Frequent-flier Jim Kennedy may have finally found a job, but he's still depending on those complimentary buffet breakfasts, since the 46-year-old who has been living off airline and hotel loyalty points for the past five months has yet to find a landlord who will accept his application. "The last rental agent turned me down because of my financial history," he said.
Still, he's not disheartened. Just last Monday he started a job that will eventually enable the multi-faceted marketing expert to leave the Motel 6s and Hampton Inns for good and move into a place of his own. The financial backers of Netword, an Internet advertising company, heard about Kennedy's plight and offered him a job as CEO. He's now making just over half of the six-figure salary he was earning before he was laid off, but he says it's a heck of a lot better than living off his stockpile of more than one million loyalty points. He says he had just enough to get him through June.
More than 20 months ago, Kennedy, who is single and has no children, lost his corporate development job. Times being what they are, he had difficulty finding another position. Seven months ago he filed for bankruptcy, and in January, sheriff's deputies led him away from his Newport Beach, Calif., condo. Kennedy moved most of his worldly possessions into a mini-storage unit, signed up for a post office box, and began moving from budget inn to budget inn -- going wherever there were frequent guest specials, free breakfasts, microwaves, etc.
Orange County on $5 a day
He imposed a $5 a day food budget on himself, and shopped for frozen meal specials in supermarkets. He converted his United Airlines miles into Holiday Inn Express points, and stayed in chains that had similar programs with other airlines. The value of having traveled so much with his former jobs had never been so apparent.
Over the past 20 years, Kennedy had racked up about 85,000 with Starwood Preferred Guest, 400,000 with Hilton Honors, 100,000 Delta Sky Miles, 120,000 with American AAdvantage, 200,000 United Mileage Plus points and 125,000 American Express Membership Rewards points. The Wyndham Hotel chain saw a feature on him on CNN, and gave him a large block of loyalty points, which helped him for a number of weeks. "I'm very grateful to them," he says.
But what about the Internet? It's probably a job-seeker's best friend, but on a $5-dollar-a-day food budget, you can hardly buy a drink in a wireless coffeehouse, and besides, Kennedy was using an 11-year-old laptop with no wireless connection. Internet access can cost upward of $14 per day in a hotel. "I found that there's a relationship between Internet access and the cost of a hotel," he said. The less expensive the hotel, the less expensive the Internet access. Many of the places he stayed, such as the Four Points Sheraton, offered it for free, and Motel 6 was as low as $2.99 per day.
You still have to pay to play
There were some expenses Kennedy could simply not get out of. He had to spend quite a bit on gas, car lease payments and insurance -- all essential for his executive-level job search in Southern California. At least shampoo, lotion, soap and shower caps weren't issues.
He hopes that some landlord in the Ventura area, where he's now working, will perhaps take the media attention he's been getting into consideration and believe that he is now employed and honors his commitments to pay. They surely can't doubt the fact that he's resourceful -- that resourcefulness is what ended up getting him the job, and what he advises other job seekers to master.
"In times like these, you have to find creative ways to market yourself," he says. "Traditional methods just aren't working. Employers are being more selective -- where they used to list four job requirements, now they're listing 12, and they know if they just wait long enough, someone will come along with all 12." Marketing himself as a particularly savvy job seeker with unique problem-solving skills, as demonstrated by his unique accommodation caper, is what finally won over an employer.
"It's been a long journey," he says, adding that he's not celebrating yet. "Of course I'm happy that I'm not sliding downhill anymore, but I've just barely started climbing back up. I'm very thankful to be going in the right direction."
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