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I'm interested in visiting Tokyo in 2015, and am trying to figure out what time(s) of the year will likely be cheapest for hotel stays, since it is a notoriously expensive city. Short of using a hotel search such as hotels.com, and laboriously going through each week/month of the year, is there a quicker way? Assume I want to constrain it to hotels of at least a reasonable luxury level (3*+). I'd like to base this on actual costs from a search engine as if I were to book now, not simply past observations from a guidebook (which typically only take in account the time for the booking, but not the time at which the booking is made - for example, staying in January may be generally cheap, but if I book now, in December, it probably won't be).

More generally, is there a way to search in this way for any city/area worldwide?

Note: Yes, I know that airline tickets will vary in cost too - I'm spending airmiles, so assume for the purposes of this question that this and other costs stay constant.

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    Ooh, good question, I've often wondered this offline... – Mark Mayo Dec 24 '14 at 9:31
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    Nice thing to have, would be surprised if it exists. – uncovery Dec 24 '14 at 13:42
  • Why would you think that booking now (in December) would adversely affect rates in January or February or any other time? Hotel booking prices are just like airfare prices--based on anticipated demand at a particular time, not necessarily when you book. – mkennedy Dec 24 '14 at 15:52
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    Oh, I see. I was misinterpreting a statement--the December/January one as booking now could be more expensive than booking later. Sorry! – mkennedy Dec 24 '14 at 21:26
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    By the way, recommend checking out Rakuten Travel in addition to the usual Hotels/Expedia for looking at hotels; I used it on a 3-week trip of Japan a couple of years ago, and it lists lots of local business hotels you won't find on USA-based sites. Japanese business hotels are great; rates can be quite a bit better than the upscale chains; front desk people usually have enough English to get by, and you get more of a sense of being there than being in an International chain - eg breakfast is more likely to be Japanese breakfast rather than continental. – BrendanMcK Dec 27 '14 at 9:52
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Hotel pricing in Japan is generally highly seasonal, and many hotels go so far as to publish a "room rate calendar" (客室料金カレンダー) that shows exactly how prices vary through the year. Disney has a nice, clear text-based one, but I'll use this rather more typical image from the Resonate chain in Kyushu to illustrate:

enter image description here

To parse that, 月 means month (6月 = June, 7月 = July, etc), and prices are ranked by color so that yellow (priciest) > green > light pink > orange > dark blue > dark pink > light blue > cyan (cheapest); and no, that order doesn't make a whole lot of sense. (Adding in letter codes, eg. A to E, is pretty common too.) A few trends are clear:

  1. August is the most expensive month, particularly around Obon (the yellow days), with late July not far behind. This is summer holiday season, when families are traveling.
  2. The week around New Year's Day (late Dec/early Jan) and Golden Week (late April/early May) are also very pricy.
  3. Saturdays (土) always cost more, often Fridays as well (although not for this particular chain).
  4. Winter weekdays are cheapest.

This is, I'd posit, the "standard" pricing pattern for hotels and ryokan in tourist-heavy destinations. Business hotels often reverse this to some extent, with cheaper weekend deals. There can be significant deviations from the norm though:

  • Western-style dynamic pricing is becoming more and more common, especially for identikit city center business hotels that can really only compete on price. Tourist hotels tend to go more for "packages" including dinner and drinks and hot spring passes and whatnot. For both, Rakuten Travel is the only English-language website I know of where you can reliably find these deals, its main (Japanese-only) competitor being Jalan.net.
  • Places famous for cherry blossoms (eg. Kyoto and surroundings) get an extra high season in late March or so.
  • Ski resorts obviously have their high season in winter (but for these, too, New Year is super-peak).
  • The very cheapest lodgings will have more or less flat pricing year-round, although love hotels etc will usually jack up Fri/Sat prices, and the cheapest rooms tend to sell out first at times of high demand.
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There isn't much seasonal variation for the very cheapest class of hotels in Japan -- the business hotels, cheap ryokans, and capsule hotels. The rooms tend to be fixed price and when they sell out, they sell out.

Look at hotel networks such as Toyoko Inn, Route-Inn, Super Hotel, etc. Unfortunately, most of these are designed for domestic customers only -- the websites are only in Japanese, they don't book through resellers (like Hotels.com or Orbitz), and the front desk only speak Japanese.

  • That's helpful, thanks. I was probably looking at "pricier" international chains anyway, but that does give me some idea. – Andrew Ferrier Dec 25 '14 at 0:10
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    Japanese hotels (even cheap ones) do change their rates all the time, and they do resell, but only through Japanese sites. Try Rakuten Travel, which has an English site as well: travel.rakuten.com – jpatokal Dec 25 '14 at 0:56
  • Many cheap hotels (including Toyoko Inns) resell through standard English sites like booking.com as well, with no "tourist tax" as far as I can tell. I mostly use Rakuten Travel for small countryside ryokans or mishukus where it's the only option (otherwise I like booking.com's convenience). – fkraiem Dec 26 '14 at 0:35

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