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Consumer Reports' Tightwad Tod shares key dates for getting gifts on time

Posted Tuesday, December 8, 2009

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Yonkers, NY - With the winter holidays looming, retailers and delivery services are urging consumers to act fairly soon if they want their packages to arrive in time for Hannukah (Dec. 11) and Christmas (Dec. 25). To give you a heads up, we scoured the deadlines of dozens of retailers, then checked FedEx, the U.S. Postal Service, and UPS for their schedules, too.

In order to take advantage of the free shipping deals that many merchants are dangling this season, be aware that the freebies typically pertain to orders made via standard ground delivery. Such deliveries can reach their destination in as few as three business days (Saturdays and Sundays don’t count) from the time they’re leave the warehouse to as long as 12 days, depending on the merchant and the destination. Don’t forget to allow an additional day or two for your order to be processed before it actually leaves the warehouse. If an item’s backordered, all bets are off.

At Walmart, for example, standard shipping takes three to seven business days, at Target the estimate is three to five days. Best Buy has a range of four to eight days, while orders from Gap, Banana Republic, and Old Navy can take anywhere from five to nine days. Expect even longer transit times if you order from Kohl’s (eight to 12 days). Lord & Taylor is one of several chains that promise to get your order to its destination within five business days or shipping is free. Keep in mind, we’re talking about domestic shipments to the lower 48 states, not international deliveries.

If you plan to buy from, Dec. 17 is the last day to qualify for free Super Saver shipping. For standard shipping, you can place your orders through Dec. 20 for Christmas delivery. Two-day service is available on orders placed through Dec. 22. And if you are shipping to certain big cities, you can actually do so on Dec. 24 for same day Local Express Delivery. The charge for most orders is around $19. For complete details about shipping through Amazon, click here.

Among the big three services, the U.S. Postal Service, FedEx, and UPS offer various expedited options like overnight, second-day, and three-day delivery. Obviously, the quicker your package needs to arrive, the more you’ll pay. And the cost differences are not insignificant. If you send a 5-pound box overnight via the Post Office, for instance, rates range from around $19 to $40. That same box shipped Priority Mail (two to three days) will cost around $7 to $17. If you need a package to arrive in time for Christmas, the absolute latest date you can ship is Wednesday Dec. 23 to guarantee arrival via Express, Overnight, or Next-Day service. Orders will be delivered on the 24th (there are no routine deliveries on Christmas day).

The deadline for Priority Mail (U.S. Postal Service) and 3 Day Select (UPS) is Dec. 21. Last call for 2nd-Day Air (UPS) and 2Day (FedEx) is Dec. 22. Plan on more lead time for packages shipped by economical ground options like FedEx Home, UPS Ground, and Parcel Post from the Post Office.

According to UPS, Dec. 21 and 22 will be the busiest days of the year. The company says it will deliver an estimated 22 million packages overall on the 21st (around 40 percent more than UPS handles on an average day), while the 22nd is the peak day for package delivery for air shipments (6 million). So you might want to ship around those dates to avoid potential problems. UPS also has a helpful video on its Web site that offers tips on how to package your shipments correctly. Click here to see the video.

Consumer Reports has no commercial relationship with any advertiser or sponsor appearing on this newspaper's web site.

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