Emails, texts and messages may have largely replaced physical letters, but there’s only so much you can send over the internet. Shipping carriers will continue to do good business as long as there are online auction items to deliver and long-distance birthday gifts to give away.
The three major shipping companies in the United States – US Postal Service, UPS and FedEx – all provide relatively reliable service. However, you might still ask yourself:
- Which is cheaper: UPS or USPS?
- Which is cheaper: FedEx or UPS?
- Are some companies better for rush deliveries?
- Should you use another shipping carrier?
“People are looking for different things,” notes Marc Gorlin, founder and CEO of Roadie, a crowdsourced delivery service owned by UPS.
Finding the cheapest way to ship packages is most important to some people, while others may say the cheapest way to ship is the fastest option. Depending on your priorities, some shipping companies may be better than others.
“Major carriers specialize in different areas such as price, package size and delivery speed dimensions,” says Bryan Valdemar, senior product manager for GoDaddy, which owns Sellbrite, an e-commerce service for those who sell goods online. “For example, USPS often has the most economical options for small, lightweight packages, while UPS is preferred for larger, heavier items. FedEx has a great place for overnight options when speed is most important. »
Keep reading to see which carriers typically offer the best service and the lowest rates.
Cheapest shipping ways based on delivery speed
While the US Postal Service often has the most cost-effective prices, it has experienced shipping delays in recent years. For smaller items, the USPS is still the way to go, but for larger packages, consider delivery speed versus price.
Here is an overview of the cheapest postal service options and how quickly they will arrive:
- First class: Prices start at $4.50 for 2-5 day delivery
- Priority mail: Prices start at $8.70 for 1-3 day delivery
- Priority Mail Flat Rate Boxes: Prices range from $9.45 to $21.50 for 1-3 day delivery
However, there are limits. First Class Mail is only available for lightweight packages weighing up to 13 oz. After that, you’ll need to upgrade to Priority Mail, but that $8.70 starting price is only for 1-pound packages delivered to neighboring areas.
For the USPS, flat rate boxes may be the best value because they can hold up to 70 pounds and ship across the county for a relatively low rate.
UPS and FedEx also offer ground delivery service with delivery times of 1-5 days, but their starting rates are $11 and $9.36, respectively, for 1-pound packages delivered to a nearby area.
UPS and FedEx also have flat rate boxes similar to USPS flat rate boxes. Single rate ground shipping for UPS ranges from $10.15 for extra small packages to $27.30 for extra large packages delivered within the 48 contiguous states. With FedEx, small boxes start at $12.05 and go to $39.10 for extra large boxes and three-day delivery.
However, price isn’t everything. “The USPS has really struggled over the past two years,” says Alison Sanchez, administrative assistant for the North Country Trail Association. As a nonprofit organization that works closely with the National Park Service, the NCTA uses the US Postal Service for retail mailing and promotional materials. However, for heavy or bulky items, Sanchez says they rely on UPS which seems to be more reliable for these deliveries.
Best way to ship next day
If you need delivery within hours rather than days, you will need an express service such as same day or next day delivery.
US Postal Service’s Priority Mail Express will likely be your cheapest option out of the three major carriers. Delivery times range from next day to two days, with regular pricing starting at $26.95 for a half-pound package. Holiday and Sunday delivery charges are extra.
Meanwhile, UPS Next Day Air Saver will deliver by the end of the next day at prices that start at $29.66 for a 1-pound shipment. This service may not be available in all areas and Saturday delivery is not an option. FedEx Standard Overnight costs $31.22 for next day delivery of a 1-pound shipment before 4:30 p.m., assuming the delivery location is within 150 miles.
However, for short distance deliveries, the best way to ship may not be with a traditional carrier at all. Gorlin says customers can spend as little as $12 to have a small item delivered locally through Roadie, which is a crowdsourcing platform.
“(Users) set up a gig by then, and our system will find a ‘roadie’ to pick it up,” says Gorlin. The process takes consumers minutes, and in most cases, same-day delivery can be made. Truck drivers are subject to background checks and deliveries are insured for $100, although additional coverage can be purchased.
While Roadie offers service in 90% of the United States, Gorlin says most deliveries are within 250 miles. The cheapest shipments will be those that cover 50 miles or less.
Best way to ship internationally
Prices for international shipments vary greatly depending on the destination. Canada is one of the cheapest destinations and the prices of the main carriers are as follows:
- USPS Priority Mail International Canada: Prices start at $40.45 for a 1-pound package or $30.70 for a small package box up to 4 pounds.
- UPS Worldwide Saver: Prices start at $72.96 for next day delivery of a 1-pound package.
- FedEx International Ground: Prices start at $22.61 for a 1 book package.
DHL is another popular carrier for international shipments. Its price depends on the weight and size of the package and sending a small 1 pound box from the United States to Canada will cost around $81.90.
Cheapest ways to ship packages by size
The cost of shipping items highly depends on their size and weight, so choose wisely when packing the goods.
“While conventional wisdom says to use the smallest cardboard box possible to minimize shipping costs, there is another widely available option: poly mailers,” says Valdemar. These plastic bags can be padded or unpadded and are a good choice for clothing and inexpensive items. “Carriers charge less for these types of packages because they take up less space in delivery trucks,” according to Valdemar.
Here are the cheapest ways to ship based on what you’re sending.
- Best shipping method for gift cards: USPS Priority Mail flat rate envelope.
- Best shipping method for small packages: USPS Priority Mail Small Flat Rate Box.
- Best shipping method for medium and large parcels: UPS Single Rate or FedEx Single Rate.
- Best shipping for oversized items: UPS ground service.
Best Shipping Method for Gift Cards: USPS Priority Mail Flat Rate Envelope
If you’re sending someone a gift card, the cheapest way to send it would be to put it in an envelope and send them first class mail from the post office. It would cost less than a dollar.
However, the USPS recommends using a padded envelope or other sturdy packaging to ensure gift cards reach their destination safely. By the time you buy the right envelope and add insurance, it might be best to opt for a USPS Priority Mail flat rate envelope, which costs $8.95.
La Poste will provide a free envelope for priority mailing. Plus, most priority shipments come with free tracking and up to $50 insurance in case the package is lost or damaged.
Best shipping method for small packages: USPS Priority Mail Small Flat Rate Box
Small gifts, such as socks, t-shirts, and jewelry, are best sent using the USPS Priority Mail small flat rate box for $9.45. This box measures approximately 8 inches long by 5 inches wide by 1 inch wide and comes with free tracking, up to $50 insurance, and expedited shipping.
The second in this category is FedEx Express Saver, whose prices start at $12.05 for a small box sent via FedEx One Rate service. Delivery will take approximately three days. Or you can use UPS Ground Service, with rates starting at $10.15, but delivery can take a week.
Best shipping method for medium and large packages: UPS Single Rate or FedEx One Rate
For medium and large packages, UPS Simple Rate and FedEx One Rate offer similar values.
When using UPS Simple Rate, prices for medium boxes start at $16.95 while large boxes up to 1,050 cubic inches have rates starting at $22.95. FedEx is similarly priced with rates starting at $15.70 for a medium FedEx box and $24.20 for a large FedEx box.
For books, movies, or music, packages will be eligible for USPS Media Mail, which is the cheapest way to ship a box. Prices start at $3.19 for a 1 book package. However, it is also the slowest method to ship and will take at least a week. Plus, multimedia mail doesn’t come with tracking or insurance, making it less than ideal for gifts or other important shipments.
Best Shipping for Oversize Packages: UPS Ground Service
For furniture and other heavy or bulky items, you’ll have to look elsewhere than the US Postal Service. Priority mail through the USPS cannot weigh more than 70 pounds. This means UPS or FedEx will be your best bet for oversized packages. Both carriers will ship up to 150 pounds with their regular shipping services.
The price of large parcels may depend on the weight, dimensions and destination. Assuming you’re shipping a 100-pound box from New York to California, UPS Ground Service is slightly more expensive than FedEx Home Delivery, but it says it can deliver two days faster. UPS quotes $191.64 with a four-day transit time while FedEx Home Delivery charges $187.80 for 6-day delivery.
If you only need to move something across town, rather than across the country, a crowdsourced option such as Roadie might be more economical.
Whichever service you use, remember that shipping rates can go up if fuel costs don’t go down. The above prices are subject to change at any time.