UPS® Ground vs. USPS® Priority Mail® vs. FedEx® Ground: Which service is best?

Compare the features and benefits of UPS® Ground vs USPS® Priority Mail® vs FedEx® Ground to decide which shipping service is best for your business.

Comparing UPS® Ground vs USPS Priority Mail® vs FedEx® Ground

Choosing the right ground shipping carrier can be a challenge. While all three offer reasonably fast and economical delivery within the contiguous 50 states, there are differences that can really impact both the customer experience and your bottom line, so it’s important to choose your ground shipping service carefully.

  Delivery speed Coverage Maximum weight
USPS® Priority Mail® 1-3 business days All 50 US states and territories 70 lbs.
UPS® Ground 1-5 business days All 50 US states and Puerto Rico 150 lbs.
FedEx® Ground

1-5 business days

3-7 days to AK, HI

All 50 US states (also Canada via FedEx Ground International) 150 lbs.

What is ground shipping?

Ground shipping is the delivery of packages exclusively by ground-based modalities: either truck or rail, or a combination of the two. Ground shipping is likely to be a good option when delivery speed is not the top priority. Trucks and trains take more time to traverse long distances than airplanes do, but they cost far less to operate. Although ground shipping tends to be slower than other delivery methods, there are exceptions to the rule, especially when shipping to nearby zones.

The primary advantage to ground shipping is low cost. Ground shipping rates may be only a fraction of expedited and overnight rates that rely on air transport. It’s ideal for large packages, heavy items and non-perishable item such as books or office supplies that don’t have to arrive by a specific date.

What is UPS® Ground shipping?

UPS® Ground delivers to all 50 U.S. states and Puerto Rico. Items shipped via UPS® Ground take anywhere from one to five business days to arrive at their destination, and free tracking is included. Saturday delivery is available for an additional $4.00 fee; scheduled Saturday pickups are free of charge with enrollment in commercial delivery service. There is a $3.70 surcharge for residential delivery. Packages can weigh up to 150 lbs. and be up to 108 inches long. If you want to avoid the unwelcome surprise of unexpected fees and surcharges, a multi-carrier shipping solution like PitneyShip™ or PitneyShip™ Pro is just what you need. You’ll not only be able to compare rates and delivery times, but you’ll also see any additional costs associated with each shipping option.

What is FedEx® Ground shipping?

FedEx® Ground delivers to business addresses anywhere in the 48 contiguous states within 1-5 business days, Monday through Friday. Deliveries to Alaska and Hawaii take 3-7 business days. FedEx Home Delivery® (part of the FedEx® Ground network) ships to residential addresses every day of the week for an additional surcharge of about $4.00. Packages shipped via either option can weigh up to 150 lbs., but special labeling is required for packages weighing more than 75 lbs. Packages must not exceed 108” in length and 165” in length plus girth.

What is USPS® Priority Mail® shipping?

Priority Mail®, the USPS ground shipping option, provides delivery in 1-3 days to homes, businesses and P.O. boxes anywhere in the U.S. and its territories. Saturday delivery is included at no extra cost, and unlike other shipping services, Priority Mail does not add any surcharges. With Priority Mail’s flat rate service, parcel weight doesn’t affect the cost to ship. You must use USPS envelopes or boxes, which are provided free of charge, and packages must weigh less than 70 lbs. If you choose to use your own packaging, rates are determined by weight and zone.

Is ground shipping fast enough?

To determine whether ground shipping is fast enough for your needs, you must first ask yourself another question. What is my acceptable delivery window? It’s important that things like emergency medical supplies or replenishment parts for a highly synchronized supply chain should be delivered as quickly as possible. Online shoppers may not want to wait more than a day or two to receive their orders. However, not all shipments are so time-critical, and in those cases, it can make good sense to choose an economical ground shipping option with a slightly longer delivery window.

It's also a common misunderstanding that ground shipping is always slow. That’s not always true. When shipping via ground, the shipping distance will impact delivery speed. Packages shipped to nearby zones may be delivered in as little as one or two days, providing a comparable service to expedited shipping without the additional cost. In fact, a growing number of online retailers have begun to take advantage of this fact by distributing inventory among multiple warehouses across the country. It’s a smart way to offer their customers the combination of fast shipping speed and low rates that boosts loyalty and reduces cart abandonment.

Which ground shipping option is best for small, lightweight packages?

To determine the best ground shipping option for small or lightweight packages, you first must define what “best” means. For some shippers, the rate is most important. For others, fast delivery is what matters most.

No matter which way you define “best,” USPS Priority Mail® may be the top choice, with low rates and fast delivery. That’s because this is exactly the kind of service that the USPS was created to provide. UPS® Ground and FedEx Ground can both offer very fast delivery to Zone 2 (the area within a radius of 150 miles). In fact they are sometimes a faster, cheaper option than shipping by overnight air. However, when shipping longer distances, Priority Mail® service is much quicker: three days versus five for UPS® Ground and FedEx Ground.

Which ground shipping option is best for oversized or heavy packages?

Shipping large or heavy packages is likely to incur hefty shipping charges. The reason? Weight adds to already-high fuel costs, and heavy packages take more time and effort to load, unload and deliver. What’s more, large packages take up more room in the truck or plane, limiting the number of packages that can be transported. So, it makes sense that carriers charge a premium for shipping large and oversized packages.

That means it’s very important to find the lowest cost option as it relates to your delivery date, especially if you ship a lot of large or heavy packages. Generally speaking, UPS and FedEx rates for oversized and heavy packages will be lower than Priority Mail®. That’s at least in part due to the fact that the USPS is primarily focused on mail delivery, and its delivery vehicles can only carry a limited number of large packages.

By contrast, UPS and FedEx were established as parcel shipping companies, and their last-mile delivery vehicles are designed to accommodate many packages of all sizes. Because delivering large or heavy packages is easier for them, UPS and FedEx can charge much less than USPS.

Which option is best for fast coast-to-coast shipping in the U.S.?

The answer to this question is “it depends on what you are shipping.” The best option for lightweight packages isn’t necessarily going to be the best way to ship bigger packages that weigh more.

For smaller, lighter packages, USPS Priority Mail® is often the fastest and cheapest option. Rates for UPS® Ground and FedEx® Ground not only cost a few dollars more; they also require three additional days to deliver your package. The surprising reason is that a significant portion of Priority Mail® is shipped in cargo or passenger planes, while UPS and FedEx ground shipments are transported by truck.

Larger packages are a different story. Although with two-day delivery Priority Mail® may be the fastest option for ground shipping, it is also the most expensive for larger, heavier packages. It can cost from 40 to 55 percent more than shipping via UPS® Ground or FedEx® Ground.

Which option will ship packages the fastest in nearby zones?

Carriers use shipping zones, geographic regions that are based on distance from point of origin, to help set their rates. Calculating the exact distance from point of origin to the final destination for every package would be extremely complex. Shipping zones simplify calculations and standardize pricing and determine guaranteed delivery times. There are 8 zones within the Continental US; Alaska and Hawaii have their own unique zones. Which zone is which depends on your point of origin. If you are shipping from New York City, Los Angeles would be Zone 8. But if you are shipping from Phoenix, Los Angeles would be Zone 4.

Shipping zone distances from point of origin
Zone 1 50 mile radius
Zone 2 51 - 150 mile radius
Zone 3 151 - 300 mile radius
Zone 4 301 - 600 mile radius
Zone 5 1,000 mile radius
Zone 6 1,001 - 1,400 mile radius
Zone 7 1,401 - 1,800 mile radius
Zone 8 1,801+ mile radius

When your shipping destination is in Zone 2 (within 150 miles), UPS® Ground and FedEx® Ground offer the fastest delivery. Both carriers can both deliver in a single day. By contrast, Priority Mail® takes two days.

If you are shipping the same package to Zone 3 (within a 300-mile radius), all carriers will take two days to deliver. Priority Mail® offers the cheapest rate. UPS® Ground and FedEx® Ground cost approximately 60 percent more.

Which option is the cheapest for shipping to residential addresses?

All three carriers make deliveries to residential addresses, but the USPS has an advantage over its competitors. Because mail carriers deliver to homes all across the country six days a week, they can deliver Priority Mail® packages at the same time without the need for an additional charge.

Residential delivery surcharges from UPS® Ground and FedEx® Ground ($3.70 and $4.00 respectively as of this writing) can add up quickly, Often, the residential surcharges are added onto your monthly invoice without prior notification. In most cases, Priority Mail® will also be the faster choice, with a 1-3 day delivery window versus 1-5 business days for FedEx® Ground and UPS® Ground.

How to maximize your savings on ground shipping rates

There are many factors involved in determining ground shipping rates, and sometimes the results turn out to be quite different than you might expect. Smart shippers can eliminate surprises and reduce costs and with multi-carrier shipping software. PitneyShip™ and PitneyShip™ Pro make it easy to make the best decision for every package you ship. No matter what volume you ship, you can access low UPS rates, avoid surcharges and print discounted shipping labels—all from one intuitive interface. Here’s how it works:

  1. Select the type of packaging and enter the recipient’s name and address. Be sure to include an email address to enable tracking and delivery notifications.
  2. Enter the package weight and dimensions to see a list of shipping options, including deeply discounted UPS rates. You can sort the list by price or delivery date.
  3. Select the carrier option that best suits your needs and print your shipping label.
  4. Affix the label to your package and you’re ready to ship.