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Think Fedex, UPS and the Post Office are all the same? Not even close.

This past weekend, a Visa survey found that 77 percent of us are still scrambling to finish holiday shopping.

If you’re one of that number, you might also be looking at last-minute shipping options to get those gifts across the country quickly. Don’t panic and pay more than you have to. In the video below, Money Talks News reporter Jim Robinson compares rates at the most popular carriers – UPS, FedEx, and the Postal Service. Check it out, and then read on for more.

With last-minute gifters expected to spend an average of $278 this week, costly shipping rates can add a twist of the knife. And as Jim showed, the big three are far from equal when it comes to moving a letter or package from Point A to Point B.  Or, for that matter, from New York to Los Angeles. Here’s another look at those overnight, cross-country rates, ranked from cheapest to most expensive.

Letter-size envelope

  • 1st – Post Office, $18.30 flat rate
  • 2nd – FedEx, $37.51 based on weight and distance
  • 3rd – UPS, $39.56 based on weight and distance

5-pound box

  • 1st – Post Office, $49.10
  • 2nd – FedEx, $79.80
  • 3rd – UPS, $85.27

We check these numbers every year, and the Post Office always comes out on top at these sizes by a wide margin. This might not be true next year, since USPS may eliminate next-day delivery guarantees, and other changes may be coming as they continue to face financial trouble.

FedEx is usually second or tied with UPS. But as we pointed out last year, only UPS and FedEx have same-day shipping. Sure, the rates are insane, but so are you if you wait that long.

Here are a few other ways to save…

  1. Use discounts. FedEx is more reasonable if you factor in discounts for using American Express and, as Jim mentioned, registering online. (But even if you knock off 20 percent, the Postal Service is still cheaper.) UPS offers discounts when you ship a lot of stuff with them.
  2. Buy online. Big retailers like AmazonWalmart, and Toys R Us offer last-minute shipping at normal rates.
  3. Get gift cards. This might seem like a cop-out, but look at it this way: You can spend more on people when you skip shipping costs. You can get personalized e-gift cards instantly through Amazon.
  4. Get your own quote. Prices might vary depending on size, weight, and destination, so be sure to check your own quotes through a site like Shipping Sidekick or these links: Postal Service shipping ratesFedEx shipping rates (or same day); UPS shipping rates (or same day).
  5. Mail everything immediately. The good news is that you may not have to pay the rates above if you get those packages off right now. The deadlines for domestic mail are below.

Ship now and save

USPS: Priority – Today, Dec. 21; Express – Thursday, Dec. 22

FedEx:  2Day – Thursday, Dec. 22 by 2 p.m.; Overnight – Friday, Dec. 23 by 2 p.m.

UPS: 2nd Day Air – Thursday, Dec. 22; Next Day Air – Friday, Dec. 23

As you can see, the deadlines go along with the rates: You can wait the longest with UPS (end of day Friday) but you’ll pay the most. Also keep in mind that both FedEx and UPS charge more for Saturday delivery.

Stacy Johnson

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