There are three big shipping services—FedEx, United Parcel Service (UPS), and the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). They all deliver to nearly every address in the U.S., and they’ll all get your parcels to more than 200 countries and territories. But there are some key differences between them.
Price of Shipping
If the cost of shipping something to yourself or to those you love is your main concern, the USPS is often the way to go, but it pays to check around. We compared shipping costs offered by FedEx, UPS, and the USPS between 30 pairs of cities around the country for a 5-pound medium-sized package. The USPS prices were best for next-day delivery in all cases and for third-day delivery in 88 percent of our city pairs. FedEx, however, was the least expensive courier for second-day service in every instance, but it was least expensive for third-day service in just 13 percent of deliveries.
Packaging and Delivery Options
Every carrier offers ways to reduce shipping costs, even for speedy delivery. At the USPS, the flat-rate box rate may be the best deal, but not always. In 31 percent of the city pairs we compared, Priority Mail was a dollar to a few dollars cheaper than the $13.45 medium flat-rate box for the Postal Service’s “Two-Day” delivery option. (In either case, however, the post office estimated that those “Two-Day” packages would actually be delivered on the third day.)
At UPS, the published rates for the “Next Day Air Saver” option were, unsurprisingly, less expensive than the “Next Day Air Early” option. The difference in price, though, was significant. Sending our medium-sized package from Seattle to Miami for “Saver” delivery by the end of the next day costs $92.49, for example. But it costs much more—$128—to deliver that same package by 8 a.m. the next day using the “Early” service.
At FedEx, you can lower your costs by choosing the “One Rate” option. This is typically cheaper than the courier’s “Standard Rate” service. With One Rate, you select a standard box size, choose the kind of service you want (one-, two-, or three-day delivery). You pay the same fixed rate as long as the package is worth less than $100 and weighs less than 50 pounds. The Standard Rate, by contrast, takes the package weight and dimensions into account.
Although neither FedEx nor UPS would divulge its on-time performance data to us, both carriers delivered more than 98 to 99 percent of their packages on time year-round, with minimal declines during the hectic holiday season, according to ShipMatrix, a shipping software company that tracks millions of packages per year.
The USPS delivered 84 percent of packages on time from October through December 2015. This is according to its own quarterly performance filing. However, if you’re really leaving things to the last minute, your best bet among the three carriers is the USPS. FedEx and UPS deliver only 307 days of the year (no Sundays or holidays). USPS’ Next Day Priority Mail Express operates 365 days per year to select ZIP codes. But be prepared to pay a $12.50 surcharge.
Depending on the situation, each of the big three shipping providers has unique benefits regarding price and speed. In most cases, using the United States Postal Service appears to be the best option. No matter what, make sure you ask for shipping insurance – especially if you’re ordering online.
Special thanks to Consumer Reports and Jeff Blyskal for information found in this article.