Airplane Being De-Iced (Photo: iStockphoto/Richard Goerg)

Bracing yourself for winter travel? Then here's a story you'll want to check out—one that offers a ton of tips about your rights as an airline passenger, written by Airfarewatchdog's George Hobica for USA Today.

The ultimate win is to have such great flying experiences that you never have to use this information. But it’s not a bad idea to know your basic rights in case you do run into trouble on a future flight. And since a number of the topics mentioned were affected by recent passenger rights laws, this quick primer is a good read even for seasoned travelers.

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Photo: British Airways

If you’re heading for London and have a Wednesday arrival, you can expect some delays and hassles, especially at Heathrow.

Various unions and labor groups have called an all-day “work stoppage” to protest austerity measures, and those stoppages will probably include customs and immigration officials and maybe rail and bus service. Some airlines are already waiving rebooking fees.

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Azores Lake (Photo: Thinkstock/iStockphoto)

Welcome to What We're Reading, our new weekly look at the most insightful, useful, and entertaining travel-related stories from across the information superhighway. 

Unless you work for a travel magazine or you're independently wealthy (or both—in which case, congrats), you probably don't have time to keep up with every travel publication out there. Fortunately, we do. You might even call it a job requirement. (No one said it was a tough job ... ) If it's being written, talked, or tweeted about in the travel space, you can bet we're paying attention. And starting this week, we'll be putting that focus to good use by sharing our favorite stories and discussions with you.

So without further ado, let's have a look at the stories that caught our eye this week...read more»

<h2>April: Critters and Adventure in the Galapagos </h2>

 Travelers have been intrigued with the Galapagos Islands ever since Darwin reported back on his revolutionary findings. April is an ideal time to visit, as the rainy season tapers to its close, the albatross arrive for their nesting season, and sea lion pups are born. Turtles also are in the throes of their mating season, so you may see a few on the prowl. Additionally, the ocean is a bit steadier than other times of year, so adventurers prone to motion sickness may find this month especially appealing. To plan your Galapagos trip, visit the <a href="http://www.ecuadortouristboard.com/regions/galapagos/galapagos.html"target="_blank">Galapagos tourism website</a>, part of the Ecuador Tourism Board. 

 (Photo: iStockphoto/Morten Elm)

Who: Travel Deals Editor Caroline Morse, 27, and friend, 26.

Where I Went: Galapagos Islands via Quito, Ecuador.

When: Mid-February 2011 (Shoulder Season).

High Points: Getting to snorkel with tiny penguins (yes, they live in the warm Galapagos) and giant sea turtles. I also loved hiking the 14km around the colorful Sierra Negra Volcano on Isabela Island, despite getting caught in a torrential rainstorm (usually a once-daily occurrence on the islands) halfway through and having to hike back through rivers of mud. You can see old lava formations, as well as layer upon layer of rainbow-colored rocks. Sierra Negra is so quiet and isolated that it feels as if you're on another planet. And, snorkeling near the Devil's Crown—a sunken volcano with tons of marine life, including sea lions—was unforgettable. Dolphin sightings were frequent on the way to and from the Devil's Crown.

Low Points: I wish that I spoke Spanish, because many of our guides and the locales did not speak English. Luckily, my traveling companion is fluent in Spanish. Unluckily, she was roped into being the translator for me and a few other non-Spanish speakers on our tour as well.

My least favorite part of the Galapagos was the Giant Tortoises Reserve. Although it was interesting to see the animals in person, it was depressing to learn how endangered the species is. (They also smell pretty bad.)

I would also not recommend spending more than a few days in Quito. Although parts of the city are beautiful, and the Equator is fun to have checked off my list (well, sort of: The tourist trap that is the Equator is apparently not the real thing), the city itself is extremely polluted. We were also warned multiple times to avoid many areas. I would instead opt to spend any extra days in the Galapagos....read more»

Iceland: Blue Lagoon Pool - DD (Photo: Thinkstock/Hemera)

You'll be more relaxed than ever before in Iceland's Blue Lagoon. A geothermal spa, this 5,000-square-meter lagoon holds six million liters of bright blue seawater atop a sand-like base (made of skin-softening minerals). Icelanders take advantage of nature's hot tub even in the winter, as the water is heated to around 100 degrees. In fact, one of the best times to visit the Blue Lagoon is during a light snowfall, as the contrast between the cold air and the heated water can't be beat.

Squeamish about sharing a bath with thousands of strangers? The Lagoon is actually quite clean, as the water is completely replaced every two days. In fact, the Blue Lagoon holds a Blue Flag (a recognition usually given to beaches) for water cleanliness.

The Lagoon is supposed to have healing medicinal properties for everything from skin disease to muscle pain. We can't verify the health benefits, but we can tell you that the water and complimentary mud masks will leave your skin softer than ever....read more»

American Airlines aircraft tail (Photo: American Airlines)

American's Chapter 11 filing this morning is not the end of the world, or the end of American Airlines, or the end of your American AAdvantage miles.

What it is, is the end of a period of magical thinking in American's history during which the airline stubbornly refused to recognize that its costs were unsustainable, and that bankruptcy was the only reliable mechanism to set things right.

I applauded American's refusal to use Chapter 11 as a tool to force its workforce to accept lesser salaries and benefits. I thought it was the honorable thing to do. As did Gerald Arpey, American's chief.

Proving that we were both wrong, American has lost money the past three years, including a $471 million loss last year. And portending another loss for 2011, the airline has lost $982 million through the first nine months of this year....read more»

What do you want on a vacation? A beautiful mountain to hike up, a beach to sunbathe on, a bustling and hip city, wine from a nearby vineyard, or a frenetic soccer game? Cape Town won't make you choose, as this diverse city has it all.

Outdoorsy-types should explore the city from the top, with a hike or cable car ride up Table Mountain, and a stroll around the national park of the same name. Then head to the numerous beaches for surfing, swimming, or even African Penguin watching. Don't miss the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, to see the unique (and endangered) flora of Cape Town. Sports fans would be amiss not to visit the new Green Point stadium that hosted soccer games during the World Cup. History buffs should sail out to Robben Island, the famous prison that held Nelson Mandela.

Afterwards, everyone can meet back up along the V&A waterfront for fine dining and drinking of wine produced less than an hour away, and an exciting cosmopolitan nightlife....read more»

Chapter 11 (Photo: iStockphoto.com/Geoffrey Holman)

It was really only a matter of time, and this morning that time has come: American Airlines has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The last major airline bankruptcy filing came in 2005, when Delta reorganized under Chapter 11 protection; it exited bankruptcy two years later. Prior to that, most other U.S. carriers—except American—filed in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Not surprisingly, American cites rising fuel costs and restrictive labor rules as the main culprits for its financial woes. The AP reports that American has lost money in 14 of the last 16 quarters, including a $162 million hit in the third quarter of this year.

So those are the financial facts. But you may be wondering what all of it means for travelers—especially if you have a flight already booked with American, or if American is your airline of choice for miles. ...read more»

Madrid, Spain (Photo: John Wang)

If you're planning an overseas trip this spring or summer, you may well have to change planes at an airline hub somewhere. And the choice of where to change can have a big impact on how smooth your trip will be. Here are my suggestions for hubbing.

The best hub is no hub. If you can find a nonstop flight schedule at a reasonable fare, take it, even if it means a little extra driving to a bigger airport at either end. No matter how smooth the process, compared with a nonstop, changing planes adds a minimum of two hours to your flight time and more likely four or five hours. Changing planes also increases your chances of delay, missed connections, misdirected baggage, and other such ills.

These days, you can find plenty of nonstops for most big U.S. cities to most big European and Asia cities, and some nonstops from medium-sized U.S. cities to big overseas cities or from big U.S. cities to medium-size overseas spots. And the chances of finding nonstops will increase as airlines finally start taking delivery of the new 787s, which are designed for long-haul routes with insufficient traffic to support the biggest planes.

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Man looking at laptop in Meadow (Photo: iStockPhoto/Kemter)

Cyber Monday was the brainchild of Shop.org, "the world's leading membership community for digital retail," which invented the buy-it-online bargain day in 2005 to do for Web merchants what Black Friday did for brick-and-mortar stores.

According to the New York Times, this year's Cyber Monday is set to enter the record books as the biggest online shopping day ever, easily surpassing last year's $1 billion in sales.

While the widespread discounts will save consumers plenty, a significant number of the Cyber Monday purchases—and the rest of this year's Christmas and post-Christmas shopping—will be missing a key component of the overall value proposition: frequent flyer points....read more»

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