If you need to ship gifts across the country this holiday season, we're here to help you find the best options. We checked out the major shipping companies to compare their shipping rates, delivery options and hours of operation on holidays.
Delivery time and destination may determine which carrier you choose. To give you a general rule of thumb, we plugged in some sample data to see which carrier is offering the best rate for a 10 pound package being sent from New York to California in mid-December.
If you're shipping a non-critical package, the United States Postal Service (USPS) is likely to offer the best deal. USPS flat-rate boxes ship for a set price regardless of destination. Priority flat rate mail will save you the most money as long as your item(s) fit into the designated box and weigh less than 70 pounds. The rates for shipping a priority flat rate box are as follows: large = $15.45, medium = $11.35 and small = $5.35.
You will save even more money if you do online shipping through USPS.com. If you print a shipping label at home and schedule a pickup, you can ship a 10 pound package from New York to California via Expess Mail on Dec. 14 (with an expected delivery on Dec 15 by 3pm) for only $53.69. A package going that exact same route will cost $76.95 if it's shipped from a post office. If the contents of a 10 pound package fit into a Priority Mail large flat rate box, it would only cost $15.45 to ship (or $14.65 online). However, one must allow two extra days for delivery on Dec. 17.
To ship a 10 pound package from New York to California via FedEx will cost much more. There are about half a dozen delivery options, with quotes ranging in price from $150 to $50. For example, it cost $153.40 to ship a 10 pound package overnight via FedEx Same Day with a scheduled arrival date of Dec. 14. The same package shipped via FedEx 2Day (arriving by late afternoon on Dec. 15) will cost $90.46. The cheapest option available is the FedEx Express Saver at $51.70, which gets our package there by late afternoon on Dec. 18.
On the other hand, FedEx offers some services that USPS does not. If you're down to the wire, FedEx can save the day with last-minute delivery options. You can ship via FedEx SameDay every day, even on Christmas Day. Call 1-800-Go-FedEx to get information on same-day availability and rates.
FedEx will pick up your package upon request, though it may cost a bit more more than a dropoff at a physical location. A pickup of the same 10 pound package shipped via FedEx Same Day (with an arrival date of Dec. 14) costs $157.94. If you don't have the time or the supplies to do the packing yourself, FedEx will pack your shipment for an additional fee.
Most FedEx services include tracking and a money-back guarantee. The money-back guarantee for FedEx Ground and FedEx Home Delivery services will be suspended temporarily for packages delivered from Dec. 11 through Dec. 24. On more expensive FedEx Express deliveries, customers are normally guaranteed a refund if packages arrive even one minute late. However, FedEx is revising that policy from Dec. 18 through Dec. 24: Customers will only receive a refund if a package is delivered more than 90 minutes late. Go here for complete details on policy changes in effect this holiday season.
We found that shipping rates at UPS are comparable to FedEx. To ship a 10 pound package via UPS Next Day Air (with a scheduled delivery in the early morning of Dec. 17), the rate is $156.80. UPS Next Day Air Saver (which guarantees delivery by end of day on Dec. 17) will cost $116.17. The cheapest option, UPS 2nd Day Air, will cost $76.84 and arrive by end of day on Dec 18.
UPS offers many of the same perks as FedEx. They will pickup your package upon request. UPS can also pack your items for you. According to their Pack & Ship Guarantee, customers will be fully reimbursed for the item's value, the full retail price of packing materials and the shipping cost if an item is lost or damaged in transit.
Unlike FedEx, UPS observes Christmas as well as several other holidays, so you don't have to the option to select a same-day delivery on Christmas Day. However, procrastinators can ship packages on Dec. 23 via UPS Next Day Air for a guaranteed delivery on Dec. 24.
Some final advice on holiday shipping
Keep in mind that rates will vary significantly by destination and weight. Do your research and obtain rate quotes from all three carriers to determine what your cheapest option is. Each company offers a price calculator on its website. You can also check out ShippingSidekick.com, a site that lets you instantly compare shipping rates from the major carriers.