Still need to mail a holiday gift? Here are the options (and costs).

December 12, 2011

You told yourself it would be different this year. All the presents would be wrapped by Thanksgiving. The 200 holiday cards would be handwritten, complete with personal messages. And there would be no spending a small fortune at the post office so Aunt Katherine in St. Louis could enjoy her holiday treats on Christmas Day.

The first two thoughts were clearly delusional, but it’s not too late to ship that package without breaking the bank. We went to the U.S. Postal Service, UPS, FedEx and a Parcel Plus store to investigate the cost of sending a six-pound, 14-by-13-by-6-inch box from the Washington area on Monday to arrive in St. Louis by Christmas Eve.

FedEx

FedEx will pick up at your home, at hundreds of drop boxes in the area or ship from its FedEx Office stores.

Pickup at your front door sounds appealing if only to avoid the lines. Creating an account in the Save Now program can save you between 7 and 16 percent on shipping costs. But you have to input credit card information. Pickup without the program would add about $3 to the shipping cost of Aunt Katherine’s package. Not a bad deal if you’re pressed for time.


(istockphoto)

FedEx Office stores will help you with shipping supplies and will figure out how best to pack a fragile gift (for an extra $4.99 and up) to guarantee that it arrives safely.

A FedEx Office employee calculated that your package would get to St. Louis on Wednesday via ground transport for $13.42. With that comes a tracking record, insurance for up to $100 in value but no guaranteed delivery. Still, you have a two-day cushion.

www.fedex.com.

USPS

The Postal Service is trying to stay competitive by expanding its online services and giving customers who use them a discount. If you create a USPS online account, you can input your package’s size, weight and destination, pay by credit card and then print out a mailing label to tape to the box.

Sending your box by Priority Mail, with delivery expected on Wednesday, would cost $15.65 at the post office but only $13.86 online. Those who ship online get delivery confirmation at no charge (70 cents in the post office), but insurance is extra for online and in-person shipping. You can drop off the package at a post office or schedule a carrier to pick it up for no additional fee.

You could send the box via Parcel Post at the post office and get the cheapest rate overall: $10.94. But the estimated delivery day is Saturday, which leaves no room for delay. It’s worth $3 to avoid the embarrassing “I’m sure it will arrive soon” during your Christmas chat.

www.usps.gov

UPS

UPS has similar choices to those at FedEx: Drop off your package at a UPS Store or schedule a pickup.

An at-home pickup is a pricy option. Same-day service adds $6 to the shipping cost. UPS also tacks on a residential neighborhood charge and a fuel surcharge. In the case of your box, the charge for shipping from home would be $23.71.

Taking your package to a UPS store and choosing ground service would mean Thursday delivery and a cost of $14.63. Insurance up to $100 is included, and you will receive a tracking number.

Because you’re adding a day to the delivery time and paying slightly more than at FedEx and the Postal Service, this option only makes sense if you live or work close to a UPS store.

www.ups.com.

Parcel Plus

These independently operated stores also offer one-stop shopping for packing and shipping. A location at Arlington County’s Lee Harrison Shopping Center has dozens of boxes and various cushioning options. This family-owned business offers advice in store and over the phone. If you have no time to put a box together, the staff will pack items for you starting at $2.

Owner Raymond Lau said your box could go by FedEx — Wednesday arrival, $19.18 — or UPS — Thursday, $18.63. Both come with tracking and up to $100 in insurance. You will pay a bit more here, but you may avoid the lines and get better service.

Parcel Plus, 2503D N. Harrison St., Arlington. 703-752-1888. www.parcelplusarlington.com. Nineteen other area locations. Prices vary.

THE BOTTOM LINE: It’s not packing panic time yet, but you will pay dearly for waiting a day or two. That FedEx charge of $13.42 will become $36.99 if you need a two-day guarantee. Overnight will take your cost to $80. That’s enough to kill anyone’s Christmas cheer. So mail Monday unless you have an in with a North Pole-based firm that offers overnight service for a cookie and a glass of milk.

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