Where to Find the Cheapest Shipping Rates

by Ashley Watson on 23 August 2011 1 comment
Photo: Andrew Fung

Whether you are shipping items for a small business, sending out your manuscript to multiple publishers, or simply mailing a gift, you don't want to get burned on the shipping costs. Doing a little extra research to find the cheapest shipping rates could save you a lot of money. Even those little fees can add up quickly!

If you are on the lookout for the cheapest shipping rate possible, comparing the major shipping carriers is an easy place to start. You can go to websites that help you calculate and compare shipping costs. FreightCenter.com is a good resource for large shipments, or you can try ShipGooder to compare the major shipping carriers.

To get you started, here are some of the special rates and programs offered by the three major carriers. (See also: How to Get Free Shipping and Online Discounts Across the Web)

United States Postal Service (USPS)

After playing around at ShipGooder and putting in a few sample locations and weights, it appears that the USPS is the cheapest way to ship anything. One of the cheapest ways to ship with the USPS is to use their new Forever Flat Rate Packaging. You can lock in future increases in prices by purchasing one of their flat-rate packages, which range in size and price. There's no additional shipping fee for packages up to 70 pounds, and there's also free delivery confirmation.

The USPS also offers a much cheaper shipping rate for media items, but be aware that there are media mail restrictions and postal workers have the right to inspect any media mail package to ensure that the contents fit their requirements. It can also take up to six business days for delivery, but it is definitely the cheapest way to ship media.

FedEx

If you aren't using media mail, FedEx is the only carrier that offers a slightly lower ground rate than the USPS Parcel Post. For Next Day, Two Day, and Three Day shipping, FedEx's rates are more expensive than USPS and a little cheaper than UPS's rates. But the rates range according to the shipping location and the weight of the package (go to ShipGooder to compare the costs for a specific shipment). FedEx also recently announced that they will be raising their shipping rates beginning in September 2011, so they might be more expensive than UPS. If you want to make sure you will not have to worry about rate increases, the USPS is the only carrier that allows you to lock in a price through their prepaid packaging. Even if FedEx is more expensive, it tends to have better customer reviews in terms of speed and reliability.

United Parcel Service (UPS)

To earn extra money over the holidays last year, I was a temporary driver helper for UPS. During one of the busiest weeks of the year, the driver and I delivered close to 200 packages a day, which I was told was almost twice as many deliveries as their competitors. I must say that I was baffled by the fact that so many people chose UPS after I learned that the company has the most expensive rates of all the major carriers. But then I remembered that we made deliveries and pick-ups for a lot of small businesses. To some business owners, the convenience of using a personal shipping account through the UPS website is worth the extra cost. If you are a business owner, check out UPS Business Solutions on their site to see what they have to offer for businesses. But if you do not own a business, or ship items often, UPS will cost you a lot more than the USPS or FedEx.

You can always check the websites of the carriers to search for special promotions. But I have found that the best way to find out if you are getting the cheapest rate is to call your local Post Office or shipping store and talk to a human being. From my experience, people who work in the shipping business are extremely friendly and willing to help you save costs on shipping, even if it means going with one of their competitors.

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Alison

What about international shipping? Are there any US websites, for resellers (FedEx etc) or compare shipping?

I live in the UK, such websites exist. However, I've yet to find a US counterpart for my family to use.