In April 2016, my husband and I headed to Japan. In this post I’ll be sharing how we planned our trip. In later posts, I will share our itinerary and our opinions of the places we visited. Knowing we had just under 2 weeks off, we planned to visit Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka as our main destinations. In addition, we wanted to visit Himeji Castle and Nara.

This is how we planned our flights, hotels, and our JR Pass (train ticket) for Japan.

Flights

For flights, we started our search using a few comparison websites. I usually use comparison websites to scope out the best routes, dates, and cheapest airlines.
The comparison sites I used for this trip were:

  • Google Flights – Didn’t find us any good deals but I usually check with them anyway.
  • Skyscanner – Originally I wasn’t a fan but I’m starting to rely on Skyscanner to find deals.
  • Ctrip – A Chinese based site but sometimes has great deals.

After having found a few decent prices, i then check direct with the airlines to see whether the price is cheaper.
We booked with Spring Airlines – bear in mind that we live in Shanghai and we knew that Spring Airlines was a budget airline that flew from our nearest airport to Tokyo. Upon first glance, Spring Airlines flights look incredibly cheap – but they show the cost of the fare minus airport taxes. However, the flights still worked out a good price. We decided to book the later flight, meaning we would arrive just before midnight, as the price was cheaper.

Hotels

Just like with flights, I check comparison websites before checking direct. Sometimes I prefer to book through third-party websites to take advantage of deals like free cancellation, but I always check direct in case they offer the same deal for a cheaper price, or if they have a larger selection of rooms available.

  • Booking.com – Offers free cancellation on most rooms. Also have options to see hotels on a map. Easy to use and shows rooms on a variety of budgets.
  • Hotels.com – They’ve started offering free cancellation a lot more. If you subscribe to their emails you can get discount on rooms. They also offer free nights when you use them to book a certain amount of rooms. I haven’t used Hotels.com much as I tend to find the hotel cheaper on Booking.com
  • Airbnb.com – Accommodation without staying in a hotel. See my recent post for information about airbnb.com

Our accommodation:

  1. As we would be arriving late at night, we booked to stay in a hotel near the airport for the first night. They offered a free shuttle and it worked out cheaper than trying to travel to our first hotel using a taxi so late at night. We booked this using Hotels.com as it was easier to navigate than the hotel’s direct website.
  2. In Tokyo, we found a hotel using a comparison site (I think booking.com) that was just outside of Shinjuku. We booked this one directly as it was slightly cheaper and you were able to pay when you arrived without giving any card details beforehand.
  3. In Kyoto, we chose to book an apartment using airbnb.com as the price of the apartment was so much cheaper than booking a hotel room or even beds in a dorm. It was a fantastic price, was really close to Kyoto without paying for the ideal location, and felt a bit more homely. Airbnb.com also had more choice for the dates that we were planning on going as it was quite late notice.
  4. In Osaka, we booked through Airbnb.com again as the price was cheap again. The location wasn’t as great but it was within our budget and close to a train station. The apartment was nice and felt more private than a hotel would have.

Train Travel within Japan

If you plan to do a travel a lot during your time in Japan, it is worth looking into a JR Pass. This pre-paid train ticket allows you travel on local trains and shinkansens (bullet trains) within Japan as long as they are owned by the JR company. The catch to this ticket is that you can’t buy it within Japan. Many websites sell the JR pass but as we were buying ours at such late notice, we found a local travel agent that sold them. You pay for these passes before going to Japan and then exchange them (at specific stations) for your actual train tickets. There is a 7, 14, or 21-day option. They aren’t cheap but they can save you a lot of money. (I shall share our experience in another post.)

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