What’s the difference? A look at the “big three” couriers*

I’ve had multiple requests for some kind of comparison chart showing the price differences between UPS, FedEx and USPS, and after multiple attempts, I realized that this will never come to fruition. There are so many factors in play, and some of them are constantly changing (I receive updated rates for UPS on a weekly basis) because they are dependent upon fuel prices to establish base rates. What I can do, however, is give my educated, yet unsolicited opinion regarding the “Big Three”, and go over the ins and outs of each one. 

United States Postal Service 

The United States Postal Service (USPS), also referred to as the US Post Office, or simply the Post Office, is a federal institution that is independent of the government in that they are self-supporting, have a Board of Governors and rely on executive management usps_logorather than congressional legislation to function. The USPS delivers more mail to addresses in a larger geographical area than any other post, accounting for 40% of the world’s mail delivery. In 2014, the USPS….

  • Processed 155,400,000,000 pieces of mail,
  • Changed 34,400,000 addresses,
  • And delivered to over 153,900,000 locations nationwide.

First class mail alone accounts for over $28 billion of a more than $1 trillion mailing industry that employs more than 8 million people. Needless to say, the USPS has earned it’s place in the “Big Three”. 

The most common issues I deal with or questions I have regarding the Post Office:

  • Just because it’s a single sheet of paper, rather than an envelope does NOT make it a post card (read more on my article about postcards.)
  • Stamps are 49¢ but I do not sell any in Mail Services.
  • A good rule of thumb for figuring out if your letter needs one or two stamps… if you can easily fit the envelope in between the tines of a fork (without damaging the envelope. Well, or the fork, I suppose) and it stays, then you’re probably safe. I’m always able to weigh things just to make sure too.
  •  And yes, mail is still delivered by Mule Train, but only in Arizona. Okay, that’s not a commonly asked question, but it’s interesting, right?

The post office excels at large amounts of mail being sent accurately and efficiently for a fair price. So, if you have a birthday card, and on-time payment, a package to send that has little to no value… the USPS is going to give you the most bang for your buck in my opinion.

Want to learn more about the US Post Office? You know you do! Check out this semi-entertaining (and surprisingly researched) Buzzfeed link 20 Facts That Will Shatter Your Perception of the US Post Office. Super wild. 


United Parcel Service (UPS)

Founded in 1907, the United Parcel Service (UPS) is one of the world’s largest companies specializing in package delivery ups-logoand a leading global provider of specialized transportation and logistics services. Encompassing both air and ground services, UPS delivers an average of 18 million packages worldwide per day, services more than 220 countries/territories, including every address in North America and Europe and employs 435,000 people internationally (all facts taken here from the UPS Pressroom).

Some interesting facts about UPS:

  • UPS is primarily owned by the employees; only 10% of  UPS stock is available to the public. hummingbird
  • The week before Christmas, or “Peak Week” as it is commonly refer to, is the busiest week for most delivery services. Last year, December 22nd was the apex of Peak Week, topping the charts with more than 34 million packages delivered that day, or 393 packages delivered per second! Just to give a little point of reference, most hummingbirds flap their wings about 50 times per second. So… yeah (see the entire 2014 fact sheet here).
  • UPS discourages it’s drivers by using route organizing technology and personal experience that designs their delivery routes in a series of right hand turns. The company learned through time studies that avoiding left-hand turns saves time, conserves fuel, lowers emissions and increases safety.
    Since the deployment of this route planning technology in 2004, UPS has eliminated millions of miles off delivery routes, and as a result, UPS:

    • Saved 10 million gallons of gas
    • Reduced CO2 emissions by 100,000 metric tons, equivalent to 5,300 passenger cars off the road for an entire year (check out the whole press release on this subject here).
  • UPS drivers are trained extensively before being assigned a route… they even have their own boot camp (watch the video here)!

Just like USPS, UPS is a very reliable courier for a variety of services, but they have a few areas of specialty where they shine. In my opinion, shipping large, cumbersome and heavy items are handled best by UPS; at least this has been my experience.

Want to learn some more interesting factoids about your UPS delivery person? Here’s a neato article: 19 Secrets of UPS Drivers . 

FedEx Express & FedEx Ground

Started in 1965 and based on a structure created in a student’s term paper (upon which he received an average grade) outlining a system to accommodate urgent, time-sensitive shipments such as medicine, computer parts and electronics. Using planes to send these shipments quickly was a revolutionary idea, and one that started to set a standard in “express” shipping.

Here at Western, we work with FedEx Express and FedEx Ground. Two entities, one company, which sometimes confuses people. The name “FedEx” is actually a parent company for a handful of services:

  • FedEx Express
  • FedEx Ground
  • FedEx Global Logistics
  • FedEx Custom Critical
  • FedEx Services

If you have something that needs to be shipped out FedEx Express (there will be an “E” on the label in the upper right hand corner) DON’T give it to the ground courier! He works as a contractor and only handles the ground shipments. They have separate routes, separate terminals and different supervisors at different buildings, so they don’t communicate and interact unless someone gives them the wrong package, at which point they usually end up having to make a special trip to that terminal to drop it off. It’d be like a Biology student going to their Art Professor and requesting for them to remove an advising hold from their account. They’re both professors, right?

Screenshot 2015-05-20 11.02.39


Just in case you weren’t already confused, here’s their logos. 

fedex-ground-imageFedEx Purpl

Interesting factoids about FedEx:

  • In 2001 FedEx Express and the U.S. Postal Service forged a public-private alliance and now FedEx works as a subcontractor for the Post Office on International Express shipments including USPS Priority Express and USPS Global Express Guaranteed.
  • FedEx Drivers compete in state truck driving championships and place consistently high in the rankings; so far this year 45 drivers have been awarded top honors (usually in the top three places).  
  • Unique things that FedEx has shipped:
    • The 13 foot tiger shark from Jaws
    • 60 Labrador rescue puppies
    • 3 5-week old orphaned cougar kittens
    • 17 classic Ferraris (from Brussels to the U.S.)
    • The Spirit of Liberty Bell
    • 70,000 sea turtle eggs (they were removed from the oil-threatened Gulf Coast to Cape Canaveral)
    • 2 giant Pandas from China to the Memphis Zoo
  • Since 2005, FedEx Freight has delivered over 120,000 live Christmas trees to military troops and their families across the U.S.

Above all else, FedEx is fast and has superior tracking (highly detailed). I tend to trust them with high value items, shipments where timely delivery is the most important factor, and for International Express shipping. 

About Amanda Bales 20 Articles
Mail Services Supervisor, former student worker. I have a BS in Psychology/Communications and a MS in Counseling. And I work in Mail.