Smart SpendingSmart Spending

Who offers the cheapest holiday shipping?

We compared the top three shipping carriers -- FedEX, UPS or the U.S. Post Office -- to see who provides the least expensive shipping options for this holiday season.

By Nov 14, 2013 1:29PM
This post comes from Louis DeNicola at partner site on MSN MoneyFor many consumers, Santa's sleigh takes the form of a white or brown truck, and gifts arrive by way of the doorstep rather than the chimney. FedEx, UPS, and the U.S. Postal Service all promise to whisk a package shipped today across the country in time to go under a tree tomorrow. But can they do it without blowing your holiday budget? Cheapism obtained rate quotes for a variety of services from all three providers and, in every case, the Postal Service proved the cheapest option.

Santa Claus © CorbisTake, for example, a 5-pound package going to San Francisco from New York. In its search for cheap shipping, Cheapism found that overnight service would cost more than $80 for delivery by 3 p.m. and more than $90 for delivery by 10:30 a.m. with either FedEx or UPS. In contrast, the Post Office will ship the same package with guaranteed overnight delivery for $39.95-$56, depending whether a flat-rate box is used or not.

Cheapism's full shipping comparison includes price quotes from each courier for 5- and 10-pound packages sent to Chicago and San Francisco from New York City. In general, UPS and FedEx offer more options for expedited shipping, with guaranteed delivery times, but charge much higher prices.

Media Mail from the Postal Service emerged as the absolute cheapest option overall, costing only $4.33 for a 5-pound package and $6.52 for a 10-pound package to either city. However, the service applies only to "educational materials" such as books and DVDs. For other items, the Postal Service's Parcel Post beat out UPS Ground and FedEx Home Delivery, although the estimated transit times were six days to Chicago and eight days to San Francisco, compared with guaranteed delivery in two days to Chicago and five days to San Francisco with UPS or FedEx.

Although FedEx and UPS closely matched each others' services UPS was about $5 more expensive across the board. It's worth looking at the transit times for these services before springing for an express option. UPS and FedEx quoted the same guaranteed delivery date for ground shipping to Chicago as they did for two-day services that cost more than twice as much.

Cheapism saw substantial savings with flat-rate boxes from the Postal Service, which ship for the same price regardless of weight or destination, as long as the contents fit in one of several sizes the Postal Service provides. For instance, shipping a 10-pound flat-rate package overnight to San Francisco costs $39.95 vs. $83.25 for Priority Mail Express at the Post Office and $114.57 or $118.62 at FedEx or UPS, respectively. The heavier the package (up to 70 pounds), the greater the savings. Flat-rate shipping is often the cheapest method for expedited delivery, but not always. Be sure to price out both regular and flat-rate shipping at the Postal Service for Priority Mail, a two-to-three-day service, or overnight Priority Mail Express, the only USPS option with a money-back-guaranteed delivery time.

Most of the FedEx and UPS services Cheapism researched include tracking and a money-back guarantee, although consumers may not be able to claim a refund if a late delivery can be blamed on a fine-print problem such as inclement weather or an incomplete shipping label -- or if a package is mailed too close to Christmas. FedEx only guarantees Ground and Express service, not Home Delivery, and Ground shipments are only guaranteed to arrive on the day specified while Express packages must arrive by an exact time.

Beyond price
As perks such as money-back guarantees suggest, there is more to consider than just price when determining the best cheap shipping provider. Cheapism also considered factors including convenience, reliability, and customer satisfaction. The American Customer Satisfaction Index historically favors FedEx, which has outscored UPS by two points and the Postal Service by eight points on average over the past 15 years. In 2012, it bested the other two by only one point (earning 82 out of 100).

As for convenience, the Postal Service far outnumbers UPS and FedEx with more than 32,000 retail offices. However, the private companies compete by operating about 40,000 drop boxes apiece, accepting packages 24/7 at a time when the Postal Service has cut business hours at thousands of locations. All three couriers provide free pickup service for packages with print-at-home shipping labels. The Postal Service offers free Saturday delivery for all shipments while Saturday delivery costs an additional $15 with either UPS or FedEx, with the exception of FedEx Home Delivery. The schedule for that service is Tuesday through Saturday, instead of Monday through Friday.

Specific on-time-delivery numbers proved difficult to nail down. Data compiled by shipment tracker PackageFox in 2011 show that 91 percent of UPS express packages arrived on time compared with 88 percent for FedEx. The Postal Service tracks its own Package Services category, which includes Media Mail and Parcel Post but not Priority Mail Express or Priority Mail. The most recent quarterly performance results: 91 percent on-time delivery, down from 92.6 percent in the same quarter last year but higher than the 2012 rate of 87.2 percent overall. However, these packages must merely arrive by the end of the appointed day, whereas an express delivery might be delayed by a single minute and still be considered late.
The only sure conclusion here is it's best to send out holiday gifts as soon as possible, regardless of the carrier.

For more details check out Cheapism's complete guide to cheap shipping, which includes a look at ecommerce and the various ways to secure free shipping online.

More from
Nov 24, 2013 4:15PM
YES!  as always, the postal service is ALWAYS the best in every mailing and shipping. cheaper, safer, faster and more reliable. GO POSTAL SERVICE!!! YOU ARE AND ALWAYS WILL BE NUMBER ONE BEST!!!!
Nov 24, 2013 4:52PM
Once again our reliable Postal Service proves it's worth its salt!! Way to go USPO 
Nov 24, 2013 4:55PM
I'll ship with the USPS because my package gets there on time and it isn't beat up, unlike when I ship with the boys in brown. Filing a damage claim with UPS is a huge hassle.
Nov 24, 2013 4:40PM
I would prefer the Postal Service!  Yes, it has been the cheaper way to send anything!
Besides, if you have a post office box, others don't deliver to it! The remainder of delivery is by the Postal Service! So why not just have them do it all the way! 
Nov 24, 2013 5:19PM
I have noticed many people knock the USPS because they think it is the 'in thing' to do, specially if they don't know what they are talking about.
Nov 24, 2013 4:53PM
I ship a lot by USPS. You need to look at regular priority mai versus flat rate. If the package is less than 10 lbs regular priority mail will normally be cheaper than flat rate as long as the package is shipping within the continental U.S. Everything I ship I compare USPS with UPS and the post office is always cheaper for what I am shipping. Almost all of my packages are less than 15 lbs. Over the last year I have shipped about 65 fragile items and have only had 1 item arrive broken..
Nov 24, 2013 5:59PM
I agree with using the US Postal Service.  It is safe and reliable and I believe they use more care than the other shippers.  And this year I am going to send out lots of Christmas cards using the USPS.  Each card is going to have a personal note.  I miss not sending and receiving lots of cards.  They really spruce up the house and they are so pretty.
So, buy cards, mail cards, send packages and use the USPS.  And remember with some companies you can request the kind of shipping you want.  They will usually give you a quote for the most expensive so always ask if there is an alternative, cheaper shipping price.  Merry Christmas and God Bless America

Nov 24, 2013 4:53PM
I noticed that lately, the smaller UPS packages are being delivered by USPS for final delivery to my home. I can use the UPS tracing until the package reaches my city, and then it goes to the USPS for home delivery. It must be a cost saving thing for UPS.
Nov 24, 2013 7:59PM

The USPS does NOT receive any tax payer dollars!


Nov 24, 2013 9:24PM

The postal service is your best option. To keep universal service for all of us going forward we need to impress upon congress to pass a fair postal bill that will free the service from the ball & chain strapped to them by the Bush administration in 2006 which mandated it to pay an annual 5.5 billion dollars to prefund "future" health care for retiree's. They are the only federal agency having to do so.

This fund was healthy previous to this mandated law and unnecessary. The elimination of this by congress along with allowing them to play on an equal playing field with it's competition would bring financial stability to the service. This benefits all of us by keeping postage down, prevents the closing of small rural post offices, keeping 6-day delivery, door to door service in lieu of the proposed "cluster boxes". Nobody delivers to more locations then the postal service which  processes and delivers 528 million mail pieces a day. We have a storied history from moving mail with steamboats in 1811 to the days of the pony express in 1860 which began its run through parts of Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and California. Riders covered 75 to 100 miles a day changing horses at relay stations set 10 to 15 miles apart. The postal service is an American treasure with a long track record of public service that belongs to all of us. Lets make sure congress doesn't take that away from us.

Nov 24, 2013 8:21PM
I would agree that USPS is a better deal. including the Flat Rate boxes which go Priority Mail.  My problem with those boxes has been the odd sizes of those boxes; they are always an inch shorter vertically or horizontally, but if what you're sending fits, it's a good deal.  If you are sending something valuable, up to $25,000, send it Registered Mail; it is cheaper than either FEDEX or UPS.  Regular insurance with the USPS only goes up to $5000, and postal insurance rates are not cheap.
Nov 14, 2013 4:47PM

"Who offers the cheapest holiday shipping?" Me, because I deliver my Xmas gifts in person.

I buy some gifts online, the rest I buy in person. I shop at whatever retailer has the best price. Often it's cheaper than Amazon, or any other online retailer. If not, many companies will match prices, or beat them, just to stay competitive. Be a smart consumer during the holidays. ask questions.

Nov 24, 2013 5:25PM
Did these comparisons take into consideration insurance fees? 
Nov 24, 2013 9:27PM

Okay all, use some CS which is not common anymore, yes common sense.  USPS is a government cash cow the reason its not privatized.  All governments around the world uses institutions like these to make money.  USPS used to be in profit and then starting 2006 it went down in billions yes with B$$$$.  Have you ever heard of the law PAEA passed by republican congress which requires USPS to fund its retirees health care benefits in advance for the next 75 years even the employees who are not hired yet.  Postal employees have their own health coverage after the retirement but still pay medicare taxes for the American public.  You just don't know the history and watch too much of TV possibly FOX news.  Just tell the accountant to add two line items on your annual report one for $5 Billion and one for $ 7 BILLION and see how much your business loses, the case with the USPS right now.  Get your FACTS straight.  Thank you and God Bless America

Nov 24, 2013 9:36PM

Both UPS and FedEx use the Post Office to deliver parcels 'the final mile'. This is in large cities as well as rural areas. Not really sure the difference in what they will deliver and what they give to the post office to deliver though because we get large, small, light, and heavy packages. I also don't know if it is a trade off for using their planes, or if they pay the USPS for this service. We (the employees) have never been told and I haven't found out in print anywhere. Just in my station alone, we have been getting 5 pallets of parcels daily (most are 6' tall) from FedEx and that started last week. Expect even more the closer we get to Christmas. UPS brings theirs 5 days a week and we have been getting around 150 parcels a day - some 'parcels' are actually sacks with 3-8 packages per sack.


Are some of the packages damaged? Yes, sometimes the pallets are so tightly saran wrapped that some packages get crushed (but loosely wrapped pallets shift when a truck makes a turn and they end up all over the truck). Also sometimes they put a 'partially filled package' on the bottom and a heavier one on top and it slowly crushes it. Some shippers only use one small strip of tape and it doesn't hold the box together cross country - surprise! Happens with all three carriers. Some personal shippers think a piece of newspaper will keep their glass bowl from shattering. You have to remember your package is being sent from one station to another, packed with millions of other packages, going through hands and machinery multiple times. Your packages are not walked from one place carefully to the next. Addresses are bad, incomplete, spelled wrong. Try delivering something to 'grandma' at an apartment complex with no apartment number - and a bad (yes, some people don't know their own address) or incomplete or no return address. Also your items get damages from the negligence of another sender. We received a small padded envelope with cologne in it. The cologne's top had come undone during shipping (probably from vibrations). It soaked thru the package erasing the sender's and receiver's addresses. It also erased the addresses on a couple of other packages. Luckily the sender's addresses were still legible. 


Once again, the Post Office receives ZERO tax dollars.

Nov 24, 2013 9:27PM
how come ups drivers are on road so late in evening,year round too!?
Nov 24, 2013 8:46PM
I ship a lot of packages and I use all 3 carriers, It all depends on what size package and where it is going and even then sometimes they are all close, USPS flat rate and regional rate work well for some destinations, First Class Mail and First Class International are far superior to both UPS and FedEx for small packages

It is not a one size fits all, Each package/item should be checked via all available methods.

As for damage, All 3 have about the same loss rate as far as I am concerned.
Nov 24, 2013 4:33PM
Hmm... just waiting for the "anti-gub'ment" crowd to start posting or singing their usual "song",,,,!
Nov 25, 2013 12:56AM
Congress made a law back in 2006 that required the postal service to “prefund its future health care benefit payments to retirees for the next 75 years in an astonishing ten-year time span”. That means the beginning of the fiscal year - day 1 - the US Postal Service is already 5 billion in the hole and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. No other company in history has been mandated to make such a prefund for their retirees.

How 'bout you do a little research next time before you go spouting off at the fingers.


Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.


Smart Spending brings you the best money-saving tips from MSN Money and the rest of the Web. Join the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.