What Is The Cheapest Shipping Option – USPS, FedEx Or UPS?

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It has been a while since I’ve done a competitive analysis of the various shipping carriers so I thought I’d do a quick update. With the United States Postal Service jacking up their rates every 4-6 months, what used to be the most economical shipping method is now priced inline or even more expensive than some of the more reliable carriers like UPS or FedEx.

What is the Cheapest Shipping Option USPS, FedEx Or UPSBecause there are so many different shipping variables and options to choose from, it’s difficult to make an apples to apples comparison without locking down some of the basic parameters. For the purposes of this article, I am going to assume the following.

  • A 14in X 12in X 3in package is being shipped cross country from California to a residence on the east coast. Incidentally, this is the same size as a USPS Medium Priority Mail Flat Rate Box.
  • Out of the box pricing for all shipping carriers which means that lower negotiated rates based on volume are not taken into account.
  • Labels are being printed online which means all associated USPS internet discounts apply.

At the end, I’ll also discuss the trade offs between price, shipping time and reliability and give my take on the best shipping strategy.

Editor’s Note: If you are interested in learning how to start your own business, click here to take my FREE 6 day mini course on ecommerce.

If You Are Shipping Something 2 Lbs Or Heavier With A 5 Day Delivery Window…

FedEx Ground or UPS Ground will almost always be cheaper than USPS Priority Mail. Between FedEx and UPS, FedEx will be cheaper than UPS out of the box because they provide you with an instant 15% off all shipments just for creating an online account(Note: The level of discount will vary but there’s always a discount program).

Update: As of 2016, both UPS and FedEx are now charging for what is called “dimensional weight”. Basically what this means is that if your package is large or oversized, then the shipping charges will be drastically increased.

The dimensional weight calculation for UPS is currently L*W*H/166. So for example, if your package is 20X20X20 and weighs 10 pounds, then you would be charged for a package weighing 20*20*20/166 = 49 lbs instead of 10 lbs. Otherwise, packages below 5184 cubic feet will be cheaper than USPS in this category.

The only exception to the above rule is that USPS offers 3 flat rate box shipping options, small, medium and large. If you can manage to shove merchandise that is heavier than 2lbs into a small flat rate box (unlikely), you can save about 4 dollars.

However more realistically, you will need a medium flat rate box to ship something weighing 2lbs or more. The break even point between FedEx or UPS Ground and a Priority Mail flat rate medium box is about 4 lbs.

The break even point for a large Priority Mail flat rate box is about 7 lbs. So if your item is heavier than 4lbs, use a USPS flat rate medium box.

If you need a large flat rate Priority Mail box, make sure it’s heavier than 7 lbs. Otherwise, FedEx or UPS Ground will always be cheaper.

Note: You can receive significant discounts on USPS shipping by signing up for a ShippingEasy account. ShippingEasy also works with FedEx and UPS so you can easily compare shipping prices. Plus it’s free for up to 50 shipments per month!

If You Are Shipping Items Under 2 Pounds…

USPS will always be cheaper than FedEx or UPS hands down. However as the weight creeps closer to 2 pounds, USPS pretty much reaches pricing parity with UPS and FedEx Ground.

USPS really shines when your package weighs less than 13 oz and can be mailed via First Class mail. If you don’t care about reliability, USPS is by far the cheapest shipping option for light items.

If You Need Next Day Service…

USPS Express is once again the cheapest solution by far and it is guaranteed. The only problem with USPS Express mail is that sometimes the delivery window is 2 days and you won’t know unless you check online.

USPS also doesn’t offer a morning delivery time so if your client needs something at the beginning of the business day, they are out of luck.

I’ve also discovered that USPS Express Mail is less reliable than FedEx or UPS Next Day Service. While they “guarantee” their delivery times, what this really means is that they’ll refund your money if the package is delivered late.

This has happened to me several times already and a shipping refund doesn’t make up for having an angry customer.

If You Need a 2-3 Day Delivery Window…

It is unclear which delivery service is better if you need 2-3 day delivery because USPS doesn’t guarantee their delivery times for Priority or First Class Mail.

So while USPS Priority Mail cites a 2-3 day typical delivery time, it could be slower or faster depending on various unknown factors.

In my experience, I’ve had some Priority Mail packages delivered within a single day and I’ve seen delivery times as long as 1.5 weeks. While the latter tends to be an anomaly, overall the delivery speed is somewhat random.

FedEx and UPS however, always guarantee their delivery times but are significantly more expensive. In some cases, FedEx and UPS will cost you will over 2X the cost of USPS.

My Take On The 3 Carriers

While USPS is the cheapest shipping carrier in most cases, their reliability is easily the worst among the 3 carriers. Our online store primarily uses USPS because most of our orders are under 2 pounds. But we routinely get packages delayed or lost in the mail.

This past few months alone, we have had 3 customers email us wondering where the hell their order was. Given our volumes, 3 customers is probably statistically insignificant but having to deal with any unhappy customers is a pain in the neck.

While we don’t check on the status of all of our orders, I can tell you from experience that the quoted delivery times from USPS for both First Class and Priority Mail are completely hit or miss.

If you are sending a package to some podunk, middle of no where town, it’s more likely to get delayed. Meanwhile, I’ve yet to ever have a FedEx or UPS package delayed or lost.

In the end, it comes down to reliability vs cost. For light items, USPS is the cheapest if that is your goal. For heavier items >2lbs in which delivery time is not a factor, FedEx or UPS Ground is the cheapest.

It’s the 2-3 day delivery window where you have to weigh the trade offs. Do you value reliability? Is actual transit time a concern? If you need a package to be delivered on time, use FedEx or UPS. If you are trying to save money, use USPS.

Our online store offers a mix of both. By default, we use USPS shipping to keep the shipping costs low (our items are typically under 2 lbs). However, if a customer has a tight deadline, we use FedEx.

Speaking from experience, the savings of using USPS is not worth the hassle of pissing off a customer if there’s a deadline.

But it’s tough decision to make because customers are typically turned off by high shipping costs. Of course, the other option is always to raise your prices and lose money on shipping. You have to make the call.

Cheapest Way To Ship USPS

If you decide to use USPS as your primary shipping carrier, the cheapest way to go is to use a service like ShippingEasy.com.

ShippingEasy.com lets you print “First Class” postage from your printer (the USPS website does not allow this) and offers significant discounts on practically every service that the United States Postal Service offers.

However, you’ll experience the most savings if you ship a lot of Priority Mail or Express Mail orders. The best part is that the service is completely free for up to 50 shipments per month.

In addition, shipping with FedEx, UPS and DHL is all nicely integrated into ShippingEasy.com so you only need a single tool to ship across all carriers.

Check them out. We use them as our primary shipping tool.

Cheapest Way To Ship FedEx Or UPS

The only way to get a better deal on FedEx or UPS is to negotiate. Of course, you’ll need to demonstrate that you can and will ship in volume but that shouldn’t be too hard if you run an online store.

Ideally, you should pick one carrier and focus on them. In my experience, UPS seems to be a bit hungrier than FedEx for your business so they may be more willing to negotiate. But your mileage may vary. Don’t be too shy to pick up a phone and speak to a sales rep. Good luck!

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205 thoughts on “What Is The Cheapest Shipping Option – USPS, FedEx Or UPS?”

  1. Ed Gorme says:

    You have it about right. UPS is more expensive but when I get a package UPS has always been reliable. The tracking provides an accurate sense where the package is. When it’s listed as ‘out for delivery’ I get the package that day 99% of the time.

    USPS is a lot cheaper, probably because it can lose billions each year (the usual gov’t incompetence), but the service is pathetic. It’s not so much that they lose packages as that the delivery is very unreliable. If I order stuff with an expedited or 2 day ship from a vendor and they send it UPS, it’ll almost arrive in 2 days. If they send it USPS, it could be 2 days or 2 weeks. The USPS ship tracker lists vague messages that often have no location (not that it matters much anyway since the package can be in your town and you still may not receive it for a few business days).

    In sum: If you want the lower cost and don’t care when it arrives, maybe USPS makes sense. Otherwise, go UPS.

    1. Sam says:

      I have had USPS Priority take a week, but then again I have also had a 1st class letter mailed from Michigan on a Saturday, arrive in Florida on the Monday, less than 48 hours later. You never know. UPS and FedEx are certainly more consistent.

    2. Brent Sanders says:

      It all depends on the size of the package as well. USPS does not like heavy packages. Also if you are shipping internationally and you can work with a 3PL like WorldOptions.com they can negotiate UPS rates down for you internationlly and get them cheaper then USPS for stuff over like 10 pounds. PLus you get the full tracking and 2-6 business day shipping depending on the service you choose. Compared to 5 days to 4 weeks with USPS. you never know how long it will take with USPS.

  2. Stephnie Walter says:

    This information is very useful! There are many options to choose from..

    I wanted to find a good shipping company in Sri Lanka but it was a bit hard to find one, especially one which has a good website with the information that I wanted. After going through some research from Shipping communities in Sri Lanka, I managed to find one: Lanka Marine Services (LMS). They are one of the oldest and well-known shipping company in the country which has so many other services too. You can view them here: http://www.lankamarine.com/services/

    Hope this helps anyone who wants to find one in Sri Lanka. 🙂

  3. Mark McKelvy says:

    Well SocialPost (launching Q4 2017) is expected to be much cheaper than USPS, as fast as FedEx and more accountable than DHL…

    1. Ranjit Singh says:

      When are you launching this service? I want to try something cheaper and faster than usps. Thanks for your response in advance.

      1. Mark says:

        Hey Ranjit,

        Hopefully if everything goes well, we should have an alpha product for testing sometime around December of this year.

        If you are interested in the service and want more information, shoot me your email address and I will provide.

        Remove the underscores card_guys_3@_gm_ail._co_m

  4. Diane Otero says:

    i found that usps is the best fedex always made up an excuse ups was ok,used them a few times. fedex ground depends on the person that owns the route . fedex 16 $ for a 3 day letter . usps 6 certified . usps won.

    1. Mark says:

      Diane, USPS is often the most affordable. Something even cheaper is coming. Using proprietary technology, SocialPost is able to undercut USPS.

      Stay tuned.

  5. Shipesusa says:

    Cheapest way to ship from USA to Pakistan we give you best rate in the world you can visit this site.

  6. Packers5th.in says:

    Thanks for blog about the cheapest shipping option. I thinks it’s really hepful for all of us who need shipping services for any type of relocation.

  7. Dan says:

    >Otherwise, packages below 5184 cubic feet

    Cubic inches. A 53′ semi trailer holds about 4000 cu feet.

    1. dan says:

      5184 cu in = 3.00 cu ft. Still seems large to me, but at least the math is dead on.

  8. Hilary Walsh says:

    “USPS really shines when your package weighs less than 13 oz and can be mailed via First Class mail. If you don’t care about reliability, USPS is by far the cheapest shipping option for light items.” The 13 oz rule is old old old news. The new limit is 16 oz but don’t go a smidgen over. Additionally our business has been shipping 1000s of items per year with less than 1% having reliability issues. You have to define what reliability means for you and buy the mail class that fits your definition. Express mail is usually 1 day, priority mail is usually 2 days but can be 3 and other mail classes are 7-10 days. Express and priority come with $50 insurance included. When you buy postage online you get a discount and if you have a 3rd party postage application you get a better discount and regional flat rate boxes that can save you a lot of money. You also get free boxes/envelopes for express and priority mail

  9. Gil Carrick says:

    Your site says “Otherwise, packages below 5184 cubic feet will be cheaper than USPS in this category.”

    Surely you mean cubic inches.

  10. International Shipping says:

    If you use your own packaging, you could face additional “dimensional fees” if your box exceeds the size regulations set by UPS.

  11. Mara J Van Nostrand says:

    what if I want to send something internationally. I need to send a package to Prague. Is one service more economical for international? TIA

    1. Fred says:

      What is the cheapest (insured) way to ship a box of books to India or other foreign countries? Weights would vary between 3 lbs and 50 lbs.

      1. Andrew Call says:

        Here’s the key folks!…Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate. Shipping representatives can and will give you the best rate you can get if you simply reach out to them. And if they don’t, go to the competition. Generally speaking, USPS is the cheapest…first class mail is the absolute cheapest to be exact. But FedEx and UPS will take care of you if youre talking to the right person.

  12. Wanda says:

    I want to know any company cheapest to send a 50 pounds package to PR

  13. Charles Cas-Michel Gerarrd says:

    Here’s the LOWEST COST METHOD to ship anything Internationally:

    Find a Friend that works for AMR American Airlines….Grab an American Airlines Employee (Pilot, Baggage Handler, Flight Attendant, Gate-Agent, Reservationist) & head over to FedEx.

    Fill out the forms & the AA Employee will present their Employee Badge/ID to the Point of Sale (PoS) Clerk & you’ll get about an 80% off Regular Rates Discount & certainly a better discount than a FedEx Employee.

    Why?? Well FedEx Uses American Airlines for Freight forwarding services…hence the nice deep discount.

    USPS is no longer the cheapest nor lowest cost for most items International shipping.

    FedEx also offers certain discounts for other Organisations & Airlines but nothing as good nor as “Deep Discount” As an AMR American Airlines Employee discount.

    if you belong to a School, teachers union, University, or other type Org?, Call your local FedEx Office Center & ask them to go through their list.

    Hope that helps.

  14. charlie says:

    I personally recommend Shipinar.com.
    They have pretty good rate for UPS.

  15. Johnson Ekeh says:

    Pls am relocating from albany zip 12308 with my family of 5 . I have a 2008 sienna also and would love to know the cheapest and reliable options to move all our personal belongings ( mostly clothes)…Thank you

  16. Johnson Ekeh says:

    Sorry From zip code 12308 to Houston Texas 70770

  17. International shipping services says:

    You may use USPS, it is usually not breaking the bank. You can find out which way of shipping will be cheaper precisely for your package, though price estimation is made without any obligations.

  18. Barbara Shaffer says:

    I have about 50 Christmas packages to ship to Cali from n.c.
    What’s the cheapest way please?

  19. dan says:

    “Otherwise, packages below 5184 cubic feet will be cheaper than USPS in this category.”

    Srsly? Who ships anything THAT big?!?

    I’m sure its some kind of typo, but I cant make heads or tails of it.

  20. Arlene Bartz says:

    I plan on shipping back a recliner I don’t like at all. What will this cost me? Approximately 250 lbs

  21. Rex SHin says:

    I’m using shipinar.com to compare the shipping rate and you can buy discounted shipping label from their website.

  22. David Miller says:

    Great article – thanks for the guidelines.

    A personal note regarding USPS reliability – we’ve mailed out over 5,000 packages to 49 countries and only have had two get lost. One was my fault with a bad ‘care of’ address and the other was lost by the Spanish Postal System.

  23. MARK says:

    SocialPost is a way to ship that is like uber but for packages and it is much more affordable; plus they have real-time tracking.

  24. Francisco says:

    Hello. If you’re shipping air express internationally, into or out of the U.S., let me quote it. There is no cost and no obligation to take a look. Our exclusive partner is DHL. We’re their number one reseller in the U.S. and their fifth largest customer. Write to info256@inxpress.com or call 866-460-4131.

  25. MK Fazekas says:

    Hands down, USPS was the cheapest and most reliable. I mailed a 17.4 lb. package from Florida on a Monday afternoon to Dublin, Ireland. It arrived at its destination the following Friday morning. I paid USPS $94. Fedex wanted $304 + fees. UPS wanted $280 + fees. Between the US postal service and the Irish postal service, I’d say they were pretty reliable since it was delivered within 5 business days. I got text updates on the status of the package—even when it was going through Irish customs.

  26. s says:

    Need to move from rockledge, PA to Fort Lauderdale, FL

  27. Daniel Morris says:

    As a former FedEx employee, we detested those small flat rate boxes from the USPS. They were always full of coins, steel rods, or something else weighing like 50 pounds, and half the time they got dropped and spilled everywhere (you could tell this had happened 3 times up the line before it even got to us because of all the rips and layers of packing tape…). I mean seriously, you try sitting down, reaching about 2 feet out and 1 foot down, and grabbing a 50 lb bowling ball off a moving conveyor belt without dropping it!

  28. SAP MM Training Institute in Noida says:

    WEBTRACKKER Technology is the best SAP MM Training Institute in Noida with live projects with 100% job assistanceS open the link

  29. Wade says:

    I’m currently in breakdown mode for our store online using WooCommerce. Everything is super simple, but USPS is the only breaking factor. Understanding weight ratio’s is very important when creating an online store.

    Currently, I’m fighting with whether to charge my customer an outrageous USPS shipping rate, or raise my own rates so I can share a more reasonable shipping rate. All in all, USPS is a crock of crap and another government hijacking for our money. Either way, they’re getting theirs and the customer gets crapped on.

  30. Shelley says:

    Not sure how old this article is but you absolutely CAN print USPS First Class postage on your printer at home. FYI.

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