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Cheapest overnight shipping options

If you've waited till the last minute to shop, you probably aren't getting the best deals. Don't rub salt in the wound by paying too much to get it there overnight.

By Stacy Johnson Dec 22, 2011 1:18PM

This post comes from Brandon Ballenger at partner site Money Talks News.

Last weekend, a Visa survey found that 77% of us were scrambling to finish holiday shopping. If you're still among them, 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 U.S. Postal Service. Check it out, 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. 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, in the case of our examples below, 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:
  • Post office, $18.30 flat rate.
  • FedEx, $37.51, based on weight and distance.
  • UPS, $39.56, based on weight and distance.
5-pound box:
  • Post Office, $49.10.
  • FedEx, $79.80.
  • 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 the Postal Service may eliminate next-day delivery guarantees, and other changes may be coming as it continues 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:

  • 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%, the Postal Service is still cheaper.) UPS offers discounts when you ship a lot of stuff with them.
  • Buy online. Check to see if major retailers are offering better shipping rates.
  • 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 find personalized e-cards online for major retailers. 
  • Get your own quote. Shopping prices might vary depending on size, weight and destination, so be sure to get 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).
  • Mail everything immediately. The deadlines for domestic shipping are below:
    • USPS. 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.

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.

More on Money Talks News and MSN Money:

Dec 22, 2011 4:55PM
Janpv  I handle several dozen calls a day from people who dont understand why putting the wrong address or zip code on a parcel can delay its delivery. they often are of the opinion that they are somehow better than the {idiot} that is trying to help them with one of millions of parcels mailed daily. they also cant understand why something they mailed the cheapest way possible was not on the other side of the country in just a few hours. oh and one more thing you should ask ups and fedex how many of the things you pay more to ship with them get delivered by the us postal service!
Dec 22, 2011 4:13PM
There is an error in this article.

The changes in the "next day delivery guarantee" that might happen is only for local first class mail and not Express Mail, which is handled and processed differently than first class and priority mail. 
Dec 22, 2011 4:18PM

Everyone disses the post office yet look who is the best deal!

 Congress tells them what they can charge yet offers no financial support and just look at these prices. The post office could raise their rates by 25% and still be the cheapest show in town.

 Come on Congress, let the post office charge what they should be charging and maybe they wouldn't be going broke. Wake up!!!

Dec 22, 2011 5:03PM
JanPV - "I and my family are DONE with USPS.  And I always believed in them and still sent bills, cards, etc throught them."

I'm sure you'll never send another letter in your life thru the US Postal Service.. if you're willing to pay the extra as you say, maybe you should consider adding insurance or delivery confirmation onto your packages. Be proactive and do your research. If there is any sort of tracking available on your package with USPS, it should be accessible to you.. not just employees. I used to work at a contract station and CUSTOMERS are the ones in possession of their own tracking numbers. Not sure what you're talking about..
Dec 22, 2011 4:28PM
I use the post office in my business and have no qualms with my local service. But overnight at the post office DOES NOT mean overnight. Yes, the post office is a great deal, but is poorly managed. Too many fat cats at the top and overworked delivery people at the bottom.
Dec 22, 2011 4:08PM
USPS might be cheaper, but the aggrevation, stress, and time spent on hold while trying to find out what happened to the package that shipped 8 days ago via Priority mail (2-3 days) and has not arrived, only to be told by a rude, lazy, postal clerk that the fee you payed for 2-3 day delivery is NOT refundable, then you might find it worthwhile to pay the extra and go with FedEx and/or UPS.  At least they track their packages each step of the way, and that tracking is available on-line to all, not just employees!  I and my family are DONE with USPS.  And I always believed in them and still sent bills, cards, etc throught them.  No more.  No wonder they are going under.  Cutting back on delivery will not help.  Stop paying stupid high wages to a few rude idiots, and hire a couple of people who could really use a paycheck and would try to help their customers. 
Dec 22, 2011 4:09PM
And people want to do away with the post office.
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