Omaha Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting Trip Report

berkshireEarlier this month I had the privilege of attending the 50th anniversary Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholder’s meeting in Omaha. This trip wasn’t planned too far in advance. I had originally planned to be hiking on the Appalachian Trail during the time of the annual meeting. Since my hiking plan was no longer feasible after I got hit by a car I it eventually occurred to me that I would be able to attend the shareholder’s meeting. I’d been wanting to attend the meeting for a few years but the timing hadn’t worked out. Since the timing worked out for me this year I figured I had better go. Warren Buffet is 84 and Charlie Munger is 91 so there was no guarantee that they would both be around for the next annual meeting.

I’m no longer a Berkshire Hathaway shareholder since I sold my stock to help pay down my student loans. Luckily, Berkshire Hathaway sells annual shareholder tickets for the annual meeting for just $5 on Ebay. Of course, I went through the TopCashBack shopping portal to click through to Ebay and purchase the tickets so I could earn a tiny bit of cash back on the purchase.

Since the shareholder’s meeting started early on Saturday morning I wanted to book a hotel room for Friday night. I had a free hotel night from two different hotel programs so I looked to see if I could book a free room for that night. Unfortunately, since about 40,000 people visit Omaha for the meeting and I was booking at basically the last-minute there were no free rooms available. Once I opened up my search for all hotel rooms in Omaha I discovered that there weren’t any hotel rooms available in Omaha for Friday night. Well, there were a couple of grungy looking places charging well over $100 for the night, but I didn’t consider them to be an option. I changed my plan and booked a free hotel room for Saturday night.

Omaha is a little over 2 1/2 hours drive from Kansas City and I drove up to Omaha Friday afternoon. My new car gets about 30 mpg on the highway so this wasn’t too big of an expense. I brought down this expense some by buying a $100 BP gas card for $95 on Ebay, again going through a cashback portal to make the purchase. I’m also a member of the BP Driver Rewards program which can be used with the discounted gift card. This allowed to get an additional discount on my gas purchases.

Since there were no hotel rooms my new plan was to sleep in my car Friday night. I bought an HHR last month and assumed that it would be easier to sleep in then my Focus. I was wrong about that. I really should have tested out the sleeping conditions in the car before actually trying to sleep in the car. I thought my new car would have more sleeping room but it seems to have about the same amount of sleeping room as my Focus did. It was way too bright in my car since I didn’t bring anything to cover my windows. My windows are tinted and I thought that would block the light, but the tint didn’t make much of a difference. I tried to park in a darker area of the Walmart parking lot but it was still pretty bright. I had a sleeping pad which was comfortable. The problem was that I couldn’t fully extend the sleeping pad and I kept slipping off of it to the hard surface of my folded down sears. If I sleep in the car again I will buy some padding to cover back area of the car in addition to bringing a sleeping pad. Although the sleeping conditions were rough I did manage to get about four hours of sleep. I could have just gotten up really early in Kansas City and headed to Omaha and gotten about the same amount of sleep. On the plus side I did save over $100 by sleeping in my car rather than getting a hotel room.

The meeting deserves its own post but instead I’ll just post a quick summary of the meeting. My friend JK from MyFrugalMiser was also in town for the meeting and was kind enough to save me a floor seat.  Before the meeting began there was an hour-long movie which was very entertaining. Then there were five hours of questions for Warren and Charlie divided by an hour lunch break in the middle. Listening to a couple of old guys answer questions for five hours doesn’t sound that exciting but I had a great time. I wish I had written down some of Charlie Munger’s quotes since he was quite funny. The trip and shareholder meeting was a great experience and I’m glad I went. The fact that the entire trip only cost me about $50 was just a plus.

Niagara Falls Trip Report

CAM00518After the end of tax season my GF and I took a weekend vacation to Niagara Falls. If you have been reading this blog for very long then you know we did not spend very much on this vacation. Our total spent for three nights hotel, two round-trip tickets from KC to Buffalo, three days car rental, and admission to several attractions came to just a little over $200. This post will explain how I managed to keep the cost of the vacation so low.

 

The airfare was basically free. I still had lots of Rapid Reward points left over from signing up for two Chase Southwest credit cards last year which allowed me to book my flight for free. I also earned a companion pass last year which allows my GF to fly for free with me as well.  This is pretty nice since we get double the value out of my points.  The only thing I had to pay for the two round-trip flights was the tax of $5.60 on each flight each way.

The hotel room was completely free. I received 25,000 Starwood points for signing up for the SPG American Express card and meeting the spending requirement earlier this year. Three nights at the hotel used up 10,000 of those points. We stayed three nights at the Four Points by Sheraton in Niagara Falls, NY.  The room was pretty nice by my standards. It was a little smaller than our room at Excalibur, but much newer and a little fancier than Excalibur. From reading reviews of the hotel I knew to request a river view room and I’m glad I did. We wouldn’t have gotten the river view otherwise and it was a great view. The hotel had free cookies by the front desk which were delicious and a nice perk for staying there. The hotel was about five miles from the Falls, which wasn’t a big deal since we had a rental car. If we ever go to the Falls again I’d probably get a hotel on the Canadian side though.

view from our room
View from our room

As you might have guessed, our main reason for visiting Niagara Falls was to see the Falls. The first day we went to Niagara Falls State Park and did some sightseeing there. A plus to being early in the season is that we didn’t have to pay for admission to the park or for parking. Also, it was not at all crowded. The minus is that some parts of the park were off-limits due to being covered in snow and ice so we couldn’t get quite as close to the Falls as we would have been able to later in the year. Also, the Cave of the Winds tour and Maid of the Mist boat ride were not yet operating. At the park we were able to view the American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls from Goat Island and we also walked on the bridges to the Three Sisters islands and observed the rapids above the Falls.

The next day we headed to Canada to observe the Falls from the Canadian side and to visit some tourist attractions.  It was also the first time either one of us had been to Canada so we were excited to visit Canada for the first time also. The previous day I had bought us two Wonder Passes which included tickets to Niagara Fury, Journey Behind the Falls, the Butterfly Conservatory, and 24 hour passes for the WEGO bus system. The tickets were $19.95 Canadian each which I think is a great bargain. The visit to Journey Behind the Falls was worth that much all by itself. This was another plus to coming early in the season as Wonder Passes are only available in the off-season. The view of the Falls the previous day was awesome but seeing the Falls from the Canadian side is much more awesome. This post is already getting unwieldy so I won’t go into detail about everything we did. I will highly recommend going on the Journey Behind the Falls tour. You actually do journey behind the Falls. There are tunnels dug behind the Falls and you get to walk through the tunnels and observe the Falls from behind the Falls at a couple of different windows. There is also an observation deck where you can view the Falls outside at a pretty close range.

We both really enjoyed our visit to Niagara Falls and will probably go again sometime. On the next visit I would plan to stay on the Canadian side since the view is much better from there and most of the attractions I’d want to see are there also. A lot of the American side seems to be run-down and the roads are in terrible condition. The next trip we would also like to explore a little further into Canada. We didn’t feel like we experienced much Canadian culture in Niagara Falls since it was pretty similar to any other tourist town. Is there anything else you would like to know about our Niagara Falls vacation? If you’ve been to the Falls before do you have any suggestions on what we should do on our next trip?

March Las Vegas Trip Report

fremontstreet This report is a little late, but it is better late than never. At least I hope so. My GF and I went to Las Vegas for two nights and three days at the end of March. Since I am a tight-fisted miser we didn’t spend much money for our vacation. This post will highlight some of the ways we kept our vacation expenses low.

Our first big savings was on airfare. By signing up for two Chase Southwest cards last year and doing a little bit of spending on them I was able to earn a companion pass. This pass allows my GF to fly with me for free all year. I was able to book my flights for free with the points I earned from shopping through the Rapid Rewards shopping portal and then I was able to add my GF to the flights for free. Although the flights were free we did still have to pay $5.60 in taxes each way. That is still an excellent bargain. If anyone would like a referral to the Southwest Rapid Rewards program let me know and I’ll send you a referral email. I’ll get 500 points for referring you and you will get 250 points for signing up through my link. The Chase Southwest Visa cards are currently only offering a 25,000 points bonus right now. They typically offer a 50,000 points bonus several times a year. If you’re interested in signing up for this card I would suggest you wait until the 50,000 points bonus returns.

Our next big savings was on our hotel room. We booked a Saturday and Sunday night at the Excalibur for “free” using our points from MyVegas rewards. We did still have to pay a $22 a night resort fee. Considering the hotel would have been over $100 plus the resort fee for just Saturday night this was still a significant savings.
heartattackgrill
We also got some pretty good bargains on food. Our room came with a $20 food credit. The usefulness of the credit was somewhat limited since the credit could only be used for drinks at the bar or at the pricey steakhouse. We used the credit by getting a couple of items to-go on Saturday night. The bartender who took our order didn’t seem pleased to place a to-go order stating that they were not a to-go restaurant. He stated the same thing when I ordered food to-go back in November. Since they offer to-go orders I don’t feel bad about placing one, especially since this got the most value out of the food credit. This was a small dinner, but we were not very hungry due to having In-n-Out burgers that afternoon. In-n-Out burger was an inexpensive and yummy meal. We don’t have In-n-Out in Missouri so I try to have it every time I visit Vegas. We also used MyVegas rewards to get a free dinner buffet and free breakfast buffet for both of us at Luxor on Sunday night and Monday morning. The dinner buffet at Luxor wasn’t very good and I wouldn’t have been happy if I had actually paid the regular $25 price for a buffet. We were both full from having lunch at the Heart Attack Grill so we wouldn’t have had much at the buffet even if it was good. The breakfast buffet was much better although I think it is overpriced and would have never paid for it out-of-pocket. The Heart Attack Grill was our most expensive meal. It was a unique and entertaining experience and I didn’t feel bad about splurging there since we saved so much on food everywhere else. If I went again I’d order less food to keep the bill down. We ended up with more food than we could eat.

MyVegas rewards provided us with even more savings. I redeemed a reward for a $10 free play credit and my GF redeemed a reward for a $25 free play credit. I had a profitable weekend of gambling and easily made enough from gambling to pay for the entire trip. We also redeemed a reward for two free tickets to the aquarium at the Luxor. It was interesting, but I would have felt ripped-off if I had paid full price to see it.

We used the bus for transportation while in Vegas which saved us a fair amount compared to taking taxis or renting a car. That is all the ways I can think of that we saved money on our Vegas trip. If you have any questions please let me know in the comments.

Cancun Trip Review

CAM00444

Last month I had a five day vacation in Cancun with my girlfriend and my mom. The vacation was not quite as frugal as I had originally planned, but I do believe it was a bargain for what we got.  And I think we probably paid quite a bit less than most people who had a similar vacation.

The round-trip airfare from Kansas City to Cancun ended up costing about $70 each. The flight was free, but we still had to pay taxes and fees.  The flights were paid for with points I had earned for opening a Southwest credit card and for shopping through the Rapid Rewards shopping portal. I earned enough points this year to qualify for a companion pass. For the rest of this year and all of next year my girlfriend can fly with me for free, I don’t have to use any points for her fare.  If you would like to apply for the Chase Southwest Premier Card you can use my referral link to apply and you can get 2 roundtrip flights on Southwest with 50,000 bonus points once you meet up the easy promotion requirements. Please note that this card does have a $99 annual fee that isn’t waived.  If you use my referral link I’ll earn some points towards a free flight as well.   If that referral link doesn’t work or if you would like a referral email to Rapid Rewards leave me a comment and I’ll get an email out to you.

The flights on Southwest had both good points and bad points.  The good points were that we were able to check our bags for free and both the final leg of the flight to Cancun and the flight leaving Cancun were almost empty.  I believe the flight attendants said there were thirty-some people on the flight.  This was nice since it allowed us to all spread out in our own row. There was also free in-flight TV which helped pass the time.  The bad was that we had flight delays on both the outbound and return trip. They were able to make up a lot of time in the air so we didn’t arrive too much later than the originally scheduled time. Also, there are no direct flights from KC to Cancun which meant long layovers for us.  The flight delays had the effect of making our long layovers a little shorter so I didn’t mind them too much.

We stayed at the Riu Palace Peninsula and the hotel cost was $160 per night. That was more than I prefer to pay, but when you consider it is for three people at an all-inclusive resort it is actually a pretty good deal.  This room would normally cost over $300 a night, we got the much lower rate since my mom is a travel agent. The hotel and grounds were very nice and the view was great.  My big complaint about the hotel room was that the noise from the bands playing in the bar below made it impossible to go to sleep without earplugs.  I wasn’t impressed with the food at all. I thought the food we had on our cruise last year was much better.  We ate at the buffet most nights since you had to reserve the restaurants ahead of time and we were only able to make one reservation. The one night we were able to eat in one of the specialty restaurants was pretty good, but for the price I want every night to be good. Free drinks including alcoholic beverages were also included.  This probably makes the hotel a great deal for drinkers.  Since neither my GF or I drinks very much this didn’t really provide us with much value.  I did have a few frozen drinks while lounging by the pool. They tasted great, but I don’t think they had much alcohol since I never got even slightly buzzed and I’m a lightweight drinker.

The highlight of our trip was the visit to Xplor.  This is a theme park with zip lining, amphibious vehicles, rafting and swimming in underwater caves.  We were able to do the zip lining, amphibious vehicles, and swimming in the underwater cave and I enjoyed them all.  Since we explored the park at a leisurely pace we didn’t get to do everything.  I would have liked to have had more time at the park.  The park package included transportation by bus to and from the park which kept us from having the whole day in the park.  The park was a lot of fun.  The price of $135 was a little high, but I think it was a worthwhile vacation splurge.

The total cost of the trip came to about $600 each which is a pretty good deal for round-trip airfare for three and three people for four nights at an upscale all-inclusive resort.  I don’t think I would do a similar trip again, but I did enjoy it and I’m glad we were able to go.

A Profitable Vacation

hiking at red rock
I am back from my Vegas vacation and I had a great time. The picture is at Red Rock Canyon where I went hiking with some friends. The trip didn’t start off too well as I lost $200 playing poker the first day. The last couple of days I had a good comeback though. On Monday night I placed 4th in a no-limit hold’em tournament at the Sahara which paid $310. After deducting my entrance fee and dealer toke that left me with a profit of $250. I had won a little bit since losing the $200 so this left me at about a $100 up on gambling for the trip.

My best luck was on Tuesday when I was scheduled to leave. My flight was overbooked, I volunteered to be bumped and scored a $200 travel voucher. It would have been even more if I wasn’t already traveling on a reward ticket. This gave me several more hours in Vegas and I used it to play more poker. I ended up winning $90 playing $4-$8 Omaha H/L. My total of gambling winnings for the trip was $193. Combine that with the travel voucher and I made $393 during my vacation. My expenses(hotel,parking,taxi,bus,valet)were only $252 so it was a profitable vacation. It is too bad I can’t go on vacation all the time and make money.

Considering Big Miles Purchase

I read a post at The Art of Non-Conformity detailing how to get $5600 worth of travel for $2000. There is also a discussion about this deal at Flyertalk. The extremely simplified version is that after making 5 small purchases from different participating merchants you make a big purchase at TrackItBack and get a 250% bonus on their already generous 40 miles per dollar. I have already made the small purchases, which was no big deal since they are mostly stuff I can give as Christmas presents. I’m holding off on making the big TrackItBack purchase though. I’d appreciate some more opinions on whether this deal is worthwhile or not.

P.S. – I will not be making as big a purchase as Chris Guillebeau. I’m thinking about going for 200,000 miles which would be enough for an around the world ticket and cost $1538.