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The Cheapest Way to Ship Anything

The Cheapest Way to Ship
Packages

Calculating shipping costs and choosing the most economical shipping method can be confusing. Our Cheapest Way to Ship Anything guides make it easy to compare shipping costs and choose the right method for your cargo, whether you're shipping common items like boxes or difficult-to-transport goods like antiques or artwork.

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1. How Much Does it Cost to Ship Packages?

We've calculated shipping costs for three common shipping methods: USPS, parcel shipping, and consolidated freight.

i. USPS shipping costs

ii. Parcel shipping costs (eg. UPS or FedEx)

iii. Consolidated freight

2. Frequently Asked Questions

Get answers to the most frequently asked questions about shipping flat rate boxes.


When it comes to shipping, the term “package” can refer to any type of shipment, including tubes, envelopes, padded mailers, and parcels of any size and weight. Packages can contain just about any cargo and they can be shipped for just about any reason, such as:

  • People sending small items or paperwork to loved ones, friends, or businesses across the country
  • Homeowners moving long distance and shipping large boxes to their new home
  • Business owners shipping purchases to customers or items to other locations

There are generally three types of package:

  1. Tubes: Tubes are ideal for safely shipping rolled up papers such as blueprints, posters, or artwork, but they can also be used to ship specialty items like rolled up shirts, fishing poles, golf clubs, or telescopes. Tubes are not usually subject to any special pricing, as long as they are under the weight limit for your chosen shipping service.
  2. Envelopes and padded mailers: Envelopes and padded mailers are lighter and less expensive to purchase and ship, but they’re less durable and are more susceptible to damage. They are ideal for single items or smaller, durable cargo that can be safely transported without risk of damage as long as the proper precautions are taken, such as fabrics or paper products.
  3. Boxes: Boxes are more expensive to purchase as well as to ship, but they are more durable than envelopes or padded mailers. Boxes are ideal for fragile items that require more protection than an envelope can provide, as well as shipments containing multiple items, or heavy or large items. Depending on your shipping provider, you may even be able to supply your own packaging.

Whether you’re sending small items or large packages across the country, there are a few special considerations to keep in mind when shipping packages:

  • What you’re shipping: The size and weight of your cargo will determine whether you ship your items in an envelope or a box, which will in turn impact your shipping costs as well as how you pack your items. Light, durable items can be packed into envelopes, but fragile, valuable, or heavy items are best shipped in boxes with proper padding to ensure they are protected against damage throughout their journey.
  • How many items you’re shipping: If you’re shipping multiple items, boxes (with the proper padding) will offer more convenience and protection than envelopes or padded mailers, which are typically ideal for single items.
  • How fast you need your items to arrive: Your shipping costs will be higher if you need next-day or speedy delivery, especially if you’re shipping boxes, large packages, or heavy items.
  • Package size: Large or oversized packages will cost more to ship, regardless of how much they weigh. For more information on shipping oversized packages, read our guide to the Cheapest Way to Ship Oversized Packages.
  • Box weight: Heavy items are not ideal for envelopes or padded mailers, and are best packed into boxes. However, especially heavy boxes are at greater risk of damage and may be too expensive to ship using post or parcel shipping services. If possible, splitting a heavy shipment into two smaller packages can help reduce your costs and safeguard your cargo. Be sure to check the specs of your boxes—each should have a maximum weight limit listed on the bottom.
  • Dimensional weight: If you’re shipping large, light packages, you’ll need to be aware of something called “dimensional weight”. If your package is subject to dimensional weight pricing, your shipping costs will be determined by the estimated weight of the package based on its length, width, and height rather than it’s actual weight. Every carrier prices dimensional weight differently, so look for their “dimensional weight factor” when estimating your shipping costs.
  • Unboxing experience: Sometimes it’s worth the extra expense of shipping items to customers in a box over a padded mailer, especially if you’re a retailer shipping items to customers. A positive unboxing experience can go a long way to creating satisfied, loyal customers.

How much does it cost to ship packages?

Flat rate and variable pricing are both available from USPS, parcel shippers, and consolidated freight providers.

The cheapest way to ship packages dependson the package you're shipping: 

  • Small, light items packed into padded mailers are cheapest when shipped by USPS
  • Small, heavy items are cheapest when shipped using USPS flat rate pricing
  • Large, light items are cheapest when shipped with USPS Priority Mail
  • Large, heavy items are cheapest to ship using consolidated freight
  • For fast or overnight delivery, parcel shippers will be the most economical

Compare rates for shipping packages using the most common shipping methods:

  • USPS
  • Parcel shipping (such as FedEx or UPS)
  • Consolidated freight

USPS

Flat rate shipping and variable pricing are available for both padded mailers and boxes.

USPS flat rate pricing depends solely on the size of the package you are shipping—the weight of your package, as well as speed and distance of travel, are not factored into your shipping costs. Flat rate packages are delivered within 1-3 business days.

Packaging Sizes Flat rate price
Envelopes and padded mailers Multiple sizes available ranging from 10” x 5” to 15 ½” x 9 ½” Starting at $7.15 for commercial
Starting at $7.75 for non-commercial
Boxes Three sizes available ranging from 8 ⅝” x 5 ⅜” x 1 ⅝” to 23 11/16” x 11 ¾” x 12” $7.65-$18.30 for commercial
$8.30-$21.10 for non-commercial

If you opt for variable pricing, your shipping costs will depend on package size and weight, as well as speed and distance of travel. USPS offers four variable price shipping options:

Service Packaging Speed Flat rate price
Priority Mail Express Envelopes only Overnight delivery guaranteed Starting at $22.75 for commercial and $26.35 for non-commercial, up to $529.80 for a 70 lb package traveling the maximum possible distance
Priority Mail Envelopes and boxes 1-3 days Starting at $7.02 for commercial delivery and $7.50 for non-commercial, up to $212.19 for a 70 lb package travelling the maximum possible distance
First-Class Package Service Envelopes and lightweight boxes 1-3 days Starting at $2.74 for commercial and $3.80 for non-commercial, up to a maximum weight of 13 ounces
Parcel Select Large and medium boxes 1-4 business days Starting at $6.92-$136.27 for 70 lbs traveling the maximum possible distance, or $202.35 for oversized packages

Packages over one cubic foot will be priced on actual weight or dimensional weight—whichever is higher

Regardless of your packaging or whether you opt for a flat rate or variable pricing, packages shipped via USPS cannot exceed 70 lbs.

USPS also offers Retail Ground shipping for less urgent packages. Prices start at $7.50 per package depending on its size and weight as well as what zone it will be sent to, and can reach up to $140.15 for 70 lbs or $202.35 for oversized packages traveling the maximum possible distance. Dimensional weight charges will be applied to large, light packages.

Parcel shipping (UPS or FedEx)

Flat rate and variable pricing are both available from major parcel shippers like FedEx and UPS.

UPS’s flat rate shipping service is called “UPS Simple Rate”. They are the only shipper that allows you to use your own packaging, with flat rate pricing available for five sizes based on volume (up to 1,728”3), with a maximum weight of 50 lbs regardless of package size. Three speeds are available: UPS Ground, UPS 3 Day Select, and UPS 2nd Day Air. Prices range from $9.25 up to $61.50 per package depending on size and speed of travel.

UPS variable pricing depends on the size and weight of the package, as well as the distance of travel. Multiple speeds are available, from standard UPS Freight to as fast as Next Day Air Early. Packages with a large size-to-weight ratio will be priced using dimensional weight. Large packages (those with the longest side exceeding 96” or combined length and girth exceeding 130”) will be subject to a minimum billable weight of 90 lbs unless shipped using UPS Ground with a Freight Pricing package.

Weight (per box) Philadelphia → Miami Philadelphia → Los Angeles Chicago → Dallas Cleveland → San Diego
Small box weighing 5 lbs (Same size as USPS) $16.42-$123.57 $20.07-$137.25 $14.42-$119.83 $20.07-$137.25
Large light box weighing 10 lbs $32.76-$222.37 $55.12-$250.54 $30.76-$218.63 $55.12-$250.54
Large box weighing 70 lbs per box (Same size as USPS) $101.55- $525.15 $147.27-$620.36 $99.55-$551.41 $147.27-$620.36

FedEx flat rate shipping is called “FedEx One Rate”. Unlike UPS, you must use FedEx packaging to qualify for flat rate shipping. 12 sizes are available, including envelopes, paks, boxes, and tubes. Packaging is free and can be ordered online with free delivery. Packages can weigh up to 50 lbs regardless of size. Six speeds are available: FedEx Express Saver, FedEx 2Day, FedEx 2Day A.M., FedEx Standard Overnight, FedEx Priority Overnight, and FedEx First Overnight, with prices depending on size, speed, and distance of travel ranging from $9.50-$212.95.

Variable pricing depends on the size and weight of the package, as well as speed and distance of travel. Multiple speeds are available, from FedEx Ground (1-5 business days) to FedEx First Overnight (next business day by 9am)

Weight (per box) Philadelphia → Miami Philadelphia → Los Angeles Chicago → Dallas Cleveland → San Diego
Small box weighing 5 lbs (Same size as USPS) $13.69-$125.23 $19.06-$143.95 $13.69-$125.23 $19.06-$143.95
Large light box weighing 10 lbs $34.86-$252.99 $61.38-$285.78 $34.86-$252.99 $61.38-$285.78
Large box weighing 70 lbs per box (Same size as USPS) $95.77-$552.83 $141.10-$658.97 $95.77-$552.83 $141.10-$658.97

Consolidated freight

Consolidated freight is typically not available for small packages, but is ideal for large or particularly heavy packages or palletized shipments of multiple packages. Most packages transported by consolidated freight will be subject to variable pricing, but some shippers (including TSI) also offer convenient flat rate pricing options that are ideal for household goods that can be easily packed into boxes, such as books, linens, decor.

TSI's flat rate box-and-ship service is designed to be as simple as possible. You tell us how many boxes you need, we’ll ship them to your door, then return to pick them up once they’re packed for delivery anywhere in the continental United States. Boxes measure 18” x 14” x 12” and must weigh less than 40 lbs when packed. The cost will depend on how many boxes you have to ship and the level of service you choose:

Service level What you get Shipping costs
Silver Boxes delivered to your door
Curbside pickup and delivery
Pickup and delivery scheduled by the carrier in a 4 hour window
$50 insurance per box
Starts at $367 for up to 5 boxes
Up to $1,102 for 15 boxes
Gold Boxes delivered to your door
Door-to-door pickup and delivery
Pickup and delivery scheduled by the carrier in a 4 hour window
$100 insurance per box
Starts at $414 for up to 5 boxes
Up to $1,229 for 15 boxes
Platinum Boxes delivered to your door
Indoor pickup and delivery
Pickup and delivery scheduled by the customer in a 2 hour window with options for weekends or evenings
$200 insurance per box
Up to 30 days of storage
Starts at $574 for up to 5 boxes
Up to $1,724 for 15 boxes

Variable pricing is also available for shipments of more than 15 boxes, oversized or particularly heavy packages, or shipments of palletized packages. Your shipping costs will vary depending on the size and weight of your cargo, how far it will travel and the level of service you need.

Number of boxes Weight (per box) Philadelphia → Miami Philadelphia → Los Angeles Chicago → Dallas Cleveland → San Diego
5 boxes 30 lbs each (150 lbs total) $395 $600 $355 $435
5 boxes 60 lbs each (300 lbs total) $620 $940 $525 $695
1 boxes 30 lbs each (300 lbs total) $620 $940 $525 $695
10 boxes 60 lbs each (600 lbs total) $735 $1,155 $605 $850

If you have more than 15 boxes to ship, we can help with that, too. Learn more about our custom box shipping services.

COVID-19 Precautions

TSI is carefully monitoring all of our shipments nationwide. We have seen minimal delays thus far, and are in constant contact with transportation industry leaders in order to be as proactive as possible. All members of the logistics chain are using the safety precautieons recommended by the C.D.C.:

  • Clean your hands often (washing for 20 seconds or using hand sanitizer)
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Avoid close contact
  • Stay home if sick
  • Cover coughs and sneezes
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surface

NOTE: Shipping cost estimates are calculated using individuals providers’ online cost estimator tools. Details, exact prices, and shipping times are not guaranteed.

Frequently asked questions

How much does it cost to ship packages?

The cost of shipping a package will depend on whether you opt for flat rate or variable pricing, the size and weight of the package, how far it will travel, and how quickly you need it to arrive.

Here’s a rough idea of how much you can expect a package to cost using some of the most popular shipping methods:

Shipping Method Estimated Cost—flat rate Estimated Cost—variable pricing/strong>
USPS Envelopes starting at $7.15 for commercial, $7.75 for non-commercial

Boxes ranging from $7.65-$18.30 for commercial and $8.30-$21.10 for non-commercial
Starting at $22.75 for commercial and $26.35 for non-commercial, up to $529.80 depending on weight and distance travelled

Retail Ground starting at $7.50 per package, up to $202.35
Parcel shipping (eg. FedEx) $9.25-$212.95 depending on size and speed of travel $13.69-$658.97 depending on size, weight, speed, and distance of travel
Consolidated freight (eg. TSI) Starting at $319 for up to 5 large boxe Starting $355 for up to 5 large boxes

What’s the cheapest way to ship large light packages?

The cheapest way to ship large, light packages is typically USPS Priority Mail with variable pricing.

If you need faster delivery, parcel shipping is the cheapest option. UPS is typically slightly cheaper than FedEx.

TSI TIP: When you’re shipping large, light packages, ask whether your cargo will be priced using dimensional weight. Every shipper prices dimensional weight differently.

What’s the cheapest way to ship large packages?

The cheapest way to ship large packages depends on exactly how large your package is. With USPS, UPS, and FedEx, large packages can be subject to large or oversized pricing surcharges, or dimensional weight pricing. This can make large packages very costly to ship, especially if you’re shipping multiple boxes.

Consolidated freight is often the most economical way to ship large packages, especially if they’re considered oversized or particularly heavy. Freight shippers specialize in transporting this kind of cargo and do not add surcharges for oversized or heavy packages. However, if your cargo can fit into a flat rate box (18” x 14” x 12” weighing under 40 lbs), flat rate shipping is the most cost effective at about $64 per box regardless of where it’s travelling.

What’s the cheapest way to ship light packages?

The cheapest way to ship light packages is typically USPS, unless you need overnight or speedy delivery. If your package is time sensitive, parcel shipping will be your cheapest option.

Is it cheaper to ship in a box or a padded envelope?

Shipping a padded envelope is almost always cheaper than shipping a box, but it may not be the best option for your package depending on what you’re shipping. Fragile or valuable items or shipments of multiple items are always best packed in boxes.

Is it better to ship a large box or two smaller boxes?

If possible, it’s often better to ship two smaller boxes rather than one large, heavy box. This will spread the weight of your cargo over two smaller parcels, which can significantly reduce your shipping costs especially if the large box would qualify for large or oversized pricing.

If you can’t break your shipment down into two smaller boxes, consolidated freight may be the best option because you won’t have to pay the oversized shipping fees charged by USPS and other parcel shippers.

Is it cheaper to ship UPS or FedEx?

UPS and FedEx package shipping costs are about the same, but UPS flat rate pricing is slightly cheaper than FedEx. For variable pricing, FedEx generally starts out slightly cheaper, but can be more expensive for larger, heavier shipments or for packages that will travel a longer distance. Ultimately, your price will depend on the size, weight, speed, and distance of travel.


Shipping packages?

Learn more about TSI's flat rate box shipping service.

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