Cheapest Shipping
RiverNorthPhotography/istockphoto

Shipping Cost Comparison: USPS vs. UPS vs. FedEx

When it comes to shipping packages across America, consumers have no shortage of options from the U.S. Postal Service, United Parcel Service (UPS), and FedEx. All offer standard ground delivery, various two- or three-day delivery options, and guaranteed overnight shipping. Pricing generally varies based on the size and weight of the package and the origin and destination, although the Post Office provides flat-rate boxes that ship for a fixed price regardless of weight or destination. To find the cheapest shipping rates, we compared the cost of sending hypothetical 5- and 10-pound packages coast to coast, from New York City to a residential address in Los Angeles.

  • The Post Office was cheapest across the board for 1- to 3-day shipping, and the savings reached more than 75%. For a 10-pound Priority Mail shipment in a medium-size flat-rate box, the rate was $50 less than FedEx 3Day Express Saver.
  • FedEx and UPS provide far more options for time-sensitive shipping, with guaranteed delivery as early as 8 a.m. the next day. FedEx is consistently cheaper, although UPS Next Day Air was almost always within a dollar or two in our comparison.
  • FedEx Home Delivery and UPS Ground are cheaper than USPS Retail Ground, although the Postal Service's flat-rate shipping still undercuts the private carriers for smaller, heavier packages.

Post Office, UPS, and FedEx Shipping Rates

Overnight Shipping

FedExUPSU.S. Postal Service
5 lb. package
$130.77
FedEx First Overnight
(Mon.-Fri. by 8-9:30 a.m.)

$100.77
FedEx Priority Overnight
(Mon.-Fri. by 10:30 a.m.)

$92.21
FedEx Standard Overnight
(Mon.-Fri. by 3 p.m.)
$131.38
UPS Next Day Air Early
(Mon.-Fri. by 8-9:30 a.m.)

$101.38
UPS Next Day Air
(Mon.-Fri. by 10:30 a.m. or 12 p.m.)

$94.88
UPS Next Day Air Saver
(Mon.-Fri. by 3 or 4:30 p.m.)
$67.15
Priority Mail Express
(Mon.-Sat. by 10:30 a.m.; Sundays and holidays for $12.50 additional fee)
10 lb. package
$162.52
FedEx First Overnight

$132.52
FedEx Priority Overnight

$126.90
FedEx Standard Overnight
$163.85
UPS Next Day Air Early

$133.85
UPS Next Day Air

$130.62
UPS Next Day Air Saver
$99
Priority Mail Express

2-Day and 3-Day Shipping

FedExUPSU.S. Postal Service
5 lb. package
$60.82
FedEx 2Day A.M.
(by 10:30 a.m.)

$52.94
FedEx 2Day
(Mon.-Fri. by 8 p.m.)

$40.42
FedEx 3Day Express Saver
(Mon.-Fri. by 8 p.m.)
$60.96
UPS 2nd Day Air A.M.
(Mon.-Fri. by 10:30 a.m. or 12 p.m.)

$53.11
UPS 2nd Day Air
(Mon.-Fri. by close of business)

$38.16
UPS 3 Day Select
(Mon.-Fri. by close of business; Saturday delivery in some areas)
$25.45
Priority Mail
(1-3 business days)

$19.95
Priority Mail Large Flat Rate Box*

$14.35
Priority Mail Medium Flat Rate Box*

$7.90
Priority Mail Small Flat Rate Box*
10 lb. package
$95.85
FedEx 2Day A.M.

$83.44
FedEx 2Day

$64.02
FedEx 3Day Express Saver
$95.60
UPS 2nd Day Air A.M.

$83.52
UPS 2nd Day Air

$57.09
UPS 3 Day Select
$42.45
USPS Priority Mail

$19.95
Priority Mail Large Flat Rate Box*

$14.35
Priority Mail Medium Flat Rate Box*

$7.90
Priority Mail Small Flat Rate Box*

Ground Shipping

FedExUPSU.S. Postal Service
5 lb. package
$14.22 + $3.80 surcharge
FedEx Home Delivery
(1-5 business days; Mon.-Sat. by 8 p.m.)
$14.22
UPS Ground
(1-5 business days; Mon.-Sat.)
$23.02
USPS Retail Ground
(1-3 business days; Mon.-Sat.)

$19.95
Priority Mail Large Flat Rate Box*

$14.35
Priority Mail Medium Flat Rate Box*

$7.90
Priority Mail Small Flat Rate Box*
10 lb. package
$17.62 + $3.80 surcharge
FedEx Home Delivery
$17.62
UPS Ground
$38.58
USPS Retail Ground

$19.95
Priority Mail Large Flat Rate Box*

$14.35
Priority Mail Medium Flat Rate Box*

$7.90
Priority Mail Small Flat Rate Box*

*A small flat-rate box measures 8 11/16" x 5 7/16" x 1 3/4"; medium boxes are 11 1/4" x 8 3/4" x 6" or 14" x 12" x 3 1/2"; a large box is 12 1/4" x 12 1/4" x 6".

Based on the most current rate and service guides from FedEx, UPS, and the U.S. Postal Service for hypothetical shipments from New York (10007) to a residential address in Los Angeles (90012). Rates and terms are subject to change.


Overnight Shipping

This is the costliest option, period. But if speed is of the essence, FedEx and United Parcel Service both offer guaranteed early-morning delivery by 8, 8:30, 9, or 9:30 a.m., depending on the city. That convenience comes at a price. It costs $130.77 to ship a 5-pound package and $162.52 to ship a 10-pound package via FedEx First Overnight. UPS Next Day Air Early costs a few pennies more: $131.38 for a 5-pound box and $163.85 for a 10-pounder. It's worth noting that this early option is available only in the contiguous United States.

FedExIf your overnight shipment doesn't need to get there first thing in the morning, both companies have options for guaranteed delivery by noon: FedEx Priority Overnight and UPS Next Day Air. Adding those extra hours to the delivery window saves $30 at both companies. And if it can wait until the afternoon, FedEx Standard Overnight and UPS Next Day Air Saver guarantee delivery by 3 or 4:30 p.m. FedEx is the (slightly) cheaper option every single time, although UPS is usually only a dollar or so more expensive.

The U.S. Post Office offers just one next-day service that doesn't deliver quite so early in the day as the speediest commercial services, but it's considerably cheaper and nearly as fast. Priority Mail Express Delivery is guaranteed by 10:30 a.m., and a 5-pound box costs just $67.15; a 10-pound box, $99.

2-Day and 3-Day Shipping

FedEx 2Day A.M. and UPS 2nd Day Air A.M. are fairly competitive price-wise and guarantee delivery by 10:30 a.m. In our comparison, FedEx and UPS both charged about $61 to ship a 5-pound package and about $96 for a 10-pounder. If delivery can wait until later in the day, FedEx 2Day promises delivery to residences by 8 p.m.; UPS 2nd Day Air has a similar policy. If your shipment isn't quite so urgent, both FedEx and UPS offer a three-day option, as well. In our analysis, FedEx was again slightly cheaper for two-day delivery. But for three-day shipping, UPS undercut FedEx by between $2 and $7.

Still, neither can beat the Post Office on price. Priority Mail service promises delivery within three days for a fraction of what the commercial providers charge. For example, it costs just $25.45 to ship a 5-pound box at the Post Office, compared with $38.16 for UPS 3 Day Select and $40.42 for FedEx 3Day Express Saver. The cost differential for a 10-pound box was similar: $42.45 for Priority Mail, $57.09 for UPS, and $64.02 for FedEx.

Flat-Rate Shipping

Cheapest ShippingPriority Mail offers another huge advantage over FedEx and UPS: flat-rate mailing boxes. These not only eliminate the need to use your own packaging; they're also cheaper to send. The prices are $7.90 for a small box, $14.35 for medium boxes, and $19.95 for a large box. The key here is that weight doesn't matter: "If it fits, it ships," the Post Office likes to say. That's true up to a maximum of 70 pounds. The heavier the package, the greater the savings. The Post Office has eliminated its flat-rate parcel service for Priority Mail Express shipments, but Priority Mail flat-rate shipping can take as little as one business day.

Ground Shipping

In our survey, FedEx and UPS both charged the same for standard ground delivery to a residential address: $14.22 and $17.62 for our 5- and 10-pound packages, respectively. But there's a catch: FedEx attaches a $3.80 surcharge to all FedEx Home Delivery shipments, making UPS the cheaper option. To ship a parcel via USPS Retail Ground, it's $23.02 for a 5-pound box and $38.58 for a 10-pounder. But if your shipment can fit into one of the Post Office's smaller Priority Mail flat-rate boxes, that remains the better option — especially for heavier packages.

The cheapest shipping method of all is Media Mail from the Postal Service, starting at just $2.75. But it's intended only for media and educational materials (packages are subject to inspection to make sure they don't contain ineligible items). Delivery can take more than a week. Still, if you have eligible items to send — like a box of heavy books — this can be a huge money saver.

Free Shipping Supplies

For this comparison, we used boxes measuring 12 x 9 x 6 inches, a common size. The Post Office, UPS, and FedEx all offer boxes free of charge for overnight, two-day, and three-day shipping. But if you're using standard ground service or your shipment doesn't fit in one of those boxes, you'll have to procure your own packing materials — or pay a premium for packing service at a UPS Store or FedEx Office location. These services can also ensure that your parcel is appropriately padded and sealed for shipping.

Shipping Large Items

If the box you use is oddly shaped or exceeds certain dimensions, you will pay more than the advertised rates, no matter how much the package weighs or which service you choose. If the free shipping supplies won't work, your best bet is to buy packing materials where you do your shipping (such as the local UPS Store) or at a business-supply store like Office Depot.

UPS Review

To determine whether you'll have to pay more than the listed shipping rate, you must calculate the dimensional weight of the packed, sealed box. For FedEx or UPS, multiply the length, width, and height in inches (rounded to the nearest whole number) and divide the total by 139. Then round up the result to the next whole number. If that dimensional weight exceeds the package's actual weight in pounds, you'll pay the higher rate. For instance, if we were to ship our hypothetical 5- or 10-pound parcel in a box measuring 1 cubic foot, its dimensional weight would be 13 pounds, and we would be charged according to that higher amount.

The Post Office follows a similar policy, but only for packages larger than 1 cubic foot. To check, measure your parcel's dimensions and multiply them. If the result is greater than 1,728, divide it by 166. That's the dimensional weight, and you'll be charged accordingly for the shipping service you choose.

UPS and FedEx limit shipments in the United States to 150 pounds; the Post Office limit is 70 pounds. Heavier items must be sent via the carrier's freight division.

Weekend Delivery

All three companies offer limited Saturday residential service. FedEx Home Delivery and UPS Ground shipments are delivered to private residences by 8 p.m. on Saturdays for no additional fee, while the Post Office delivers Priority Mail and Priority Mail Express shipments on Saturdays as part of its regular mail service. Only the Post Office delivers on Sundays, although there's an additional fee of $12.50 and service is limited to Priority Mail Express 1-day shipments in major markets (and Amazon deliveries).

Tracking and Insurance

All three carriers include tracking for overnight, two-day, and three-day shipping. UPS and FedEx track ground shipments for free, but the Post Office charges extra to add tracking to USPS Retail Ground. Tracking is included with flat-rate shipping from the Post Office, however.

The Postal Service, FedEx, and UPS also cover their shipments with $100 worth of insurance free of charge, with the exception of regular Priority Mail, which comes with $50 in coverage. If your shipment is worth more than that, you'll need to buy additional insurance, or run the risk of not receiving any compensation should your shipment be damaged or lost. All three providers offer extra coverage at the time of shipping, with rates based on declared value.

Guaranteed Delivery

Get It Fast (And Free) With RestockFedEx, UPS, and the United States Postal Service all promise on-time delivery or it's free. This guarantee applies to overnight, two-day, and three-day air shipping options. If your package is late, you'll need to claim your refund in a timely manner. Hold on to your shipping receipt with the tracking number printed on it. If you mailed your package at the Post Office, you'll need to return to the branch where you shipped it to claim a refund. If you purchased the postage online, you must file your claim at USPS.com. Either way, you have 30 days from the date of mailing to do so. FedEx and UPS give customers just 15 days to file a late-delivery claim, but unlike Post Office patrons, they can do so online.

Additional Services

In addition to tracking, all three carriers offer delivery options for extra peace of mind, such as signature-required delivery confirmation. But that service and others, like collect on delivery (COD), cost extra at FedEx, UPS, and the Post Office. The Post Office charges $3.05 for signature service, for example, and $6.40 if the sender requires an adult to sign. FedEx and UPS each charge $5 for a signature and $6.05 if someone over 21 must sign to accept delivery. Small-business services like click-and-print postage and scheduled pickups are also available at all three carriers.

Ratings and Reviews

Reviews on social media and sites like Yelp aren't very useful for gauging how well a business like FedEx, UPS, or the United States Postal Service does its job. Most people who bother to leave reviews are doing so because they've had a negative experience or to complain about tardy deliveries, unreliable tracking, damaged items, or packages that disappeared during shipping. Occasionally a consumer reports a pleasant experience, but it's more common to find a detailed account of a back-and-forth argument with customer service.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index's annual report on the business of retail and consumer shipping presents the most rounded view of the three shipping providers we could find. Based on interviews with 30,000 consumers, the ACSI rates the carriers on factors such as delivery speed, package condition, shipping options, and transaction ease. One thing has remained constant over the past several years: Consumers like FedEx and UPS a lot more than they do the Post Office, particularly when it comes to customer service and ease of transactions. This is no surprise, given that the Post Office itself admits in its annual report that it didn't meet internal 2018 goals for service and customer experience.

Live Well For Less

Behind every budget is a bucket list. From travel, food and lifestyle to product reviews and deals, we’re here to show you how to save and what’s worth saving for.

Cheapism in the News
msn
today
nytimes
cnbc
newyorker
cbs