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Procrastinators' alert: Cheapest overnight shipping

Compare rates offered by FedEx, UPS and the post office before you send that last-minute package.

By Stacy Johnson Dec 20, 2010 12:32PM

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


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 there is a big difference, and it becomes more pronounced as your package size and procrastination level increase.


Take a look at the news story Stacy Johnson 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 U.S. Postal Service 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, based on sending from New York to Los Angeles.


Overnight delivery. 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:
    • Post office (excluding Alaska and Hawaii): $18.
    • FedEx: $22.
    • UPS: $33.
  • Five-pound package:
    • Post office: $42.
    • FedEx: $52.
    • UPS: $70.
Same-day delivery. 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 post office 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 Los Angeles -- dropped off at 8 a.m. and arriving by 5 p.m. -- we got the following quotes:
  • Five-pound package:
    • FedEx: $223.
    • UPS: $286.
  • 150-pound box:
    • FedEx: $223.
    • UPS: $488.

As you can see, FedEx will ship up to 150 pounds same day for same price, but UPS won't.


Shipping deadlines

If you don't wait until the last minute, you won't face those insane rates -- and given a little time, the other carriers are more competitive. Here are some deadlines that can help you save more money:

  • Postal Service:
    • First-class (under 13 ounces): Today, Dec. 20.
    • Priority: Tuesday, Dec. 21.
    • Express: Wednesday, Dec. 22.
  • UPS:
    • Three Day Select: Tuesday, Dec. 21.
    • Two Day Air: Wednesday, Dec. 22.
    • Next Day Air: Thursday, Dec. 23.
  • FedEx:
    • Express Saver: Tuesday, Dec. 21.
    • Two Day: Wednesday, Dec. 22.
    • Overnight: Thursday, Dec. 23.

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. See the story we did last year, "3 ways to avoid lines at the post office." Signing up with FedEx and/or UPS will also allow you to do pretty much 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 are 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 (sometimes 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 Free Shipping Day 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 e-mail account, for free. A 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.


More from Money Talks News and MSN Money:



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