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How to use your vacation as stock research

Kevin Chupka
Executive Producer/Writer

"How are you doing? No... really... how's it been going this summer?" You don't have to answer. I realize this is a one way communication stream. What I just gave you though was the key to the information kingdom when it comes to stock research this week. If you want to know how a company, whether it's a restaurant chain, hotel empire or airline.

34.7 million Americans are going to be on the road this week according to AAA. Lines will be long, tempers will be short. When something goes wrong, and it will, the temptation to blow a gasket at the customer support worker is huge, but the contrarian play is to be their friend. I just spent two weeks on the road, talking to business owners and staff at every level of the corporate food chain. Here's some of the surprising stuff I learned:

Delta Airlines' (DAL) amenities are embarrassing, even to them. The wifi is a waste of money and so are the pretzels they'll try to charge you for. Eat in the terminal and download a book; perhaps something on the history of what happens to airlines during economic downturns.

Agoda is supposed to be Priceline's (PCLN) Asian subsidiary but it's also responsible for a good number of U.S. bookings. The two companies share almost no operational overlap. If a Priceline rep tries to transfer you to Agoda just take your refund and look for a boutique hotel or tell the kids you've decided to go camping.

Speaking of which, hotels are going to gouge you for stuff like extra blankets and roll-aways. That's because they have to offset the impact of lodging version of "showrooming." It's not just retailers facing margin pressure. Your smartphone is the greatest price discovery mechanism in history. You can always find a better deal on a room, even when the big name hotels are sold-out.

The economic recovery isn't as imbalanced as the press thinks, at least on the service end. Resort community workers, dog walkers, construction professionals are all killing it. An endless number of apps have come online to make finding deals on almost everything absurdly easy. All you gotta do is be flexible, patient and a little bit nice to the people other travelers take for granted.

By Wall Street tradition the Labor Day holiday is marked by low volumes and little movement. Over the last decade the S&P 500 (^GSPC) has been lower six times but gained an average of 0.2%. Ignore the tape and look around a little bit. What you find will help you position your portfolio when the market opens for real next Tuesday.

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