booked for the Olympics. Every empty room is a bunch of money lost. So once we get closer to the Olympic games, the cancellations will start rolling in. At that point either top hotels will have room open up or those hotels who now have openings will have to lower their prices to avoid rooms going empty and losing money. Either way it is a win for a late booker. However, you don’t want to put all of your money in the cancellation basket. Book a hotel you can live with at a refundable rate and keep your options option should something better or cheaper come along.
Tip #3: Get Creative With Your Tokyo Hotel Booking
I know I sound like a broken record, but demand for the Tokyo Olympics is out of control and hotels are hard to find. Most people, however, don’t stay in Tokyo the entire Olympics. Two and a half weeks would be a lot of time to get off of work and a lot of money to spend. I am only staying in Tokyo for 6 nights. As a result, you can find different availability depending on the day. So if you break your trip into multiple hotel stays you may get more options.
I got a fantastic rate on 4 of my hotel nights by using this strategy. I found space at a Comfort Hotel in the heart of Tokyo for about $108.25/night by staying at 2 different hotels one of 4 nights and the other for two nights. By shortening your stay you may find you have more options at better prices.
Tip #4: Search all of Your Options
As large corporations booked most of the major chain hotels, you may find it difficult to find availability directly from the hotel. As such, to book your Tokyo 2020 Hotel make sure you check all of your options. Don’t assume that places like hotels.com; expedia.com; or travelocity.com will have your best rates. Use aggregators like Trivago.com and Kayak.com which will search multiple online travel agencies to find the best rates. More often than not your best rates will not come from a big name online travel agent. I have found that Agoda generally has the best prices for Japan, but if you use an aggregator they may get you a better price than booking searching directly through Agoda.
Also, don’t be afraid to walk away for a little bit, especially if you are looking at Agoda. With Agoda, if you create an account, start a reservation, and then don’t completely, they will regularly send you coupon codes to entice you to finish your booking. Generally these coupons can save you between 5%-10%.
Tip #5: What about booking Tokyo Hotels Points?
Points are great! I love points, but points are not always helpful in high demand situations like Tokyo 2020. As mentioned above, large corporate sponsors snagged up all the rooms at the big global chains. This means that your Marriott, Hyatt, Choice, Hilton, or IHG points are essentially worthless. In my 8 months of tracking hotels, only the Marriott Tokyo Bay has had even a few rooms open for points bookings and those were for 100,000 points/night and the rooms disappeared quickly. Others may have popped up that I missed, but this type of availability is few and far between. So don’t bank on it.
You can use credit card points
Credit cards like Chase Sapphire and the Various AMEX colors (Gold, Platinum, Green) all allow you to earn points. Generally, the best value on these points is transferring them to an airline partner and redeem them for a luxury flight booking. However, they do offer you travel portals which allow you to use your points to book hotels directly through your credit card company. When using your Chase Ultimate Rewards points to book hotels directly though Chase you get a value of 1.5 cents per point with the Sapphire Reserve or 1.25 cents per point with the Sapphire Preferred. AMEX values your points at 1 cent per point directly.
At 1.5 cents per point, redeeming your Chase Ultimate Rewards points you earn through your Sapphire Reserve is good value. With chase you can keep some of your cash in your pocket and book some decent hotels. Generally, I 100% a fan of using my Chase points to book hotels (despite what places like the TPG may tell you, I do have a love/hate relationship with The Points Guy). Personally, I value a bunch of nights hotel over a one way flight in business, but that is just me.
For the other 2 nights of hotel I booked through the chase portal. While the room was more expensive than I would normally spend on hotels (about $225/night or 17,500 points a night), getting a nice hotel, in a great location, with no money out of my pocket made me happy.
It is not too late to find your Tokyo 2020 Olympics hotel, but it won’t be easy. Demand is high, the big chain hotels have been taken by Olympic sponsors, reservations started over 6 months ago, and the remaining hotels are gouging you like crazy on price. While hotels are not your only option, AirBnB can be a calculated risk and single travelers may consider capsule hotels; I prefer hotels. They are the safest and best option. Though expensive you can save money by utilizing the following tips:
- Stay outside the city, but near a train station;
- Consider where your events are (they may not be in city center);
- Book a refundable option and wait for something better to pop up;
- Break your trip into multiple hotel stays; and
- Make you look at all available options.
As I have said before, it is not too late to make your Tokyo 2020 dream come true. While find a place to stay is tough, it is not impossible.