Do airlines allow you to transfer frequent flier miles from a deceased family member?

Every year, travelers have to deal with unwelcome surprises.

Whether it's a hefty tax on a luxury item bought overseas or dealing with the frequent flier miles of a recently deceased relative, these issues can be more than a hassle. Now it's time to stop worrying because we've got expert answers to your most unusual travel inquiries.

Q: I’m flying to London soon and love to shop. If I buy a purse or something in England and send it back to the U.S. by FedEx or DHL, would I be charged duty if I send it home before my return flight?

A: It depends on the value of the item you buy. The first $800 would be duty free. This applies to returning residents who have been out of the country for at least 48 hours; the exemption is applicable once in a 30-day period and is reduced to $200 for travelers who have already used the allowance or have been out of the USA for less than 48 hours. Any value over $800 would be subject to duty.

The next $1,000 worth of the goods you purchased is subject to a flat rate of 3%. If the value exceeds $1,800, the remaining duty will vary between 0-10% (except for clothing and textiles, which can be much higher, up to 25%). If you ship by FedEx, you are required to pay duty. And you’d also want to insure your purchase to its full value. Frankly, it might be wiser just to bring your purchase into the country in your cabin or checked baggage.

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Q: We are having a family reunion of over 25 people all flying from Newark to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Do the airlines give any type of discount for groups? Trip is July 2014, should we book now?

A: As to your first question, yes indeed, airlines have group travel desks that arrange travel and give discounts. Call your airline’s toll-free number to see if your group qualifies. As to when to buy, fares to Puerto Vallarta rarely go on sale but you’ll save money if you fly midweek. If you see a fare under $450 round-trip with tax from Newark, you might want to jump on it.

Q: My spouse is deceased and has United and Delta frequent flyer miles.  How can I transfer these to my name?

A: Airlines are making this harder than in the past. Some airlines, including Delta and United, have an official policy of not allowing free transfer of miles (you can pay for transfers for a per-mile fee; however this is expensive); but it’s worth calling the airline to see if they’re make an exception.

If you know your deceased spouse’s account number and password, however, you can “gift” yourself free travel awards, using the miles that way. For more on this topic, check out Airfare Watchdog.