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Thoughts on advance purchase rates for hotel rooms?

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I'm sure this could go in some other forum on Fodors, but considering I want the advice of those I know best, I'm keeping it here in the Asia forum (and also because it relates to my upcoming trip to Japan.)

What are your general thoughts on doing advance purchase rates for hotel rooms? It seems that in Japan there aren't a lot of options for any sort of big discounts outside of a direct booking (as there is, say, in SE Asia with discount booking engines.) So I'm finding that the "best" rates at hotels in Japan (and I use quotes because none of these rates are anything I'd particularly classify as a deal) are the advance purchase rates.

I've avoided these like the plague in the past, as my biggest fear is the 'what if' factor: you need to cancel the trip, etc--which luckily we've never had to do--but there's always that question mark in the back of your head.

Is travel insurance (which we'll have anyway) a first-line defense against the 'what if' factor? I'm assuming that money would theoretically be reimbursable via an insurance claim if you had to cancel for a covered reason.

I always see these rates and think no one ever books them ... but I guess some of you out there have. Or maybe I'm just more gun-shy than the average Joe.

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