The Cheapest Overnight Shipping Options: USPS vs. UPS vs. FedEx

When you need a document or a package to get somewhere tomorrow, it can get really expensive.

Sometimes you have to ask yourself if you truly need it to be there the next day, or if you only need it to be postmarked by today. For example, if you mail your tax return, you only have to have it postmarked by the 15th of April. It doesn’t need to get to the Internal Revenue Service on the 15th. So if you head to the post office thinking you need to overnight it, you can save yourself the money!

Sometimes you do need the package there the very next day. Perhaps it’s a gift or an important document that someone needs.

If that’s truly the case, then you’ll need to overnight it.

We explain what the different names are for the overnight class of service, a comparison of the prices for a mix of different letters and packages, and hopefully, you’ll be able to find the best option for you!

All prices were quoted March 2020.

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Table of Contents
  1. USPS vs. UPS vs. FedEx Services
  2. Overnight Letters
  3. Overnight Packages
  4. Shipping Calculators
  5. International
  6. What Does “Guaranteed” Really Mean?

USPS vs. UPS vs. FedEx Services

The USPS just announced a temporary rate increase for a period of 10/3/2021 to 12/26/2021. This means that USPS will be more expensive that the rates we list below.

For overnight delivery, the three services you should consider are the post office (USPS), the United Parcel Service (UPS), and Federal Express (FedEx).


With the USPS, the guaranteed overnight service is called Priority Mail Express or sometimes shortened to Express. Regular Priority Mail is not guaranteed. Priority Mail Express delivers 7 days a week and is guaranteed.

UPS Logo

With UPS, the guaranteed overnight service is called UPS Next Day Air. There is a UPS Next Day Air Early if you need the package delivered before 9:30 AM (sometimes as early as 8 AM in a lot of areas). If it doesn’t have to be there until 3 PM or 4:30 PM, you can opt for UPS Next Day Air Saver.

Fedex Logo

With FedEx, the guaranteed overnight service is called FedEx Overnight. There is FedEx First Overnight for delivery the next morning. There’s FedEx Priority Overnight for delivery by 10:30 AM or the afternoon in more remote areas. Finally, there’s FedEx Standard Overnight for delivery by 3 PM or 4:30 PM for rural areas and 8 PM in residences.

For our purposes, we’re assuming that getting it there the next day is the important part so we’ll compare the cheapest of the three next day options.

Overnight Letters

If it’s a letter, the cheapest option is the USPS because they have a flat rate envelope that starts at $26.35. It ships any distance and any weight (that fits), for the quoted price.

UPS Next Day Air for a half-pound UPS letter starts at $35.29. If you need UPS Next Day Air Early, it costs $67.73! (2nd Day Air drops it to $25)

FedEx Standard overnight in a half-pound FedEx Envelope starts at $32.03 if it gets there by 3 PM. If you need it FedEx First Overnight, delivered by 9:30 AM), it starts at $65.56!

Overnight Packages

For price comparisons on a package, we did a 6″ x 6″ x 6″ package from New York, NY (10001) to San Francisco, CA (94105). For UPS and FedEx, we have a range because of the different types of overnight services they offer. The most expensive is the class where the package is there in the morning. The least expensive is when it’ll get there sometimes before your recipient goes to bed. 🙂

USPS Overnight
Shipping Prices:

  • 1 lb. – $44.00
  • 5 lb. – $71.35
  • 10 lb. – $105.20
  • 50 lb. – $321.35

UPS Next Day
Shipping Prices:

  • 1 lb. – $80.53 – $121.09
  • 5 lb. – $102.27 – $140.56
  • 10 lb. – $140.79 – $175.31
  • 50 lb. – $427.11 – $463.26

FedEx Overnight
Shipping Prices:

  • 1 lb. – $86.49 – $127.87
  • 5 lb. – $107.31 – $147.42
  • 10 lb. – $147.69 – $183.49
  • 50 lb. – $140.55 – $451.72

Shipping Calculators

Want to see prices for yourself, here are the calculators for each provider:

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If it needs to be overnight internationally, you’re pretty much limited to DHL. This price is quoted from December 2018.

DHL will overnight a half-pound letter from New York to London, England for $107.72 to $63.07, depending on what time of day you need it.

A 10 lb. box measuring 13.2″ x 12.6″ x 2″ will set you back anywhere from $248.86 to $226.71.

What Does “Guaranteed” Really Mean?

Each of the services will do their best to deliver packages the next day but no service will be able to do it with 100% success. The guarantee simply means that if the package is not delivered by the time they promise, you will be refunded the shipping fees.

Sadly, they cannot go back in time and ensure it gets there the next day.

If you don’t need it there the very next day, the prices change a bit. This post captures the cheapest shipping options available from each of the carriers for any speed. USPS wins in quite a few cases but reliability can be an issue.

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About Jim Wang

Jim Wang is a thirty-something father of four who is a frequent contributor to Forbes and Vanguard's Blog. He has also been fortunate to have appeared in the New York Times, Baltimore Sun, Entrepreneur, and Marketplace Money.

Jim has a B.S. in Computer Science and Economics from Carnegie Mellon University, an M.S. in Information Technology - Software Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, as well as a Masters in Business Administration from Johns Hopkins University. His approach to personal finance is that of an engineer, breaking down complex subjects into bite-sized easily understood concepts that you can use in your daily life.

One of his favorite tools (here's my treasure chest of tools,, everything I use) is Personal Capital, which enables him to manage his finances in just 15-minutes each month. They also offer financial planning, such as a Retirement Planning Tool that can tell you if you're on track to retire when you want. It's free.

He is also diversifying his investment portfolio by adding a little bit of real estate. But not rental homes, because he doesn't want a second job, it's diversified small investments in a few commercial properties and farms in Illinois, Louisiana, and California through AcreTrader.

Recently, he's invested in a few pieces of art on Masterworks too.

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  1. DNN says

    With the new trade deals Trump is making, now might be the perfect time for aspiring entrepreneurs and “side hustle millionaire” hopefuls to consider getting into the shipping business because tons of $ gUaP $ is about to be made.

    • Jim Wang says

      It depends on which service you use and I would search their website for specific times, or call the nearest location to confirm.

  2. Scott says

    Thank you, Jim! It was excellent to have this comparison all in one place and you have a lot of details that helped too. I appreciate you putting it all together. Your treasure chest of tools look interesting too. I’ll have to dig into those. God bless!

  3. Janice says

    USPS may not be able to guarantee next day delivery. NJ to NC – several overnight letters took two days (at the overnight rate!) For instance: NJ to Asheville – 2 days!

  4. Samara Nail says

    My business experience is that if you are in a small community & sending to another small/rural area, time of day letter or package gets to the courier impacts delivery. This can be true whether shipping to or from residence or business location.

    If you use a courier service frequently, you can apply to obtain a FedEx account and perhaps negotiate a better rate.

    With Covid-19 & the Republicans in charge, USPS has had difficulty keeping pace so currently, for the small difference in price, the others are more reliable. UPS & FedEx drivers are paid well to work late; I know a couple of them personally & have seen them running deliveries in the dark. Most of them know their routes & neighborhoods too.

    Final note. If weather gets bad – winter storms or hurricanes, fires, floods etc delivery dates could easily be delayed.

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