March 17, 2012
The Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-A ) (NYSE: BRK-B ) annual meeting is dubbed "Woodstock for Capitalists" for good reason: 30,000-plus value investors and Warren Buffett acolytes descend upon Omaha, Neb., for a weekend of enlightenment and revelry. It's like Burning Man, sans drugs and desert plus a pair of billionaire octogenarians.
The main event is the marathon question-and-answer session held by Buffett and longtime business partner Charlie Munger. We'll once again be hosting a live chat during the event, which isn't televised, and firing off free, exclusive trip dispatches from Berkshire 2012 for those who can't make it.
For those who can come to this year's Berkshire meeting -- set for Saturday, May 5, at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha -- here are 14 insider tips based on our own experience and gathered from the Fool's online community on how to blow out the weekend!
- Get your credentials: First things first -- you must be a Berkshire Hathaway shareholder to get credentials to attend the meeting and the weekend's official festivities. All shareholders get four meeting credentials, though, which means you can bring along up to three friends or family members. Get the details on credentials straight from Berkshire.
- Book your flight ... now! Flights quickly fill up and get pricier the closer we get to the annual meeting weekend. Save yourself cash and stress by booking your flight as soon as possible.
- Rent a car ... now! Car-rental agencies book up quickly in Omaha, where you're more likely to find a steer on a street corner than a subway station. Book your car sooner rather than later so that you're not having to cab, bus, or shuttle your way around. Even better, save some cash by pooling up with friends who are also attending. And, of course, be sure to use Kayak to get the best price possible.
- Book your hotel ... now! Hotels in downtown Omaha are already booked up, which means you'll be staying on the outskirts of Omaha. Trust me, though, that this isn't much of an issue -- so long as you have a rental car.
- Get there early: You and 30,000 others all want a good view of Buffett and Munger. Doors open at the CenturyLink Center at 7 a.m. CT, and there will huge rush for primo seats on the floor. Arrive by 6 a.m. at the latest if you have any interest in avoiding nosebleed seats -- although we've heard good things about the box-seats section.
- Submit a question: Burning to ask Buffett and Munger a question? Submit one in advance to the journalists who will be quizzing the gentlemen during the meeting: Carol Loomis of Fortune, Becky Quick of CNBC, and Andrew Ross Sorkin of The New York Times. Each journalist will choose 12 questions, so you have a good shot if you submit an original, thoughtful, concisely worded question. You can also enter a lottery the morning of the meeting at each of the 13 microphones located in the arena and main overflow room to see whether you'll be one of the 18 audience members who gets to ask a question. The lottery takes place at 8:15 a.m. Hint: We hear the main overflow room is prime territory and a surprisingly good place to watch the event.
- Get your groove on: Berkshire hosts a special shareholders-only reception -- aka a huge party -- that has traditionally been held near Berkshire jewelry giant Borsheims. It's a fun event with plenty of adult beverages on hand, and it's conveniently located if you want to make a drunken discounted jewelry purchase for that special someone.
- Tour the floor: Berkshire hosts an expo with booths and products from its portfolio companies -- See's Candies, NetJets, Dairy Queen, and so on -- that makes for a fun experience, an embodiment of Berkshire's holdings, and a chance to stretch your legs. I recommend beating the massive crowds and visiting the expo floor a half-hour before lunch starts.
- Win a Dilly Bar: Buffett, who worked as a paperboy many years and billions of dollars ago, has issued a challenge: Beat Buffett in a newspaper contest held at the Clayton Homes booth, and win a free Dilly Bar from Dairy Queen.
- Buy chocolates: Last year, Buffett and Munger ate so much peanut brittle from See's Candies while answering questions that I thought they might get sick. Although Munger did fall asleep during the afternoon meeting, they were both fine -- because the stuff, in my expert opinion, is awesome. See's Candies are great, and they sell a special Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting box that make for a great souvenir for a spouse, kids, or co-workers who couldn't make the trip.
- Eat like Buffett: Try Gorat's Steakhouse, one of Buffett's longtime favorite haunts in Omaha. Reservations are required but not accepted before April 1. (Hint: Make yourself a calendar reminder for April 1.) You can also try Piccolo's, another Buffett favorite -- Buffett recommends the giant root beer float -- which is already accepting reservations. Gorat's and Piccolo's are serving Berkshire shareholders exclusively that Sunday, so consider Sunday dinner as an option if they're booked up on Friday and Saturday night and your schedule is flexible.
- Vegetarian? Try McFoster's Natural Kind Cafe, a vegetarian-friendly restaurant that also serves free-range chicken dishes and fresh seafood.
- Visit the VICs: Both the Value Investing Conference and the Value Investing Congress take place in Omaha around Berkshire weekend. I've attended both events in the past, and they're outstanding. Consider the Conference if you're arriving in Omaha on Thursday or the Congress if you're not leaving town until Monday night.
- See Tom Gayner: Markel (NYSE: MKL ) , which I peg as a mini-Berkshire Hathaway, hosts a brunch event for its shareholders every year the Sunday morning after the Berkshire meeting. The meeting is one of the highlights of the weekend, thanks to a talk and Q&A from Markel CIO Tom Gayner, a master value investor, Fool friend, and engaging public speaker. Make time for this event if you're a Markel shareholder.
Can't make it?
The next best thing to attending Berkshire 2012 is letting us bring the experience to your digital doorstep. You can sign up for my free trip dispatches from Berkshire 2012. We even throw in a special free report -- "2 Stocks Warren Buffett Wishes He Could Buy" -- that features two of my favorite ideas for new money right now. Register here for the free trip dispatches and the special free report.
Got tips of your own? Leave some pearls of Omaha wisdom in the comments sections below. See you in Omaha!