Extreme holiday shipping

Mail carriers are expanding shipping policies to get packages to arrive on time.

By Keisha Lamothe, CNNMoney.com staff writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Santa isn't the only one busy around this season - mail carriers are putting in extra effort with two weeks left for holiday shopping.

The United States Postal Service (USPS) offers an Express Mail service allowing customers to ship items as late as Saturday, Dec. 23 for delivery on Dec. 25. And even the most negligent procrastinator can ship out items on Christmas day in major cities, guaranteed to reach its destination by the next day.

Shoppers can ship items as late as Dec. 23 to be delivered on Dec. 25 through the USPS.

"A lot of people do wait until the last minute and we expect and anticipate that," said Joanne Veto, a USPS spokeswoman.

Because of the large volume of mail that needs to be shipped, USPS has added an additional 10,000 seasonal workers and plans to extend working hours in 7,400 offices around the country.

"The best time to go to a post office is between 10 a.m. and noon," Veto said, to avoid the crowds and long lines of people. She also suggested to have packages shipped by Monday, Dec. 18 to avoid any surcharge fees that may be added as the days get closer to the holiday. "That's the best time to ship a package to have it there by Christmas."

USPS will deliver packages weighing up to 70 lbs through the Express Mail service on or before the holiday at rates starting at $14.40 to most U.S. addresses, P.O. Boxes and military addresses.

By comparison, shipping out a 50 lbs package using the Express Mail service on Dec. 23 from Texas to California will cost about $105.

Because Dec. 18 is the best time to send packages, it is also the busiest mailing day of the year. "We expect to deliver 280 million cards and letters that day which is twice the daily average," Veto said.

On a regular day, USPS ships up to 670 million pieces of mail daily. However, during the week before Christmas, it plans to deliver 900 million pieces of mail daily.

FedEx (Charts) also expects Dec. 18 to be its busiest night. It projects 9.8 million packages to move through FedEx Express and FedEx Ground networks, which could break last year's record of 8.9 million on Dec. 19, 2005.

"Historically, we've found that about a week before Christmas is our busiest time of the year," Sally Davetort, a FedEx spokeswoman, said.

FedEx customers can ship packages as late as Dec. 22 to be delivered on Saturday, Dec. 23, the last day before Christmas FedEx will deliver. Davetort says to avoid any surcharge fees, customers should ship out packages no later than Dec. 21.

So if a customer wants to mail out a 2 lbs video game on Dec. 22 to their nephew in Florida from New York, it will cost nearly $69 to send through FedEx's Overnight service. At the same time, if the customer wants to send a TV and game console system, weighing 150 lbs, will run the bill up to nearly $600.

"Another thing people may not know is that at FedEx Kinko's they have a 'Pack and Ship' service and customers can bring in their items unpackaged and they will pack and ship the items for you," Davetort said.

Customers at FedEx Kinko's can chose between different shipping methods offered including FedEx Ground and FedEx Express. Pricing varies on shipping method, size, weight, and shipment location. An extra packaging fee starts at $7.99.

Shipping is just a click away

Many mail carriers are also offering online mailing services on their Web sites to ease the hassle of holiday shipping.

USPS has two services, "Click-N-Ship" and "Carrier Service" where customers can buy postage online with free package pickup at an office or home.

"You can send a package in your bath robe," Veto said. " Customers have until 2 a.m. to place an order and a the mail carrier will pick up the package in the morning."

E-tailers such as Amazon.com (Charts) are also offering incentives to get customers to buy items ahead of time to get free shipping on certain orders to be delivered before Christmas day.

Amazon.com is offering a free shipping service on orders over $25 for eligible items to customers who place orders by Dec. 15. To get orders shipped by Dec. 22, the latest day for delivery, customers will have to place an order by Dec. 21 by 3 p.m. PST using the one-day shipping.


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