Photo (cc) by Ed Yourdon
More than a quarter of Americans are still wrapping up Christmas shopping, according to Consumer Reports. Procrastinators know that last-minute shopping can lead to some great finds, but the big problem is getting them shipped in time without blowing your savings.
The three most popular options for last-minute shipping are UPS, FedEx, and the U.S. Postal Service. You might think it doesn’t matter which you pick — but actually there’s a big difference, and it becomes more pronounced as your package size and procrastination level increase.
Take a look at the news story Stacy recently shot, then meet me on the other side for more.
USPS is generally cheapest
For the fixed sizes, weights, and destinations we got price quotes for, the Post Office was clearly the cheapest option. One of the major reasons is that they don’t charge a fuel surcharge like the other carriers. FedEx was a distant, but clear, second place.
Here’s another look at the comparison shopping for shipping we did this year, based on sending from New York to Los Angeles.
If you get your packages in the mail right after you read this, you might not have to pay these rates. (See shipping deadlines below.)
One-pound letter-size envelope
- USPS (excluding Alaska and Hawaii): $18
- FedEx: $22
- UPS: $33
- USPS: $42
- FedEx: $52
- UPS: $70
If you have a dollar for every minute you spent procrastinating, then there’s a same-day delivery option for you – if you get in early enough. While the USPS can’t guarantee this, the others can if the price is right. It better be pretty special, though. These shipping charges will probably cost more than the gift. For New York to L.A., the same cities, dropped off at 8 a.m. and arriving by 5 p.m., we got the following quotes.
- FedEx: $223
- UPS: $286
- FedEx: $223
- UPS: $488
As you can see, FedEx will ship up to 150 pounds same-day for same-price, but UPS won’t.
If you don’t wait until the last minute, though, you won’t face these insane rates – and given a little time, the other carriers are more competitive. Here are some deadlines that can help you save more money.
USPS: First-class (under 13 oz.) – Today, Dec. 20...Priority – Tuesday, Dec. 21...Express – Wednesday, Dec. 22.
UPS: 3-Day Select – Tuesday, Dec. 21...Next Day Air – Thursday, Dec. 23.
FedEx: Express Saver – Tuesday, Dec. 21...Two Day – Wednesday, Dec. 22…Overnight – Thursday, Dec. 23.
And remember, if you use the Post Office, you may be able to skip the inevitable long lines. With automated kiosks and online options, you should never have to wait in line. See the story we did last year, Three Ways to Avoid Lines at the Post Office. Signing up with Federal Express and/or UPS will also allow you to do pretty much everything everything online and avoid lines.
Get a quote
Our quotes were based on fixed sizes and destinations — prices may vary, so you should get a quote yourself before you go stand in line. Here’s some links.
It’s not too late for online shopping, and some companies will still pick up the bulk of the shipping cost. Many big-name retailers will still charge standard (with a minimum purchase, free) shipping rates through today and guarantee delivery by Christmas Eve, including Amazon, Target, Toys R Us, and Best Buy.
And while Free Shipping Day has passed, the site still has a very handy list of who’s offering free and reduced shipping rates, and what the deadlines are – plus some coupon codes.
If the shipping prices and deadline stress are totally out of your league, consider giving an electronic gift card — those can be “shipped” instantly to your loved one’s email account, for free. A big box store like Amazon is probably your best bet for e-gift cards and has lots of cute personalization options, but you can find a list of store-specific e-gift options here.