Smart and sexy Tokyo hotels for $100 a night? This summer, American travelers are saying Hai! to deals that once seemed impossible to find.
Tokyo and Chicago, considered front-runners to host the 2016 Summer Olympics, are going head-to-head this year to impress International Olympic Committee officials. Tokyo, surprisingly, may have already surpassed Chicago with its growing number of two- and three-star hotels, some of which are a better value than comparable properties in the Windy City.
Consolidator websites and increased competition have put an end to $300-and-up hotel rooms in Tokyo as the only option for decent lodging in the megalopolis. But youth hostels or capsule hotels aren't what you'll end up with for $100 to $200 a night midweek. Instead, imagine chic destinations with marble-floored lobbies, high ceilings and Internet access in every room, if you know where to look and are willing to take a chance on brands not well-known in the U.S.
Thanks in part to the proliferation of hotel booking websites as well as the global recession, savvy travelers are also finding serious bargains at old standbys, such as the Miyako (now managed by Sheraton), and at relatively new players, such as the Sumitomo-owned Villa Fontaine chain that once catered to a mostly Japanese business clientele.
"Due to the economy, the prices for hotels in Japan are very good right now," said Seattle-based travel agent Max Hattori of Sankei Travel in April. "It depends on the season, of course, but this summer prices may go up," he said. "Prices traditionally do rise every summer a little bit, but if the economy is still down, prices will stay low."
Although top-tier properties beloved by business travelers such as the Park Hyatt Tokyo probably are not trimming their $600-per-night rates (despite midweek occupancy rates that have dipped lately below 60%), other hotels in the same Shinjuku neighborhood are rushing to meet demand from value-conscious travelers looking for the right mix of location and value, with a dash of class.
For example, the smart-looking Hotel Sunroute Plaza Shinjuku, which is consistently among Tripadvisor's most popular sites and is also highly ranked on Hotels.com, offers luxury on the cheap for about $100 a night, with simple yet elegant rooms in a desirable part of Shinjuku even closer to the action than the Park Hyatt.
This is no backpacker hangout. Every stylish room here looks reverse-engineered from a W Hotel, albeit on a smaller scale.
The rooms are not tiny by Tokyo standards, and they have Western-style bedding and modern furniture. And breakfast here is better and cheaper than at competitors in the bustling heart of western Tokyo known for its skyscrapers and shopping. Think buffet-style choices with fresh fruit, scrambled eggs and even corn flakes for homesick Yanks.
To be fair, the Sunroute cannot challenge the numerous larger hotel chains in the area when it comes to service; only about half the staff speaks passable English. But for younger travelers, staying in the heart of Shinjuku for less than $120 a night may outweigh the benefits of a concierge. After all, the same Internet service they used to book the hotel room can tell them where good restaurants are. And use of the hotel's two computers in the second-floor lounge is free.
Info: www.sunroute.jp/Sun routeTopHLE.html.
Tripadvisor devotees are also finding deals at one of Tokyo's best-kept secrets: stylish serviced apartment rentals such as the Oakwood Apartments Shinjuku. The recent fallout in the financial sector has hit Oakwood where it hurts.
"We used to have more long-term residents from companies like Lehman Bros.," Eiichi Ishimaru, Oakwood Asia's director of sales and marketing, told me during a visit to its futuristic 32-story Shinjuku property.
"We still have more longer-term people who are corporate [types] who stay more than a year, and we prefer long-term guests, but we are now also catering to others who are coming for a few days at a time."
As an alternative to full-service hotels, Oakwood, which has eight properties in Tokyo's most sought-after neighborhoods, has made more vacant Western-style apartments available to visitors on websites such as Expedia.com. And although the Oakwood Apartments Shinjuku is striking, the almost college dormitory-sized rooms, for $150 to $200 per night, might satisfy only single travelers.
Better bets for couples and families are the comparatively huge studios at Oakwood's Shirokane or Roppongi locations. Most apartments at the Roppongi location come with balconies and are similar in size to a large San Francisco studio apartment -- a rarity in Tokyo, where square footage is scarce.
For Japan novices planning on spending more than a week there, Oakwood apartments offer enough space to stretch out and see how real expats live in Japan, complete with miniaturized appliances and all.
Other fine values
While hotel Villa Fontaine, Tokyu Stay, JR's Mets line of budget hotels and Ishin's "b hotel" properties (the latest slick "b hotel" opened in June in Ikebukuro near a Tokyo train station) offer some of the best deals, other more established names are dropping their rates too.
Case in point: Sheraton's slightly run-down (yet still grand) Miyako Hotel near Ebisu and Akihabara had a $135 walkup rate this spring and a similar rate last week on its website for a room that usually goes for more than $300 a night. Now there's a price that won't get lost in translation.
Info: www.hvf.jp/eng ; www.tokyustay.co.jp/e/ ; www.jrhotelgroup.com/eng/ ; www.ishinhotels.com/en ; www.starwoodhotels.com /sheraton/property/overview .