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Tuesday, April 24

Mystery Shopping My Way to Omaha for the Berkshire Hathaway Meeting

Here's my budget for my week-long vacation to Omaha for the Berkshire Hathaway meeting:

  • Lodging:  $40
  • Gas:  $60
  • Meals:  $60
  • Souvenirs:  $100
  • Miscellaneous:  $40

Total for Six Days:  $300

It's time for my annual dose of Warren Buffett.  My journey will begin on Wednesday, May 2nd.  Forever searching for the frugal-ist way to see my idol, I've put together a nice mystery shopping trip along the way.

The weekend kicks off with a cocktail party Friday evening, so I'm giving myself plenty of time to travel the roughly 1,000 miles to Omaha.  I'll shop some gas stations Wednesday afternoon before arriving at a Hampton Inn in rural northwest Tennessee, which I'll be shopping.  On Thursday I plan to play it by ear as far as picking up shops along the way.  In previous years there's been some good stuff in Iowa, which is where I'm staying Thursday night.  I didn't find a hotel to shop so I am staying at one of Hilton Honors' "opportunity" hotels.  These properties give you a free night for 7,500 points.  I've earned more points than that in a single night shopping a high end Hilton property.  Onward Friday morning to O-town.  I found out years ago that the only way to get a room in Omaha during the Berkshire Hathaway weekend is to book about one year in advance.  Fortunately I was able to use my Hilton Honors points when I reserved my room, so those two nights are free as well.  While I'm in Omaha I have 6 gas stations lined up (12 gallons of gas, or almost a tankful for the Corolla).  I'm sure I can find more work in that city if there's any down time.

The return trip is equally eventful.  I stop over in Kansas City on Sunday night.  Since I couldn't find a hotel to shop I am staying at the cheapest motel in the city.  I've got several gas stations to shop there.  Then Monday evening I shop a Hampton Inn in southern Tennessee.  I expect to arrive home late Tuesday morning.

So there you have it:  a frugal guide to seeing the Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett.  Out of six nights, I'm paying for a hotel just one night.  Breakfast every morning will be included with my hotel stay.  That leaves two meals per day and I'm sure I'll find some restaurants to shop along the way.   I'm driving about 2,000 miles, which I estimate will take 57 gallons of fuel.  I'll be starting with a full tank (13 gallons) thanks to shops I'll be doing the day before I leave.    I also will be reimbursed for 30 gallons of gas for the 15 gas station shops I'm already assigned.  That accounts for 43 of the 57 gallons I need.  Maybe I'll get lucky and find enough shops along the way to cover the other 14 gallons.

I wonder how many other Buffett fans look for the most frugal means possible with which to see The Man.  Buffett himself is famous for some of his frugal mannerisms, so it makes sense that at least some of his followers would practice frugality along their journeys.


  1. It sounds like you have figured out how to subsidize your trip although that will be quite a bit of work. I'm actually going to be in Kansas City that Monday to meet a friend. I don't what your schedule is exactly but maybe we could have breakfast or something.

  2. Andy,
    I just emailed. That would be great. Hope we can work something out.

  3. When you have a route, do you do any shops that require printed paperwork? If so do you print on the road if you pick one up on the way or do you avoid shops that require that. Thanks!

  4. Dave,
    I try not to let paperwork requirements get in the way. What I do avoid on extended routes are shops that have a specific time frame. I haven't signed up for any restaurant shops for this trip because I don't want to be tied down to a specific town at meal time. Instead I may sign up for a restaurant the day of if it will work out.

    I'm doing mostly Shell gas stations on this trip - I have to bring gift cards with me which were shipped from the MSC, along with authorization letters and thank you notes. That's not a problem because I planned this out a few weeks before the trip.

    Sometimes I am on the road and staying in hotels and I will find work the night before and paperwork is required. Fortunately most of the hotels these days have a business center where you can print your paperwork at no charge.

  5. This is a genious supplement the cost of the travel with mystery shops. I'm also a "buffetology" follower....and a mystery shopper but I never really applied the idea of using mystery shops for vacation purposes. Genius!!

  6. Christine,

    Thanks for the compliment. Mystery shopping can certainly mitigate the cost of your vacation. Two suggestions: 1) if your travels take you through rural areas, that's where the big money can often be made. I've done simple gas station mystery shops that normally pay $6-$10 that were paying $40-$50 because they were far from where shoppers lived. For me they were along my route, so why not? 2) if you take your family, don't overdo it! I have been known to turn an 8 hour drive into a 12 hour drive because I get so caught up in taking the big money shops along the way. Sure, making an extra $300 on the way is a great way to start your vacation, but do better than I did about setting expectations before you leave!

    Happy travels!