The holiday shipping test: Which shipper is fastest and cheapest?

HOUSTON – If you ship gifts to family or friends during the holidays, you know it can get expensive. Trying to figure out which carrier is cheapest and quickest gets confusing real fast. 

You've got three main choices when you need to ship a package: USPS, FedEx and UPS. If you just pop into whichever office is closest to you, you may be spending way more than you have to. 

Shortly after the holiday shopping rush comes the shipping rush. 

"There's a ton of stress put on the FedEx and UPS infrastructures," said Brian Gibbs, the founder of Refund Retriever. The Houston-based company helps businesses around the country manage their shipments with big carriers. 
Now he's helping consumers with valuable advice about the way you need to ship your gifts this year.

"Ship it early. Don't wait for the week before Christmas," Gibbs told consumer expert Amy Davis.

The longer you wait, the more expensive it will be to ship residential packages with UPS. It is adding holiday surcharges to packages beginning November 18th through December 22nd. 

The Test

To compare the cost and speed of UPS, FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service, Davis packed three boxes of the same size with Houston goodies. She Shipped them to the home of consumer reporter Hank Winchester of our sister station WDIV in Detroit. 

The U.S. Postal Service charged $10.65 for Priority 2-day shipping. She paid $14.31 at FedEx for ground shipping. At a UPS Store on Chimney Rock, Davis paid $16.89 for ground shipping. UPS Stores are independently owned and operated, so prices vary from one location to the next.  

The Results

Our most expensive UPS box arrived last with a surprise inside for our Detroit colleague, an Astros Justin Verlander jersey (since the Astros recruited Verlander from Detroit). 

But that's inside baseball! Back to our test. 

The Fed Ex package arrived about a half hour before the UPS package, and the U.S. Postal Service package, the cheapest, got there a full day earlier. 
You can save even more by making sure the box you're using is not too big for the item you're shipping, even if you have to buy a new one. Gibbs says when you use a box that is even a few inches larger than what you need and you just stuff it with packing filler, you are probably paying much more than you have to because shippers charge by what's called dimensional weight. 
"It might be 2 bucks to buy a smaller box, but you're gonna save like $8 in shipping because you're using the right size and you're only shipping what you need to ship," explained Gibbs. 
Shipping to someone's work address instead of their home will also save you money because carriers can make multiple deliveries in one stop. And add an extra shipping label inside your box in case the label on the outside is lost or damaged. 

"Whenever they open it up, instead of being just another lost package that's abandoned, 'Oh, there's another label inside,'" said Gibbs.  "And they can slip it out, put it on the front and send it right back out for you."

Keep in mind. That $16.89 UPS package will cost even more beginning Nov. 18 when those holiday surcharges get tacked on. FedEx will also add holiday surcharges, but not for residential deliveries. 

About the Author:

Passionate consumer advocate, mom of 3, addicted to coffee, hairspray and pastries.