What’s the Cheapest Way to Ship Packages?

A young woman opens a package she received quickly with overnight shipping
Photo by Syda Productions / Shutterstock.com

Whether it’s a birthday present or important documents, we all need to mail things from time to time. And we all have the same question: What is the cheapest way to ship a package?

As you might guess, the answer depends on a lot of factors that are hard to generalize, most of which we don’t have time to puzzle over the moment we need to mail something.

So, here’s a quick rundown comparing sample prices and restrictions among the U.S. Postal Service, UPS and FedEx, so you can always guess the cheapest shipping company even on your way out the door.

The cheapest way to mail a package overnight

If speed is the top priority, you know you’re going to pay a premium. How much depends on what you’re shipping.

The USPS’ guaranteed overnight service is called Priority Mail Express. Don’t get that confused with regular Priority Mail, which has an expected (but not guaranteed) delivery date of one to three days.

Priority Mail Express includes “overnight scheduled delivery by 10:30 am, and Sunday and holiday delivery available in many major markets for an additional fee,” tracking and up to $100 of insurance.

Packages must weigh 70 pounds or less, and have a combined length and girth (distance around the thickest part) of 108 inches or less. Size and shape matter a lot: Anything you can fit in a flat-rate envelope only costs $26.35, which is also the price at which larger packages start. For a sample self-packaged box of 6 by 6 by 6 inches, weighing 20 pounds and shipped from Seattle to Indianapolis, USPS quoted a price of $147.25.

The UPS guaranteed overnight service is called UPS Next Day Air, which comes in Early and Air Saver options. Early arrives by 9:30 a.m., while Air Saver arrives before 4:30 p.m.

For a half-pound package the same size as the largest U.S. Postal Service Priority Mail Express flat-rate envelope, the UPS website quoted a price of $68.60 for end of the next day. For our 6-by-6-by-6-inch sample package, it quoted a price of $199.12. Note that UPS also offers senior discounts on shipping for AARP members.

FedEx’s guaranteed overnight service comes in First Overnight for next-morning delivery (except to some remote areas), Priority Overnight for delivery by 10:30 a.m. (or later in the day for more remote areas), or Standard Overnight for delivery by 8 p.m. Packages must weigh 150 pounds or less, be up to 119 inches in length and have a combined length and girth of up to 165 inches.

For FedEx, our half-pound letter was quoted at $73.68 for Standard Overnight, while our 6-by-6-by-6-inch sample package came in at $205.43.

Based on these quotes, the Postal Service appears to be the cheapest way to ship boxes overnight to another state and the cheapest way to ship a small package or letter. But what if overnight isn’t a priority, or if you need to send internationally? Let’s look at those cases separately.

Cheapest way to send a package overall

If you take the “it gets there when it gets there” approach, the cheapest place to ship packages shifts dramatically.

Looking at a similar 6-by-6-by-6-inch package, this time from San Diego to New York City for variety’s sake, UPS can offer a Simple Rate for UPS Ground of $11.50, which should arrive within four days.

For the U.S. Postal Service, if the same 6-by-6-by-6-inch package can be squished into an 11-inch-by-8.5-inch-by-5.5-inch Priority flat-rate box, the price is $15.05 and arrives within three days. If it can’t fit and you’re forced to ship by Retail Ground, the price jumps to $64.10.

The best FedEx One Rate quote for the same package was a FedEx Express Saver rate of $21, arriving within three days.

At the time of this writing, it looks like in some cases, the cheapest way to send small packages domestically is UPS, especially if you’re eligible for the UPS senior discounts on shipping and products.

In other cases, USPS is cheaper. And if you can take advantage of the limited sizes that Postal Service flat-rate boxes come in, you can save even more for certain types of packages. Check out the dimensions of all USPS flat-rate boxes with pictures before you make a decision.

The cheapest way to ship internationally

If your package is headed outside the U.S., the calculus changes once again.

Our trusty, well-traveled 6-by-6-by-6-inch package would cost about $310 to ship from Miami to Tokyo via FedEx International Economy. It could take up to six days to arrive.

It’s about $323 via UPS Worldwide Expedited, also within six days. The senior discounts available to AARP members could make UPS slightly cheaper than FedEx.

But via USPS Priority Mail International, it’s as low as $77.50 if we can squeeze into a flat-rate box, or about $121 if we can’t. The time averages six to 10 business days, although it may be longer.

So if price is the primary consideration, the Postal Service wins another round. But if you need speed, FedEx wins this one.

To wrap it all up, it actually turns out we found a best-use case for each of the three major services, with quotes for completely random examples. But if time is on your side and you can fit your shipment into flat-rate boxes, the Postal Service is often the best deal.

How to find cheaper car insurance in minutes

Getting a better deal on car insurance doesn't have to be hard. You can have The Zebra, an insurance comparison site compare quotes in just a few minutes and find you the best rates. Consumers save an average of $368 per year, according to the site, so if you're ready to secure your new rate, get started now.

Read Next
Why Half of Retirees Now Owe Taxes on Social Security
Why Half of Retirees Now Owe Taxes on Social Security

Growing numbers of seniors are paying taxes on their Social Security benefits, but you might be able to avoid this fate.

Don’t Toss These 7 Household Items — Sell Them
Don’t Toss These 7 Household Items — Sell Them

Here’s how to earn cash as you give new life to these unwanted items.

12 Products to Keep Your Car Clean and Organized
12 Products to Keep Your Car Clean and Organized

These items will help put your vehicular mess to rest — and each is available for less than $20 on Amazon.

5 Common Medical Expenses That Medicare Won’t Pay For
5 Common Medical Expenses That Medicare Won’t Pay For

Don’t let these health care costs catch you off guard in retirement.

Never Put These 8 Things in a Microwave Oven
Never Put These 8 Things in a Microwave Oven

A microwave can be a busy cook’s best friend. But heating certain things in a microwave can cause disaster.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
This Gas Station Scam Is Victimizing More Drivers
This Gas Station Scam Is Victimizing More Drivers

For the second straight year, a growing number of Americans believe they’ve fallen prey to this scam.

This Is the Most Popular Age for Claiming Social Security
This Is the Most Popular Age for Claiming Social Security

Both men and women are most likely to start receiving Social Security benefits at this age.

7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast
7 Ways to Boost Your Credit Score Fast

Your financial security might soon depend upon the strength of your credit score.

Could You Give Up These 7 Expenses to Save Thousands of Dollars a Year?
Could You Give Up These 7 Expenses to Save Thousands of Dollars a Year?

You could save more than $30,000 by setting aside these costly expenses for just one year.

6 Things You Should Never Buy at Trader Joe’s
6 Things You Should Never Buy at Trader Joe’s

We love Trader Joe’s for plenty of reasons. But think twice about this handful of products.

6 Legal Documents Retirees Need — but Don’t Have
6 Legal Documents Retirees Need — but Don’t Have

Few retirees have these documents that are crucial to their golden years — especially during a pandemic.

7 Unusual Ways to Declutter Your Home
7 Unusual Ways to Declutter Your Home

Tired of possessions weighing you down? Here are seven ways to declutter painlessly and effectively.

19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree
19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree

These jobs pay more than the typical job in the U.S. — and no bachelor’s degree is required.

11 Expenses That Quietly Drain Your Wallet
11 Expenses That Quietly Drain Your Wallet

It’s scandalously easy to overspend in these areas of your life.

The 15 Worst States for Retirees in 2020
The 15 Worst States for Retirees in 2020

Based on dozens of metrics tied to affordability, quality of life and health care, these are not ideal places to spend retirement.

9 Dumb Ways You Are Ruining Your Home Value
9 Dumb Ways You Are Ruining Your Home Value

Homeowners, beware these mistakes that can drive away potential buyers.

5 Ways Joe Biden Wants Social Security to Change
5 Ways Joe Biden Wants Social Security to Change

Here’s where Biden — as well as Trump — stands on the future of the Social Security retirement system.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

7 Tips for Building an Emergency Stockpile
7 Tips for Building an Emergency Stockpile

A pandemic or natural disaster could leave you reliant on your existing food supply. Is your pantry prepared?

21 Things You Should Always Buy at a Dollar Store
21 Things You Should Always Buy at a Dollar Store

Dollar stores have great bargains on both everyday and occasional purchases.

15 Outrageously Overpriced Products — and How to Save on Them
15 Outrageously Overpriced Products — and How to Save on Them

Retailers mark up products by hundreds of times their cost — but you don’t have to pay the premium.

18 Amazon Purchases That We Are Loving Right Now
18 Amazon Purchases That We Are Loving Right Now

These practical products make everyday life a little easier.

11 Disgusting Household Items You Should Toss Already
11 Disgusting Household Items You Should Toss Already

Never keep these items past their prime.

10 Things That Really Are Free on Amazon
10 Things That Really Are Free on Amazon

These freebies are available to anyone — no Prime membership necessary.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.