March 11, 2010— -- The recession has led a lot of Americans to find creative ways to survive. For Jim Kennedy, an unemployed 46-year-old California man, that's meant using his 1-million-mile-plus stockpile of hotel and airline points to keep a roof over his head.
Since being kicked out of his foreclosed home on Jan. 17, the former corporate development manager has relied on all those miles accumulated during years on the road to find a place to stay -- a Holiday Inn Express here, a Hampton Inn there and a Motel 6 in between.
Wherever he can find a room for points, Kennedy stays. He switches hotels, sometimes staying up to a week in one location, depending on the availability of free nights or where he needs to travel for interviews. Hotels often charge different rates, even when paying for points, for different nights and Kennedy shops around for the best bargain.
Finding a hotel that offers a free breakfast is a bonus, though he notes that the free breakfasts can get monotonous. A lot of hotels, regardless of chain, seem to get their food from the same supplier, so even the powdered eggs taste the same.
"You get tired of the same options every day," said Kennedy, who was at first reluctant to let his identity be known because his 85-year-old mother doesn't know that he lost his job 19 months ago. He said she has no money to help him and "she worries a lot."
He searches for hotels with free Internet service so he can send off resumes, and also looks for "a place with a microwave and fridge so I can buy frozen dinners."
Even the entertainment options are important. Kennedy says he knows which hotels offer HD TV and how many channels they provide. .
Sometimes the hotels have an unpleasant and surprising fee tacked on: $10 to park at a hotel near Disneyland, $20 to park at an airport hotel.
"That's three, four days of my food budget," Kennedy said.
Man Lives off Frequent Flier, Hotel Points
Before the recession, Kennedy helped a software company acquire a rival, checking over the finances in a job that paid him $120,000 a year.
Today, he gets $450 a week from the state of California.
That money goes for his car's lease, which he uses to drive up and down the coast for job interviews, his cell phone, gas, car insurance, his storage locker and, of course, food.
Otherwise, he is living off all those loyalty points: about 85,000 with Starwood Preferred Guest, 400,000 with Hilton Honors, 100,000 Delta Sky Miles, 120,000 American AAdvantage, 200,000 United Mileage Plus and 125,000 American Express Membership Rewards points.
On a typical night Kennedy mixes points with cash, hoping to stretch out his cache of points a little longer. For instance, Starwood's Sheraton Four Points offers some rooms for 1,600 points and $30.
"So you can see with 90,000 points, you can drag it out for a long time there," he said. "If you wanted to stay at the Ritz Carlton, it is a lot more points than the Motel 6."
Kennedy has been doing this for about two months and estimates that he has three left until the points are depleted. He hopes to find a job before then but is being told that employers are getting 300 to 400 applicants for each position.
Kennedy said he never envisioned a lifestyle of constantly checking in and checking out of hotels.
"I kind of did when I was on the road, he said, "but at least I had a place to come home to."