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Shipping Rates

Shipping rates vary based on factors including the size and weight of the package, speed of delivery, origin, and destination, as well as any add-ons. We used online calculators provided by UPS, FedEx, and the Postal Service to get an idea which one offers the lowest shipping rates.

Shipping rates vary based on factors including the size and weight of the package, speed of delivery, origin, and destination, as well as any add-ons.

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We used online calculators provided by UPS, FedEx, and the Postal Service to get an idea which one offers the lowest shipping rates.

Our shipping cost comparison examines two different routes: New York to Chicago and New York to San Francisco. For hypothetical shipments weighing 5 pounds and 10 pounds, we used our own packaging with dimensions of 12 x 9 x 6 inches or comparable flat-rate boxes from the Postal Service. We priced out a variety of delivery options to a residential address, which is slightly more costly than delivering to a business address.

We found that the Postal Service offers the lowest shipping rates overall, whether you need next-day delivery, two-to-three-day service, or a cheaper option that can take a week or more. In most cases FedEx beat UPS's prices, but the Postal Service undercut both by as much as $75 or more in our sample scenarios. FedEx and UPS provide a money-back guarantee if a package arrives late. At the Postal Service, such benefits apply only to Priority Mail Express, an overnight service that can incur a hefty charge. Much of the savings can be chalked up to the Postal Service's flat-rate boxes, which ship for a fixed price regardless of weight (up to 70 pounds) or destination. Several different sizes are available for free at the post office or can be ordered online and shipped to you free of charge. Priority Mail Regional Rate boxes work much the same way but are available only online and vary in price based on travel distance.

The cheapest shipping method overall was Media Mail from the Postal Service, at $4.33 for a 5-pound package and $6.52 for a 10-pound package to either Chicago or San Francisco. However, that service takes the longest and is intended only for educational media such as books (packages are subject to inspection to make sure they don't contain ineligible items). The Postal Service's Priority Mail Flat Rate option is less restrictive and second-cheapest, costing either $11.30 or $12.35 in our hypothetical scenarios (paying for shipping online at USPS.com comes with a discount). Delivery can take more than a week for Media Mail, but it was only two days to either city using a Priority Mail Flat Rate box.

When we obtained quotes for UPS and FedEx, we saw a general trend of FedEx charging less than UPS. UPS Ground cost $16.61 to $23.32, depending on weight and destination, and FedEx Home Delivery cost $10.77 to $20.58. FedEx Home Delivery is not only cheaper in this case but also includes Saturday delivery; UPS Ground does not. Frugal consumer tip: The posted delivery dates for shipping to Chicago were the same whether we chose one of these options or two-day air service that cost twice as much. A FedEx representative told us the primary advantage of the two-day service is a guaranteed delivery time -- e.g., by 10:30 a.m. -- as opposed to delivery by the end of the specified day. UPS will also hold a package shipped by two-day air for five days for pickup but will return a UPS Ground shipment to the sender. So unless your package is particularly time-sensitive, be sure to check the transit times for less expensive shipping methods before choosing a more expensive two- or three-day service. UPS and FedEx stand behind their delivery commitments with money-back guarantees.

Review continues below

by Louis DeNicola (Google+ Profile)

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