We all have holiday shipping horror stories of broken gifts and delayed presents. Getting your packages to your far-away loved ones this time of year doesn't just depend on luck and good weather—there's a lot within your control, even if it doesn't always feel that way.
The first thing you can do to make sure packages arrive on time is to get familiar with holiday shipping deadlines. Because Christmas is on a Sunday this year (and Hanukkah starts on Saturday, December 24), Friday deliveries are your best bet to have gifts delivered before the holidays. And that means shipping deadlines are a little tighter this year.
For packages to arrive on or before December 25th, here are the deadlines* from the three most popular national carriers. And, yes, if you're running on a tight schedule and need to use those under-the-wire-deadline dates, it's going to cost you.
* These deadlines are for domestic deliveries within the United States. (In some cases, Hawaii and Alaska are outliers—if you're shipping off the continent, it's best to play it safe and get your stuff in the mail, like, now.)
December 15 — USPS Retail Ground
December 20 — USPS First Class Mail
December 21 — Priority Mail
December 23 — Priority Mail Express
December 19 — UPS 3-Day Select
December 21 — UPS 2nd Day Air
December 22 — UPS 2nd Day Air (for Saturday, 12/24 delivery)
December 22 — UPS Next Day Air (for Friday, 12/23 delivery)
December 23 — UPS Next Day Air (for Saturday, 12/24 delivery)
UPS Ground service depends on your package's destination and origin, and you can calculate time and cost via the website.
December 16 — FedEx Ground, FedEx Home Delivery
December 20 — FedEx Express Saver
December 21 — FedEx 2Day, FedEx 2Day A.M.
December 22 — FedEx Standard Overnight, FedEx Priority Overnight, FedEx First Overnight
December 23 — FedEx SameDay City Standard
December 25 — FedEx SameDay City Priority, FedEx SameDay
What Can You Do to Prevent Delays?
Shipping by the deadlines is only one way to help the carriers get your package there on time (and in one piece), the rest is up to you:
Take it back to grade school and use your best handwriting as you're addressing the package.
Our tip: Go slow and use a dark, permanent marker.
Recycle, only if you can
It's a great thing to re-use boxes this time of year, but make sure the box is strong and sturdy.
Our tip: Always use real packing tape, and make sure it doesn't cover the shipping barcode if you printed your label at home.
Fill 'er up
Fill all the open space inside your package with filler like bubble wrap or crumpled up pieces of paper so your items don't have room to move around.
Our tip: Save your holiday junk mail (and ten thousand catalogs) to crumple up and use as package stuffer.
Beware of leakage
If you're shipping anything liquid, stash it inside a ziplock bag so leaks don't have the potential to ruin your package, or anybody else's.
Include a back-up label
Drop a slip of paper inside your package before sealing it, with the delivery address written on it. If anything happens to the label outside, the recovery team can get your gift repackaged and back on track.
Show patience and kindness to the staff at your local office—the holidays are their busiest time of year. No, a smile and gratitude won't get your package where it's going any faster, but it will make the experience better for you and the hardworking folks behind the counter.
Give a gift
If your mail carrier does a great job all year round (and if you're having them pick up some big, heavy packages) you might consider giving them a small gift this time of year to say "thank you."
Our tip: Brush up—there are some restrictions on what mail carriers can accept as tips or gifts this time of year.