Cheapest Overnight Shipping Options: USPS, UPS, or FedEx?

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If you’ve shipped anything lately, you know that rates across the board are increasing while guaranteed delivery rates are slipping. So which shipping carrier offers the cheapest overnight rates, with the best guaranteed arrival policy?

Shipping packages can be a hassle, especially around the holidays. Finding the best rate sometimes takes entering the package dimensions and weight so many times that you’re just ready to find a semi-decent price and call it good—even if it means sacrificing reliability. 

When it comes to overnight shipping, reliability is everything. In fact, you might even say it’s worth paying extra for, no matter how much you fork over. But knowing which shipping carrier is going to deliver your package and simply paying too much is all too common these days. So how can you cut down on the hassle of shipping but still get the cheapest overnight shipping price among the most popular carriers? 

Our guide will show you how. Shipping rates fluctuate but you can typically pick between the three major carriers to find the best rate. Whether you prefer the United States Postal Service (USPS), FedEx, or UPS, there’s an easy way to find and compare shipping prices so your buck goes nearly as far as your package will. 

Are you ready to learn what the best overnight shipping rates are? Let’s start by clarifying what overnight shipping really means.  

What Does “Overnight Shipping” Mean

It’s important to clarify what “overnight shipping” means, especially when it comes to getting a package delivered at a very specific time. If you know what sort of timeframe you’re looking at with overnight delivery, you can plan accordingly. 

Packages shipped overnight typically take anywhere from 12-24 hours to arrive at their destination. You typically choose overnight shipping because you want your package there the next day. There are many reasons why you might be working on such a tight deadline, but timely delivery success is critical. 

Cut-off times determine when a package can be overnighted. For instance, if you drop off a package at a shipping carrier after the cut-off time, it will not be guaranteed for next-day delivery. Your package slates for overnight shipping beginning the day after. 

Most overnight shipping rates depend on weight limits and the distance to the package’s destination. Packages sent via overnight shipping hop aboard a plane’s cargo hold to be dropped off at a distribution center and then routed to their destination shortly after. There’s only so much room in an airplane cargo hold, so space is limited. 

Overnight Shipping Guarantee

When package carriers specify an overnight shipping guarantee, they are promising to have your packaged delivery the next day by a certain time. Failure to deliver this package by that quoted time affords you a refund on your shipping costs, though you will have to file a claim.

Most shipping carriers advertise an overnight shipping guarantee as a way to steal business from their competitors. However, they must still honor these delivery promises or face reimbursing their customers for a job done too late.  

What to Look For in a Shipping Company

As you figure out shipping rates and the cheapest option for shipping your particular package overnight, you’ll want to consider the following: 

  • Insurance: Most carriers offer some sort of insurance on packages as a way to compensate for damages incurred if they do occur. Check with your pick of shipping companies to see how they handle insurance, from declarations to filing a claim. 
  • Locations: Physically getting your package to the shipping carrier can be the hardest part. Look for locations that are convenient for you, from brick and mortar to drop-off spots. FedEx and UPS charge for pickup.
  • Labels: All three major shipping partners offer label printing, though you will typically have to pay for shipping before you’re able to print the label out. 
  • Tracking: FedEx and UPS provide tracking in real-time. USPS recently changed how they track packages, but you can always reach out to customer service to track a package, no matter what carrier you chose. 
  • Reliability: No shipping carrier is 100% reliable. Packages get damaged and lost, and drivers quit at a moment’s notice. The trick is to find a carrier that is more reliable than the rest and hope nothing happens to your overnighted package. 

Most insurance coverage addresses lost, damaged, or stolen packages. USPS will cover up to $5,000, though registered mail is covered up to $50,000. FedEx and UPS have a minimum coverage of up to $100 for their packages, but you’ll have to pay if you declare a higher value. You can declare a value up to $50,000 with UPS. 

USPS Overnight Shipping

USPS Priority Mail Express is the name of the overnight shipping service you can take advantage of through your local post office. Where regular Priority Mail is not guaranteed, USPS Priority Mail Express can take up to 2 days, though the postal service does deliver 7 days a week. 

Per the USPS website, here are the various overnight shipping prices:

  • Flat Rate Envelopes start at $26.95
  • Legal Flat Rate Envelopes ship for $27.10
  • Padded Flat Rate Envelopes cost just $0.40 more at $27.50

Flat-rate boxes can be a great way to save on overnight shipping costs. These come in small, medium, and large. If you’re able to fit an object in a smaller box and ship it for less, you can save money. USPS is also the best option for shipping something less than one pound in weight that is potentially fragile. Rates are the most affordable for this size. 

However, USPS doesn’t deliver in the morning, so you should keep this in mind. 

Pros:

  • Cheapest option for lightweight mail
  • Ability to send mail to PO boxes and military bases
  • Free pickup and weekend delivery
  • Delivers 7 days a week 

Cons 

  • Limited tracking available
  • Customer support is not as responsive 
  • Poor retail location hours
  • Lost packages 

If you’d like to find out what your package costs to overnight with USPS, check out their shipping calculator. You can compare the costs you quote here to those on both FedEx and UPS websites as well. 

FedEx Overnight Shipping

There are three different tiers to FedEx overnight shipping, each with its specific delivery times:

  • FedEx First Overnight: Delivery the next morning.
  • FedEx Priority Overnight: Delivery by 10:30 a.m. or the afternoon in remote areas. 
  • FedEx Standard Overnight: Delivery by 3 p.m. or 4:30 p.m. for rural areas and 8 p.m. for residences.

Shipping a package through any of these three overnight services will cost you anywhere from $85 to $210, depending on the weight. Packages that are 5 pounds or less will ship cheapest via FedEx Standard Overnight, at just under $100. At the same time, if you need that same package delivered early the next morning, you’ll pay up to $155 for FedEx First Overnight. 

FedEx Standard  OvernightFedEx Priority OvernightFedEx First  Overnight
5-pound package$85-95$110-120$145-155
10-pound package$116-126$136-146$170-180
10+ pound package$135-145$165-175$199-210

FedEx delivers from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day of the week. This particular carrier offers detailed tracking that notes when and where your package was last scanned so you can keep an eye on it. You can also review FedEx’s guarantee statement to see how they best serve their customers. 

Pros

  • Detailed tracking 
  • Best for perishable items, such as food, beverages, and alcohol 
  • Weekend delivery available (for a fee)
  • Discounts available 
  • Fast shipping times
  • Delivery 7 days a week

Cons

  • Delivery can be past the promised time
  • Rates are typically higher than other carriers 
  • Free pickup is not available 
  • Lack of convenient brick-and-mortar locations 

To find out how much it will cost you to overnight your package with FedEx, check out their shipping calculator. This calculator includes everything you need to determine a price that corresponds with your desired delivery date and time. 

UPS Overnight Shipping

Like FedEx, UPS distinguishes between different overnight delivery services via the specific time of day when the package will arrive. Here’s a quick breakdown of those times:

  • UPS Next Day Air Saver: If time isn’t necessarily a huge factor, you can choose this service to have your package delivered between 3 and 4:30 p.m. to commercial locations, and end of the day to residential locations (7 p.m.). 
  • UPS Next Day Air: This service is guaranteed to deliver your package by 10:30 a.m.
  • UPS Next Day Air Early: Packages shipped under this service are guaranteed to arrive between 8 and 9 a.m. the next business day. 

UPS Next Day Air Saver is, as the name suggests, the cheapest option for shipping overnight with UPS. Packages less than 5 pounds come in around $100 with the Air Saver service. Basic Air services are just a few dollars more, but UPS Next Day Air Early is about $40-50 more than the base rate. 

UPS delivers 5 days a week, but weekend delivery is available in certain areas. You can expect UPS to deliver packages between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. 

Pros

  • Cost-effective shipping option for large/oversized packages, including freight
  • Real-time tracking
  • Ground residential packages delivered on Saturday incur zero additional fees 
  • International delivery faster than promised
  • Quality customer service 

Cons

  • Fees can quickly increase base rates
  • Free pickup not available
  • Commercial deliveries on Saturday incur a fee
  • Lost and damaged packages 

Navigate to the UPS shipping calculator to find out how much it will cost to ship your item. You can also use the formula: length times width times height, divided by 139. Review UPS’ guarantee statement as well to see what recourse you have if your package is not delivered on-time. 

Cheapest Overnight Shipping Rates

Most carriers base their overnight shipping rates (and shipping rates in general) on dimensional weight. As the dimensions and/or weight of the package increase, so too does the price. If you think about it in terms of space, you’re paying for real estate in the truck and airplane cargo area, so the more room your package takes up, the higher your shipping rate. 

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the different types of packages that you might need to ship overnight, and which carrier is the best for the job. 

A Letter or Lightweight Package

If you are sending letters, you’ll typically find the best rates with USPS. Here’s a table of where rates begin at for comparison: 

USPS Flat Rate EnvelopeFedEx Standard Overnight (3 p.m. delivery)FedEx First Overnight (9:30 a.m. delivery)UPS Next Day AirUPS Next Day Air Early
8-ounce letter $26.35$32.03$65.56$35.29$67.73

As you can see, it’s much cheaper to send letters via USPS, though the base overnight delivery options for FedEx and UPS are still within a $10 range. 

Medium to Large Package

When it comes to medium- and large-sized packages, the best rates can fluctuate depending on the destination, weight, size, etc. It pays to take a look at each of the three carriers to see who offers not only the best rate but also an acceptable timeframe and guarantee policy. Quote out your package with each carrier to determine your best overnight shipping option.

Oversized and/or Freight

If you are shipping oversized packages and/or freight, it’s cheapest to go with FedEx or UPS. With that said, you will still be paying a premium. Again, it’s all about how much room the package will take up during transport. 

FAQs

Which carrier is the cheapest for overnight delivery?

USPS offers the best rates for shipping overnight. However, it’s not always the most reliable shipping service. Many people find that shipping via FedEx or UPS is more successful in terms of their package arriving on time, even though it might be more expensive. 

Which carriers have guaranteed overnight shipping?

Technically speaking, USPS, FedEx, and UPS all have guaranteed overnight shipping. However, the phrasing and particular guarantee varies from one carrier to the next. 

How can I find USPS, UPS, and FedEx shipping rates?

To find the cheapest shipping rates, compare rates from each of the different shipping carriers. You can open each of the shipping calculators in their own window and enter the same dimensions to find who offers the cheapest overnight rate.

Ship Your Packages Carefully 

Shipping packages around the country can be difficult if you’re not sure who offers the best rates. At the same time, cheaper options don’t always come with a guaranteed delivery date or the peace of mind that accompanies quality service. We hope this article helps you to know which shipping carrier to choose for the best rates and service combined. No matter where you ship your package, it pays to do your research.

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About the author

Brian Meiggs
Brian Meiggs
Brian Meiggs is a personal finance expert, and the founder of My Millennial Guide, a personal finance site helping you put more money in your pocket. He helps millennials follow the smart money in order to increase their earning potential and start building wealth for the future. He regularly writes about side hustles, investing, and general personal finance topics aimed to help anyone earn more, pay off debt, and reach financial freedom. He has been quoted as a top personal finance blogger in major publications including Yahoo! Finance, NASDAQ, Discover, MSN Money and more.
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