USPS vs. UPS vs. FedEx

It has been a while since I’ve done an analysis of the various shipping carriers so I thought I’d do a quick update in light of key issues that have come up lately (like shipping large items to C5). It’s not my intention to cover every possible combination or service, just the most common for this club.  I have noticed there have been various assumptions by members when it comes to shipping items and I thought I might shed a little light to those unaware of the differences to help save them a little money. With the US post office raising rates every 4-6 months and cutting services  just as fast, it is important to know the differential of when to use USPS (the post office), UPS (United Parcel Service) and/or FedEx for shipping non freight items. In 2 other articles I will be sending out shortly I will cover sending heavy and very large freight items and how to get the lowest price (for example how to send a droid crate from Burbank to Orlando for 235.00 via a commercial carrier and Droid crate/case construction including who does them and a specific crate design for droids of any type or dome. This article deals with the smaller items.

There are many shipping variables that go into pricing. To that end most articles find it difficult to discuss without picking a package size to base their discussions around a comparative model. However, even choosing a size has many variations that can become very convoluted. I believe I can do that by describing when you need to use a certain carrier and why without getting too bogged down in package specifics.

One of the assumptions is that the post office is always cheaper. That is no long true. The post office knows this and is a chief reason behind their ad campaigns that focus on their flat rate boxes. So long as certain criteria are followed, the post office may still be your best bet but you need to pay attention to what you are sending. It depends on the size and the weight. These days you can easily do a price comparison on line between the 3 carriers from the comfort of your home so do yourself a favor and check it out before paying the postage. Don’t assume. You could be throwing money away. This guide may save you some time in deciding your best option.

The post office is your best source (cost wise) for sending items that required at least a 2-5 day delivery window and fit 1 of the criteria below:

  1. can fit inside one of the 3 flat rate boxes and are at least 2 lbs or greater in weight or
  2. are less than 2 lbs and are not placed in a flat rate box and the girth of the box is less than 80” or
  3. are sent first class (13oz or less) or
  4. are sent internationally

**For anything else consider sending UPS ground or Fedex Home delivery**

If you are shipping something that is heavier than 2 lbs and you have a delivery window of 2-5 days  it is cheaper to go with UPS ground. An exception to that rule would be items sent to Baltimore, Maryland. For some reason UPS fees are higher there than USPS or FedEx for like items (there may be other exceptions). Also as a general rule, if you can send your items to a business address (if using UPS or FedEx) it will be cheaper for you than if it is going to a residential address.

Something else to be aware of is how the cost of the items are calculated or how the weight of an item is assigned to your package. It is not as clear cut as you might think. Shippers will figure the cost of your package 1 of 2 ways; Dimensional weight or Actual weight. Dimensional weight is the theoretical weight of a package based on the length, width and height of a package divided by a constant (a density factor). It was adopted in 2007 by the major carriers after they discovered they were losing money using actual weight when items were large or irregularly shaped so they needed something to compensate for the lost revenue. When the items exceed the assigned dimensional weight, the carrier will charge you the actual weight. UPS, FedEx as well as most freight carriers use the same calculation for figuring the dimensional weight 12LxWxH194′> . The post office calculates it a different way, the base it on shape which makes it very hard to compare against other carriers because for some shapes they assign a flat fee surcharge on top of the actual weight. The fee varies based on the type of shape. However there is another comparative measure to show a differential when NOT to use the post office. That indicator is the girth of the package. The girth for a rectangular package is the length plus the width times 2; expressed mathematically as G=2(W+L). For a cylinder or other irregular shapes it is computed differently. Basically USPS charges you an oversize fee on smaller packages than UPS and FedEx. UPS and FedEx charge you an oversize fee for items that exceed 108″ in girth. The post office starts assessing an oversized fee for items that exceed 80″ in girth. The amount the post office charges varies based on the shape of the object.   

While USPS is the cheapest carrier for items less than 2lbs, their reliability is easily the worst among the 3 carriers. Between FedEx and UPS different areas seem to get different qualities of service. We all hear horror stories of how UPS did this or FedEx did that but as a whole they are much better and more reliable than the Post Office but as a general rule you have to weigh cost vs. reliability. USPS does not offer any tracking of the package only delivery confirmation. If insurance is purchased the post office can track the item only at periodic points along the route and only the post office can track it. You cannot see for yourself where the package is. A lot of people confuse the tracking and confirmation window of the post office as the same kind of tracking that UPS and FedEx offer. Nothing could be further from the truth. FedEx and UPS offer full web tracking capabilities.  Also when it comes to lost or damaged items, the post office manually has to search for the items. If they find it, they do not tell you. You have to contact them to see if it is found and then they usually will send the item back to the sender, not the addressee and you will not get a refund of the postage. The USPS claim process is also very cumbersome and takes a long time to recovery any monies from items that were lost or damaged often requiring multiple forms being filled out and having to go down to the post office to prove your claim. (I can personally attest to how easy or difficult it is based on the carrier).

If you are looking to send items with a guaranteed time window then you need to look at UPS or FedEx. USPS cannot guarantee a delivery time window. To get the best rates you need to pay for your postage on line. FedEx gets you the best pricing at 15% off. If you are a business shipper for UPS or FedEx then, of course, you get better pricing, and like I said earlier, if you are sending and receiving packages from business locations you get additional discounts so it helps to develop those business relationships whenever and wherever possible.

In Summary The post office is your best option for items that

  1. can fit inside one of the 3 flat rate boxes and are at least 2 lbs or greater in weight or
  2. are less than 2 lbs and are not placed in a flat rate box and the girth of the box is less than 80” or
  3. are sent first class (13oz or less) or
  4. are sent internationally

UPS ground or FedEx Home delivery will be cheaper if your package will not fit in any of the flat rate boxes and weighs greater than 2 lbs.