Package deals

Before you send off that care package to a student or holiday gift to a friend, it pays to do a little comparison shopping. You might be surprised at what you discover.

August 31, 2008|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,tricia.bishop@baltsun.com

Got mail? The old-fashioned, tangible kind?

We do - lots of it. Every day, all sorts of packages and documents, letters and press kits flow into The Baltimore Sun offices, and that got us wondering: Just how much does it cost to send this stuff? Shipping rates can vary widely, depending upon what's being sent where, through whom and when the shipper wants it to arrive.

And with many of us mailing off care packages to college students these days, and the holidays just around the corner, we wanted to know who offered the best deals.

So we looked up the residential rates at four shippers (the U.S. Postal Service, UPS, FedEx and DHL) for four packages (a 1-ounce letter, a 5-pound package (measuring 10-by-10-by-10 inches), a 15-pound package (10-by-10-by-10) and a 35-pound package (13-by-13-by-13)] sent to two locations: New York City (ZIP code 10036) and Los Angeles (90012).

The rates assumed we dropped the packages off near The Baltimore Sun's downtown offices, in ZIP code 21201, at 1 p.m. Aug. 25.

For the most part, the costs were pretty similar, with a few surprises: If you're mailing a package overnight to New York through UPS, for example, choose the ground option instead of air for end-of-day delivery. It costs $67.86 to send a 35-pound box via plane and just $17.50 overland. You also get a discount if you buy your postage online from the post office and print it out, rather than purchase it at a branch.

And while the Postal Service is often the most economical option, it doesn't promise the 8 a.m. overnight delivery of UPS and FedEx (DHL starts delivering midmorning). If you want something to arrive in New York the next day, but evening is OK, the private shippers also often offer better prices on ground delivery than the post office.

We put together a chart to help you figure out which shipper might be the best choice based on your needs, but you can also enter specific data online with each organization to find your rates. You also can get a quick overview of all rates at shipgooder.com, though the site returned numbers slightly off from those we got from the shippers.

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