Nobody wants to pay more than they have to for shipping. But finding the best possible shipping rates can be challenging, especially since shipping costs vary widely across carriers.
Depending on how quickly you need your package to arrive, where you’re shipping it to, the size of the packaging, or the weight of the items, different carriers can offer better rates than others. This guide will help you find the cheapest way to ship every package type with USPS, UPS and FedEx.
How can I send a package cheaply?
Sending a package at the lowest possible rate depends on several factors. If you need to send things quickly, you will likely need to pay a premium price for express service. As a general basis, keep in mind that heavy or bulky items are always more expensive to ship than lighter and smaller packages. Once you have determined your shipping needs, you can find the cheapest option.
Cheapest way to ship based on delivery speed
Do you need your package to reach its destination as quickly as possible? Expedited service will cost more than slower methods, but that doesn’t mean you need to overpay.
Next-day AM shipping
Most U.S. carriers offer next-day AM shipping, or expedited shipping, as the fastest possible shipping option. For instance, FedEx Priority Overnight and UPS Next Day Air guarantee delivery by noon the following day. While the costs for each are comparable, FedEx tends to be slightly cheaper due to its extensive air fleet.
If you need your package delivered even faster, both carriers also offer delivery by 10 AM for an additional fee. These early-morning services are FedEx First Overnight and UPS Next Day Air Early.
Consider how important next-day delivery is for your shipment when looking for the cheapest overnight shipping. The USPS Express Mail shipping option is the most affordable one, but it is still less reliable than overnight shipping with FedEx and UPS. On the other hand, UPS Next Day Air Saver and FedEx Standard Overnight are more reliable albeit cost slightly more than USPS Express.
USPS currently does not offer any services for two-day delivery. However, the USPS Express Mail option is similarly priced to UPS Second-Day Air and FedEx Two-Day AM. Between the two-day shipping options through FedEx and UPS, the UPS Second-Day Air tends to be slightly less expensive than FedEx’s alternative.
Two- to three-day shipping
In most cases, USPS Priority Mail is the best option for two-to-three-day shipping. With prices typically half of what UPS and FedEx charge, the Postal Service offers the best value for this shipping speed.
However, remember that USPS does not guarantee their delivery speeds for Priority or First Class Mail, so this option should not be used for any packages that absolutely cannot be late in terms of arrival times. On the other hand, FedEx and UPS always guarantee their delivery times.
Cheapest way to ship based on size
Depending on the size of your package, there are different shipping options worth considering.
Envelopes or flats
For lightweight envelopes, USPS is always the cheapest shipping option. First Class Mail and flat-rate envelopes offer the best possible value, but they do not come with a tracking option. However, if you require tracking, USPS Priority Mail is less expensive than FedEx or UPS for envelopes weighing less than one pound.
In most cases, USPS offers the best rates for shipping small packages that weigh less than two pounds. However, there are some instances where FedEx or UPS is less expensive, but only if you can avoid these dimensional weight penalties of these carriers.
Cubic pricing is a pricing service offered by USPS. It makes the cost of sending small, heavy items cheaper than other pricing options.
For packages weighing less than 20 pounds, rates are determined by the formula of length (L) times width (W) times height (H), all of which is then divided by 1,728. From there, cubic pricing takes this value and uses it to decide which of the five categories the packages fit into, ranging from 0.1 to 0.5 cubic feet.
Dimensional pricing is essentially the opposite of cubic pricing. It penalizes packages that are considered to be too large in relation to their size. FedEx and UPS utilize dimensional pricing since size matters more when it comes to filling cargo trucks and planes.
To determine dimensional pricing, multiply the package’s length, width and height. Then, divide the total value of that calculation by the appropriate divisor. Since USPS has the largest domestic dimensional divisor, it has the lowest dimensional shipping rates.
Cheapest way to ship based on weight
Whether you need to ship a lightweight package or a heavy one, you can find an affordable shipping option.
Packages under one pound
USPS will be the cheapest shipping option when shipping practically anything weighing less than one pound. For most ultra-lightweight packages, USPS First Class Mail is the best option. However, USPS Media Mail can offer an even better value if you’re shipping physical media.
Packages under five pounds
For packages between one and five pounds, USPS Priority Mail is typically the least expensive option. This is especially true for packages shipped through the UPS or packages that FedEx would determine to be too large in relation to their weight based on their dimensional pricing system. However, if you need to ship heavy items over five pounds, FedEx Ground and UPS Ground typically offer the best rates.
Cheapest international shipping options
If you need to ship a package outside of the U.S., it will cost more than domestic shipping, but that doesn’t mean international shipping costs need to break the bank.
Fast international shipping
Fast international shipping typically has a transit time of up to two weeks. USPS Priority Mail International is the least expensive option.
Packages typically arrive at their destination within six to eight business days. FedEx Economy International tends to be slightly more expensive, but packages can arrive within five business days. Plus, they tend to be a better option for heavier packages as well.
Expedited international shipping
If you need to send a package internationally as quickly as possible, UPS Worldwide Expedited and FedEx International Priority have you covered. FedEx International Priority typically ships packages within three business days for slightly less money, while UPS Worldwide Express typically ships in two to five business days for slightly more.
Never overpay for shipping
When you need to ship a package, whether it’s big or small going next door or across the world, there’s an affordable shipping option that fits your needs. By using this guide, you can weigh your options between the best shipping carriers, including USPS, UPS and FedEx.
In most cases, it’s cheaper to send packages with USPS than via UPS, especially when shipping small packages domestically.
Shipping with USPS is almost always less expensive than FedEx. However, FedEx is widely considered to be the most reliable carrier.
For packages less than one pound, USPS charges approximately $2.74. Rates for packages weighing one pound or more start at $7 and increase in increments of either $0.10 or $0.25 for each additional pound.
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