Flat-rate shipping -- is it really a great deal?

Flat-rate shipping -- is it really a great deal? »Play Video
SEATTLE -- The U.S. Postal Service is promoting flat rate shipping for the holidays. According to the commercials, you can send anything that fits in boxes, anywhere in the country, for a low flat rate. Maximum weight is 70 pounds domestic.

Sounds like a great deal- but is it really?

The special priority flat rat boxes are free at the post office and come in four sizes -- the smallest about the size of a book.

With a flat rate, you just download postage off the internet and ship. No weighing. No waiting. You can drop the package off, or call for pickup.

But are you saving money? To find out, we gathered a variety of gifts of different shapes, weights and sizes.

The flat rate for the shallow, medium-sized box is $10.35. I filled it with an oblong wooden puzzle, a G-I Joe action figure set, a bracelet, and a bottle of perfume -- which I pad for protection. It was a tight fit, but it worked.

The flat rate for the medium-sized square box is also $10.35. Deeper measurements accommodate bulkier items.

In this box, we put two quilted, down vests.

The largest flat rate box ships for $13.95, but it was not large enough for the football I had, without taking the ball out of the packaging. The instructions on the box state the box cannot be modified.

A Play-Doh set fit fine, but a second GI Joe figure was too big. I ended up packing the Play-Doh set, a bath and lotion set, a small GI Joe figure and another down vest.

I took the three boxes to our Fisher Plaza mail room where mail attendant Patrick Hughes calculated the boxes as if I was sending them the straight Priority rate, based on weight and destination.

Remember the flat rate for the medium square box is $10.35. But with 2 down vests, it's so light the straight Priority rate is cheaper: $7.10 to San Francisco, $8.10 to Topeka, Kan., and $8.70 to Boston.

For the medium shallow box containing the puzzle, perfume and toy set, it was $10.35 for the flat rate. But at $9.05, straight priority beats flat rate for that box to San Francisco.
But priority was more expensive for the other boxes -- $10.60 to Topeka and $11.95 to Boston.

My largest box weighed in at just over 5 1/2 pounds. The flat rate is $13.95.

For straight priority? It was $14.65 to San Francisco, $17.50 to Topeka, and $19.60 to Boston.

In this case, flat rate is clearly the way to go.

So yes, flat rate shipping is convenient, but even the postal service points out the focus is on convenience -- it may not always be the lowest price.

So plan ahead, and get the boxes before you shop. Make sure what you buy will fit the boxes.

And remember, the lighter the weight and the shorter the distance, the greater the chance that you're paying extra to avoid having to stand in line.

More Information:

Holiday Shipping Cut-off Dates

Holiday Shipping Information

Retail Shipping Deadlines