Imagine you innocently go to reach for the <em>Sky Mall Magazine</em>, but instead are rewarded with a wad of cash or a $500 check, as one reader discovered. Finding money can be about as exciting as hitting the jackpot in Vegas, especially when it's in an unexpected place like an airplane, and many of our readers are big winners. Not to mention, you can now afford to buy something from the in-flight magazine, like that <a href="" target="_blank">Big Foot Garden Yeti Sculpture</a> you've been eyeing.

<strong>What about you?</strong>

What other weird, gross, or just plain crazy items have you found in a seatback pocket while flying? Leave a comment below, or to submit your photos, <a href=" submission for SmarterTravel">send us an email</a> with no more than three images attached. 
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One of the recurring arguments in the PRcampaign to justify the merger of American and US Airways has been the claim that American simply couldn't compete against the likes of Delta and United without the tie-up.

But in a financial report issued this week, American reported a record monthly profit for July. Here's an excerpt from an internal note from American chairman and CEO Tom Horton to the airline's employees:

Today is a very good day. This morning we reported our financial results for July and here's the headline: we are completing one of the most successful turnarounds in aviation history. We are building a strong, competitive and profitable new American poised to lead more»

Air: Reclining Female Passenger (Photo: Thinkstock/Stockbyte)

A new frequent-flyer study from Deloitte and Touche, claiming that airline programs aren't as effective as they could be, has generated a lot of ink and pixels. Set aside the truism that nothing is ever quite as good as it could be, the conclusions seem pretty skewed from reality, as shown by a few examples.

"Airline loyalty programs fail to engage," says Deloitte, and a "remarkable" 72 percent of high-frequency business travelers belong to more than one airline program. Zounds! When I was a high-frequency business traveler, I belonged to four: American, PanAm, TWA, and United. (Yes, I used United when I could, but often flew others for better schedules or fares.) Now, I still belong to the programs of all three network lines that serve my home airport in Medford, Oregon—Alaska, Delta, and United—as well as a few others I joined for access to some information. more»

Laptop keyboard (Photo: Index Open)

A reader who believes his travel agent overcharged him recently asked, "What rights do I have to receive clear and unambiguous details of the travel expenses incurred?" The short answer is no specific rights beyond those contained in the typical contract. I know of no federal or state law or any industry standard requiring such disclosure. To be sure, some agents do disclose this, but to my knowledge, no requirement applies.

But the reader's predicament isn't really about rights; it's about how to deal with some combination of competence and a possible overcharge. more»

American's new Airbus A319 planes illustrate a fundamental trend in domestic coach travel that is likely to apply to all big airlines: more tech, less comfort. American's A319s will begin service in September, and the airline plans to acquire 130 A321 and A319 planes. The major U.S. carrier's new aircraft will have the latest connectivity gimmicks in each seat, regardless of class:

  • Touch screens with HD capability—12 inches in first class, 8.9 inches in coach. Base coach will provide limited free content and lots of additional paid options, which higher classes will have more free stuff; more»
Cruise Ship: Westerdam at Night

Enter the Holland America Cruise for Two sweepstakes by March 31, 2014, for a chance to win one two grand prizes: a seven- to 11-day Holland America cruise to Europe for the winner and a guest, including most shipboard meals; a seven-day Holland America cruise to Alaska for the winner and a guest, including most shipboard meals. Prizes do not include airfare to/from the port of embarkation.

To participate, provide the requested contact information on the sweepstakes landing page and press "submit." Time required to enter: 30 more»

Friends Toasting at Beer Hall During Oktoberfest, Germany (Photo: Dominic Bonuccelli)

When I'm far from home, I become a cultural chameleon. I eat and drink regional specialties with gusto, feasting on steak and red wine in Tuscany and stuffing down tapas at midnight in Spain. So when I travel to countries that are known for their beer, I morph into the best beer aficionado I can be.

Germany is synonymous with beer, and there's no better place to drink up than in Bavaria. German beer is regulated by the Reinheitsgebot (Purity Decree) of 1516—the oldest food and beverage law in the world—which dictates that only four ingredients may be used: malt, yeast, hops, and water. You can order your beer helles (light but not "lite") or dunkles (dark). more»

Airport: Woman Stressed at Airport, Flight Screens (Photo: Thinkstock/Eyecandy Images)

Which country is plagued by more flight delays than any other nation on the planet? The answer is China—home to the world's fastest-growing air-travel industry, and the place where travelers are most likely to find themselves facing interminable and horrifying delays in airports.

According to a report from FlightStats, the 20 worst airports in Asia for flight delays are in China. And the airport with the world's worst record for on-time departures? It's Beijing, with only 18 percent of flights getting off the ground on schedule. In addition, eight out of 10 of the industry's worst performing airlines are Chinese carriers.

Delays are as wild as they are widespread. China takes travel headaches to a terrifying level with passengers storming runways and assaulting ground crew during multi-day delays. It's not more»

Travel brochures (Photo: IndexOpen)

Following is our regular summary of the latest travel news and best frequent traveler promotions reviewed during the past week.

If it was a good deal—or a notably bad deal—from an airline, hotel, or car rental loyalty program, you can read all about it here, and plan your travel accordingly.

What's Wrong with Loyalty Programs?

Are loyalty programs doing their job? Consulting company Deloitte thinks not, and they'd be happy to show the airlines how to improve their more»

Photo: iStockphoto

The latest round in the escalating battle pitting would-be merger partners American and US Airways against the anti-merger Department of Justice concerns the timing of the trial where their opposing claims will be litigated.

On Thursday, American filed a motion with the District Court for the District of Columbia requesting a November 13 trial date.

The DOJ, on the other hand, has proposed that the trial date be set 180 days after the agency's initial complaint, which would be in February 2014.

It's good for the traveling public that this merger is being challenged. Consolidation is undoubtedly good for the industry. But aside from expanded route networks, there are no consumer benefits from mergers. Indeed, reducing the number of competitors will lead to higher prices and less incentive to innovate and improve more»

Welcome to Upright Position, SmarterTravel's new weekly series in which Editor Caroline Costello discusses emotional and controversial travel topics. Join the debate by leaving a comment below!

The complimentary hotel breakfast buffet: It's a refuge of no-cost sustenance for travelers beset by marked-up menus, bad exchange rates, and $10 lattes. It's not always good. Sometimes it's better suited for consumption in a prison cafeteria than for paying guests who have (mostly) not violated federal and state laws. But we nonetheless line up near the juice carafes and fill our mouths with dry bagel because we are desperate. And it's totally free, so one might as well choke down some carbs before the cave-tubing more»