PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- Let's let you in on a little secret: There isn't a holiday gift delivery deadline.
If you wanted to get the cheapest price on sending a gift through the U.S. Postal Service via its Standard Post service with its small $5.80 or large $16.95 flat-rate box, you have only until Saturday to do so if you want your gift to arrive by Christmas. From that point on, it's just the small matter of the price you're willing to pay.
If you're lucky enough to be in New York City, Houston, Memphis, Baltimore, Tampa or Phoenix, FedEx (FDX) is offering same-day shipping within those cities this year, but will also do same-day shipping throughout all 50 states. It requires creating a user ID and accepting fees of $25 or more, depending on the distance, but this is what you're up against when you wait this long. UPS' (UPS) Express Critical Service is the only way you're going to get that particular outfit to deliver after Christmas Eve, and it's not going to be pretty.
If the money matters and you don't feel like doubling the price of your gift just to buy some shopping time, stop sitting around wondering how much time you have until you have to pull the trigger on those cost-prohibitive option. Every moment you waste just takes another option off the table. For example, deadline for FedEx's somewhat inexpensive SmartPost service is today. Its FedEx Ground and home delivery aren't around much longer after that, with the last packages being sent off Monday. That's ahead of the Dec. 19 cutoff for its Express Saver service, but well in advance of the Dec. 20 mark for both First Class mail (still plenty of time to procrastinate on those Christmas cards) and UPS' normal pickup and delivery service.
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After that, it's bye-bye base prices.
The clock runs out the next day, Saturday, on USPS Priority Mail, FedEx 2 Day shipping and UPS 2nd Day air. If you're for some reason inclined to wait until Monday, that's your last day to use USPS' Priority Mail Express next-day service and UPS' Next Day Air.
All of the above options operate on the quaint idea that you have the product in hand and are willing to ship it yourself. If you opted to shop online, some of these options will still be available, but the company you're shopping with will likely be a lot more stringent. Amazon's (AMZN) free shipping, for example, will only get your package to arrive by Christmas if you send it by Tuesday or sooner. Paying for standard shipping buys you another day, while Amazon Prime users' luck runs out Dec. 21. From there, shoppers have to spring for one-day shipping by Dec. 23 or hope that the local express shipping option that extends their deadline to Christmas Eve is still available.
That still puts Amazon in better shape than some of their bricks-and-mortar competitors. Best Buy (BBY), for example, can't guarantee that your gift will arrive by Christmas if you use its standard shipping option and send it by Friday. Their deadline estimate floats between then and Wednesday, which makes their expedited shipping option's firm cutoff of Dec. 19 seem like a far better plan. Then again, if you waited this long, why not just go to the store or, if you so badly need it shipped, ship it through one of those luxe options listed way above? Procrastination can be convenient, but rarely is it cheap.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.
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