With things slowly starting to move in the right direction for travel again, we thought that this would be a good time to write the sequel to our ‘How much should your trip to Japan cost?’.
In that article we mainly gave our readers pointers on how to plan a trip of their own, and how much to budget for each category of your trip. However, we didn’t really go into the luxury side of travel in Japan, and how much one should plan or budget for a luxurious trip to Japan. In a perfect world, all of our custom tour clients, wouldn’t even think of words like ‘budget’, or ‘limits’. The ideal luxury, custom tour client is one who simply knows the type of experience they would like for us to provide, and budget would not be a limiting factor. That peace of mind is in and of itself a luxury. It isn’t necessarily the cost of the accommodations, the make of the car that is taking you from place to place, but more so just the comfort of being able to afford the type of trip that you want. I’ve had clients with large budgets who wanted to have dinner at CoCoIchi (a fast-food curry restaurant), because of phone conversations that we had before they got here.
Having said that, not everyone has the freedom to simply say to their travel planner, “spare no expense!”, and so I’m writing this to help those who do want a more luxury-level experience to garner a realistic expectation of what ‘luxury’ travel looks like in Japan (and more importantly, how much it costs).
First and foremost, I will repeat what I’ve written in previous articles by saying that Japan is more expensive than most of the other Asian travel destinations. That expense is reflected on all budget levels, including the luxury level. Whenever I hear someone say, or write something along the lines of “I want to stay at 5-star accommodations at every city on my itinerary” I immediately sigh, and mentally prepare for how I’m going to let this person down, while still being polite, and not pushing them away from us. To give you an example, we once had someone approach us about a ski trip to Japan. Their trip was around 10 or so days, and they were bringing their kids along, US expats, living in another Asian country. They wanted to visit multiple ski resorts around the country, and as I learned how to ski and snowboard in Japan, I was all too happy to take them on.
They didn’t provide a specific budget, initially (which is always a red flag for me as a trip planner… well maybe not ‘red’, but perhaps a orangish-yellow…) and so I simply went ahead and planned their trip with no limitations on their budget as they instructed. However, planning a luxury trip can be a very time-consuming activity, and so after I had priced out the 3-day Hokkaido leg of the the trip, I wanted to make sure that we both were on the same page about what “luxury” means and I decided to give them a call. The place I was intending on reserving is stunning. private slopes, two-story suite with and en-suite all-natural hot-springs onsen inside the suite on the 2nd floor, access to a private chef, all of the amenities that I would imagine when someone says to me “I want the best” (plus a helluva lot more). The cost for just this 3-day portion of the trip was in excess of $10,000 USD. Ski season can be expensive. This client surely thought so, as after I told them the cost of just this portion of the trip, and they then told me that was around the amount that they wanted to spend… altogether… for the whole 10-day trip.
The cost to stay at that ski resort for three days doesn’t seem “expensive” to me. Not because I’m rich and I fly a private jet to Hokkaido for lunch on the weekends (I’m not rich, but I do know of someone who does fly to Sapporo from Osaka for lunch, and then flies back), but because as a trip planner who plans trips exclusively for Japan, I’ve seen every budget level, and I also know how much it costs to stay pretty much anywhere. And also because we have a lot of connections with the 5-star hotels that we book. There are levels to this. For instance, we get a lot of clients that are convinced that their $2,000 per day budget should definitely afford them the best hotels in Japan, for them and all four of their kids. What we end up having to do with people who can’t come to terms that true luxury in Japan can still be outside of their range (even at that level), is have them stay at 5-star accommodations, but in a standard room. One of my favorite hotels in Japan is a small boutique hotel in Kyoto, that is inside of a building that was built before Kyoto implemented its regulations on how high you can build within city limits (to maintain its quaint skyline). This hotel has a suite on the top floor that makes the stay worth the $2,500 – $4,000 per night stay. It’s stunning, and the views from the suite can (literally) only be experienced from there. Overall the hotel is very nice, but if you aren’t staying at the suite, there are other locations that are equally beautiful. For me the ‘luxury’ of staying there would be that amazing suite.
Having said all of that, how much should the “luxury” traveler budget for their trip to Japan? If you consider yourself to be in this category, please ask yourself the following questions:
1.) Do you have a “budget”?
If so, you may not fit into the category of “luxury”. You may have a higher than average budget, but that isn’t necessarily the same thing as a “luxury” traveler. I’m not saying this to hurt feelings. I’m saying this so that people can garner the proper expectations when planning a trip to Japan, which has excellent accommodations at every budget level. If there is a disparity between how you would like to travel, and how you can afford to travel, then you may be setting yourself up for disappointment. Even the best of travel planners, cannot magically insert you into Japan’s most exclusive hotels for a discount.
2.) How do you define luxury?
As I stated at the beginning of this article, luxury to me isn’t necessarily the cost, but more so the experience. The experience of viewing Kyoto from a higher elevation is a nice ‘luxury’ in my mind, but so is the experience of eating at my friend’s restaurant. My friend in this scenario is a fisherman on a tiny island who is also a sushi chef. He catches most of his own fish, and prepares only what he catches that day or other fishermans’ catch. His restaurant is a tiny cabin nestled in the woods, that you would never find unless you knew him, and I love eating there and being with friends. There is no menu, but it doesn’t costs much at all to eat there. It’s such a luxury to be there, and to watch him in his element. How do you define luxury, and is there a cost associated with that?
3.) How have you experienced luxury-level travel in previous trips and what luxuries are you accustomed to when traveling?
Private cars? Airport pickups? First class flights? An attendant or guide who assists you while you’re traveling? To get into further details, what kind of car? If you have an airport pick up, does it need to be a certain make or model in order for it to feel ‘luxurious’? These are all details that a planner needs to know in order to craft the type of experience that you prefer. There is a location in Japan that I love for its natural beauty and historical significance, however it is extremely difficult to access (train lines have been wrecked by repeated tsunamis). There are only three ways to reach it:
a.) by car
b.) by public bus
c.) by helicopter
Which would you choose? There is no right answer to the question (obviously), and I’ve had clients with higher than average budgets choose the public bus, but saving time is a nice luxury, as are the views from the helicopter. Your budget should reflect the level of comfort that you are aiming for when traveling, and someone who is already accustomed to a luxury-level of comfort and convenience will appreciate the associated cost.
4.) How important are your accommodations?
If you are wanting to stay at nice hotels, do you want to stay in a suite? Is the location the important part, or is it the level of service at the accommodation? Is your choice based on comfort and convenience, or appearance?
5.) How important is food?
This is a huge one. People often forget about the expense of food when planning for their trip. Michelin star restaurants (while there are a few that are very affordable) are generally quite expensive. Some can cost more than your flights to and from Japan. How important is food to your overall experience?
Please take some time to reflect on these questions before approaching your travel specialist for any destination. It will save you and your planner a lot of time. We will write a second part to this article going over the more exact costs soon.