When it absolutely has to get there overnight – a comparison of overnight delivery services from Airborne Express Co., DHL Airways Inc., Federal Express Co., United Parcel Service of America Inc. and the US Postal Service

Beth C. Fishkind

All overnight couriers are alike, right? To be sure, all couriers do pretty much the same thing, but they charge different rates, offer different services, and may be more or less suited to your particular needs. And, like the long-distance phone companies, overnight couriers are in a fierce battle for market share and keep changing their prices and mix of services. In fact, depending on the type and amount of mail you send, it might make sense to open two or more overnight-courier accounts. This article and accompanying quick reference chart are designed to give you an overview of available overnight mail services. Keep in mind that overnight services and costs depend upon a variety of factors, such as your location, the destination of your package, and the number of packages you send per month.

Most people associate overnight mail with the overnight letter, offered by each of the five major couriers–Airborne, DHL, Federal Express, UPS (United Parcel Service), and the U.S. Postal Service. Typically, a “letter” weighs up to eight ounces, the equivalent of about 30 standard 8.5-by-11-inch pages.

Of course, there may be times when you don’t need overnight delivery but still want the convenience of a pickup and the high visibility of an overnight package. In that case, you can opt for next-day afternoon delivery, usually by 3:00 p.m., or two-day delivery. Afternoon delivery saves a few dollars, whereas second-day is about half the cost of overnight.

On packages that weigh more than eight ounces, the price is determined by the weight. There are maximum size and weight restrictions per package, so if you are sending a package that weighs 70 to 150 pounds or more, or has unwieldy dimensions, call ahead to inquire. Most companies can ship heavier parcels, but that’s air freight, and different guidelines apply.


Setting up an account, which requires just a credit card, is a great convenience. You don’t have to give directions to your house, since they are on record; nor do you have to fill out your name and address on the air bill, as you’ll have preptinted forms. In addition, you can sign waivers allowing drivers to pick up or leave packages at your house, even if you’re not there.

Dropping off your document or package at a customer service center or drop-box location gives you a discount off the home pickup price. The U.S. Postal Service will pick up any number of documents or packages for a flat fee of $4.50; for a $5 per week fee, UPS will stop by your house every day to see if you have outgoing packages; and other carriers charge a modest $2 to $3 more than their drop-off rate. Even if you have only one package, you can make a toll-free phone call and a driver will arrive at your door, sometimes within minutes.

If your package isn’t ready by the cutoff time for pickup, which varies by carrier and your location, drop-off deadlines can be pushed well into the night. Depending on where you live, there are a number of customer service centers or drop boxes scattered around you, each with a different cutoff time. If you must have same-day service, it’s available through DHL and Airborne, but it’s expensive: DHL, for instance, charges $159 for up to one pound.


Most couriers offer Saturday delivery to certain areas for $10 extra, with some Sunday and holiday delivery by arrangement. The U.S. Postal Service is the best bet, though, delivering 365 days a year at no extra charge. Be aware that Saturday delivery isn’t automatic if you send your package out on Friday–you must fill in the section on the air bill.

Another service to explore is international delivery. Check with the courier for price and how to fill out the air bill if the contents need to be declared for customs.

Couriers limit their liability on lost packages, usually to $100. If your package is worth more, you can insure it for about 50 cents per $100 worth of coverage.


You can also confirm delivery for a small additional charge. UPS, for example, can provide a computer-generated response that includes the receiver’s name and the delivery date and time, plus an image of the receiver’s signature, for $1. For more explicit information about a given courier, turn to the chart on the next page or call the courier’s toll-free service number.

BETH C. FISHKIND is a LOng Island writer specializing in business and technology.

COPYRIGHT 1993 Freedom Technology Media Group

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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