If you can’t be there in person, shipping a package gives you a tangible way to connect with loved ones.
Delivery services FedEx and UPS, as well as the United States Postal Service, offer plenty of options, whether you need to ship a small package or something bulkier. Shipping can get pricey, however. And if you’re shipping multiple packages for the holidays, delivery costs can eat into your gift budget.
If you’re looking to save money, here are some of the cheapest ways to ship packages:
Note that your costs will vary, depending on where you are shipping from, where you are shipping to, the date you ship, whether you are dropping off or requesting pickup, whether you need delivery confirmation, whether you are purchasing insurance and whether you use your own packaging. The advice below offers a general guide — but it’s smart to input your specifics (weight, origin, destination, drop-off date) into delivery services’ websites to get your actual price.
For this guide, we assumed that the shipper will drop the package off at a retail location or post office, or prepay and drop into a collection bin, rather than requesting pickup service. This helps minimize costs, as pickup (if the delivery service provides it) costs extra.
Cheapest Shipping Option for Tiny Packages: The U.S. Postal Service’s First-Class Package Service (by Weight)
What you’re shipping: Think a necklace, a few photos or a pair of socks that can fit in a padded envelope.
The Postal Service will allow you to use its first-class mail service for lightweight envelopes and packages up to 13 ounces. Prices start at $3.80 for the lightest packages. That beats FedEx’s and UPS’s flat-rate pricing for small packages by several dollars. Your delivery will arrive in one to three business days.
Cheapest Shipping Option for Small Packages: U.S. Postal Service’s Priority Mail
What you’re shipping: Think a coffee mug, T-shirt or book.
The Postal Service’s Priority mail prices start at $7.50 for domestically mailed packages 70 pounds and under. You must use a flat-rate box. Your shipment will arrive in one to three business days.
UPS is a close second, however. If you’re shipping a small parcel under 250 cubic inches and under 50 pounds, UPS Ground shipping with Simple Rate pricing starts at $8.25. Your package will arrive at its destination in one to five days. Timing largely depends on how far away your package’s destination is.
FedEx offers a similar flat-rate delivery service called FedEx One Rate for packages under 50 pounds. At the Express Saver speed, which will deliver your package by the third day in the afternoon, prices tend to be a couple bucks higher than UPS Simple Rate pricing where small boxes start at $9.50 for nearby destinations. If you have a little more flexibility, the FedEx Ground speed could be cheaper, but your package can take up to five business days to arrive.
Best Shipping Option for Medium to Large Packages: The Postal Service’s Priority Mail
What you’re shipping: Think a volleyball, scrapbook, large care package or small appliance.
Rates for the Postal Service’s Priority Mail start at $15.05 for packages around this size, but you must buy a flat-rate box. Your package will arrive in one to three business days.
If you’re shipping something between 651 and 1,728 cubic inches (and under 50 lbs), UPS Ground with Simple Rate pricing starts at $17.50 per package. Your packaging will arrive in one to five days.
FedEx’s One Rate pricing trends several dollars higher per package, starting at $19.05 for nearby destinations and $30.85 for an “extra large” box. At the Express Saver rate, your package will arrive by 4:30 p.m. on the third day.
Best Shipping Option for Very Large Packages: FedEx Ground or UPS Ground
What you’re shipping: Furniture, large appliances and large sporting equipment.
The Postal Service taps out at 70 pounds in weight (and at 108 inches in combined length and width), so it’s between UPS and FedEx for the largest packages. UPS and FedEx both go up to 150 pounds (up to 165 inches in combined length and width).
Whether FedEx or UPS wins on cost depends on your destination and the package’s origin. In some cases, FedEx will be less expensive. In some cases, UPS will be. So be sure to input your exact destination address to calculate the price, because the price difference can be significant at this weight class.
[Read: Smart Ways to Spend $1,000.]
Cheapest Option for Overnight Shipping: Postal Service Priority Mail Express
If you’ve waited until the last minute, UPS, the U.S. Postal Service and FedEx have you covered — for a cost. All three offer various overnight options, and costs vary by destination, weight and when exactly the next day you need that package to arrive. If you’re a little bit flexible, and anytime the next business day is fine with you, your most affordable option (assuming a 1 pound package) is going to be the Postal Service’s Priority Mail Express Service, which starts at $26.75. FedEx Standard Overnight starts at $28.24, and UPS’s Next Day Air Saver option starts at $28.39.
Keep in mind, these starting prices are based on the costs of delivering to nearby regions. Each service has its own delivery tiers, which vary by distance from the package’s starting location. Your costs will vary, depending on package weight and the distance it must travel.
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