Shipping Showdown: Who Gets Your Package There Fastest and Cheapest

Dec. 18, 2006 — -- Today marks the busiest shipping day of the year, according to the U.S. Postal Service.

Shipping choices are plenty, and so is the price range and predictability that the package will arrive on time.

So what is the best, cheapest way to make sure your gifts get to their destinations on time?

"Good Morning America" went shopping for some answers.

"GMA's" plan was to send six boxes across the country by two-day mail. Each box would contain exactly the same thing -- so all the boxes weighed the same and would be sent to the same place.

Faster or Cheaper?

The boxes began their journey from New York City, using Federal Express, DHL, the U.S. Post Office, UPS, Mail Boxes Etc., and Post Express, a local "mom-and-pop" shipping company.

The lowest price option, at just $14, was the U.S. Post Office's priority mail, where items were supposed to arrive within two days or three days. Be aware, though, that the post office does not guarantee arrival in that time.

The express carriers ranged from $30 to $37. When we went to stores that offered shipping services, however, the price jumped an extra $8 to $15, using the same carriers.

Those services also charged extra for Saturday delivery; some also added on a fuel surcharge. The shipping stores didn't necessarily offer us more services, so why bother with the extra cost?

Mail Boxes Etc. said it provided "shipping services from all major carriers, for which they can set their own prices. … There can be additional costs for special services and other handling fees."

All of the express carriers arrived on time to our producer on the West Coast; even a few arrived a day earlier than expected.

The box sent by the U.S. Post Office, the cheapest option, took more than three days.

How to Avoid Holiday Shipping Hassles

Get to the post office today or Tuesday. If you do that, you can use regular mail and the post office will guarantee delivery by Christmas. If you have to use express mail services, it could cost you triple.

To save yourself time, print shipping labels from home from the U.S. Postal Service Web site, fill them out, and have them ready to go.

Don't ship anything in a liquor or beer box. Many places don't let you ship alcohol so your package could be held up being inspected. Boxes with any writing on it can confuse the process, so a plain brown box is your best bet.

Only use one label. It doesn't make things easier if you write the address all over the box.

Use clear tape, not duct tape or masking tape.

Insure gifts; insurance for postal delivery is just $2.30 and will make sure you and the person getting the gift aren't disappointed.

For really expensive gifts, use UPS, FedEx, DHL or express delivery at the post office. That way, it's easier to track the item. Plus it will get there faster, so there's less chance it will get lost or damaged on the way.

And if you're really short on time, you can send a holiday card from the post office online. You can pick from hundreds of holiday cards and create a personalized message. You can even include a gift card from several retailers. Once you create it, the post office will ship it to your family member or friend. Everything is taken care of online.