3 Brilliant Ways to Make Extra Money When the Pope Visits This Fall

Pope Francis
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The Pope is coming to America, and it’s kind of a big deal.

With stops in New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. this fall, Pope madness is reaching new heights. Catholics aren’t the only ones lining up to hear the spiritual leader speak –- Pope Francis is a must-see for many who work in faith studies, social services and the humanities.

And madness isn’t an exaggeration. These three cities have been prepping for Pope Francis’ first U.S. visit for months. From reduced transit schedules to office closures to rules about whether you can bring bottles of water inside the Pope’s security cordon, the pontiff’s visit is causing a commotion — and big business for the cities involved.

Want to flex your entrepreneurial muscles when the Pope is in town?

Here are three ways to make a little spare cash off the Pope’s visit to one of these cities. Whether you feel like you need to say 10 Hail Marys afterward is up to you.

1. Rent Out Your Home

Hotels near Pope appearances are filling up fast, and many remaining rooms have steep price tags: We’re talking $350-$650 per night in Philadelphia, for example, during the Pope’s visit the weekend of September 25.

If you live downtown near the Pope’s public appearance locations, plan a weekend getaway and offer your entire home to paying guests while you’re gone.

If you’re not already renting your place through AirBnB, it’s the perfect time to sign up. Near where Pope Francis will say mass on Philly’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway, hosts have listed their apartments at $617 a night for a one-bedroom, $449 for a private room in a rowhome, and even $2,500 per night for a two-bedroom rowhome.

Philadelphia has announced all the opportunities to see the Pope, but his public appearances in New York and Washington, D.C. aren’t yet finalized. Private rooms near the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, where the Pope will be hanging out in Washington, are listed for about $75 per night for private rooms and around $120 per night for entire homes.

One English basement apartment goes for $93 per night regularly, but jumps up to $150 when the Pope is in town around September 22. One studio nearby has a price tag of $4,500 per night, but you’re not allowed to use the kitchen.

Even if you’re further away from the action, you can still make money renting your spare room. Here’s an extra moneymaker: Live near a suburban transit station that’ll be busy during the visit? Consider renting your parking spot for an additional $10-20 per day. You could even charge extra to shuttle people to the transit station and back.

2. Sell Your Transit Tickets — Maybe

Train and subway tickets are hot commodities while the Pope is in town.

Philadelphia’s transit authority, SEPTA, had major trouble figuring out how to sell special transit passes for its Pope-packed weekend. Those planning to take regional rail into the city were required to sign up for a transit pass lottery — and although there are supposedly 20,000 transit passes left for purchase, there are plenty listed on eBay and Craigslist.

Though these hawked rail passes have hefty price tags, it doesn’t look like too many people are buying. A few Papal passes have sold in the $20 to $30 range on eBay, and there are hundreds of tickets available on Craigslist with prices ranging from $20 to $150.

When Philly resident Chris Orion heard about the ticket lottery hubbub, he entered — and was one of the thousands selected to purchase passes.

“I decided to post [a Craigslist] ad to see if I could garner interest in the few days before the deadline” to purchase tickets, he said. When he started to see more ads for tickets crop up on Craigslist, he lowered his prices dramatically, hoping to make even a few bucks on each potential ticket. “But still no bites.”

“As far as demand later,” Orion speculated, “I suppose there will be an increase as the event draws closer. But after seeing the surplus of tickets, and the tons of Craigslist ads, I didn’t want to be bothered.”

New York and Washington haven’t announced special transit restrictions during the Pope’s visit, but residents should pay attention for opportunities in the coming weeks.

Does the subway station always have long lines for the farecard machines? Load up a couple of round-trip passes and plant yourself near the station on high-traffic days. If you make a few extra bucks on top of the people watching, it could be a good day.

3. Crank Out Some Pope Swag

Got an eye for design? Now is the time to start making Pope memorabilia. Screenprint those “Pope Frankie Says Relax” shirts and trucker caps.

Have a two-pronged sales strategy, including online sales and local face time, to maximize on your sales.

But if your idea for Pope Francis memorabilia requires outside help — like that of a manufacturer — you may be out of time. Debby Fireman started working on The Pope Toaster, a regular toaster with interchangeable inserts that brand the Pope’s image on your toast, shortly after the Pope’s visit was announced.

“The crumb of the idea began in January,” Fireman, a Philadelphia native, said. “From there I partnered with a manufacturer, developed the brand and design for the product packaging, website and all the complementary social media sites. By mid-May the product was ready.”

She launched her e-commerce site in late July, and recently listed the $69.95 toaster on Amazon.

Etsy seller Matt, who runs Bucks County Buttons from just outside Philadelphia, didn’t need as much lead time to design and sell Pope Francis-themed pinback buttons. The design, which features the word “Pope” arranged like Philly’s famous LOVE statue above the visit date, comes in two sizes with prices ranging from $1.50 to $2.25 each.

“It’s been my best-selling button this month,” said Matt, which is about how long he’s had his Pope button on Etsy. “Most of the sales have been from around the local area.”

While Matt had additional ideas for button designs, he said he would need more hours in a day to produce them and fill orders after his regular 9-to-5 job and duties as dad.

He’s still considering the best way to sell his Pope buttons in person during the weekend of Pope Francis’ visit.

“I am not really sure if I want to attempt to try to get into the city,” he said, “but I was thinking about setting up a stand with the Pope buttons at some of the bigger train stations during the Pope’s visit and seeing what happens.”

Your Turn: Are you going to try to profit off Pope Francis’ visit?

Disclosure: We have a serious Taco Bell addiction around here. The affiliate links in this post help us order off the dollar menu. Thanks for your support!

Lisa Rowan is a writer, editor, and podcaster living in Washington, D.C.

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