Holiday Shipping Guide


By Tracey Dowdy

There’s nothing like making a list and checking it twice only to discover you should have checked it sooner. Making things even trickier, Thanksgiving was late this year – almost a week later than last year – so the holiday shopping season got even tighter. Despite the crunch, according to Adobe Analytics data, “U.S. online sales will increase 14.1 percent, totaling $143.7 billion, while total retail spending – both online and offline – is expected to increase 4.0 percent.” 

Whether it’s because you see last minute shopping as a personal challenge, a competitive sport, or because you suddenly have to ship a gift to an out of town in law, a snowbound sibling, or someone you won’t see til January, you have more options than simply emailing a gift card. Although, if your imagination can’t think of anything more creative than socks, Amazon has a ton of gift cards that include a digital code the recipient can print out and there’s no worry about will it/won’t it make it in time. 

The good news is that because the holiday shopping season is abbreviated, many retailers have extended their Black Friday and Cyber Monday prices and deals. 

These are the three major carriers’ recommended send-by dates for expected delivery by December 25:

U.S. Postal Service

Dec. 14: USPS Retail Ground shipments

Dec. 18: Alaska to mainland First-Class Mail

Dec. 19: Hawaii to mainland Priority Mail and First-Class Mail

Dec. 20: First Class

Dec. 21: Priority Mail; Also deadline for Alaska and Hawaii to the mainland through Priority Mail Express

Dec. 23: Priority Mail Express

International shipping and military mail deadlines are earlier. Learn more at



Dec. 9: SmartPost

Dec. 16: Ground and home delivery

Dec. 19: Express Saver

Dec. 20: Two-day options

Dec. 23: Overnight options

Dec. 25: FedEx SameDay, FedEx SameDay City Direct and City Priority

Find rates and transit times at


United Parcel Service/UPS

Dec. 13: Last day to ship some UPS Ground packages

Dec. 19: UPS 3 Day Select

Dec. 20: 2nd Day Air

Dec. 23: Next Day Air 

Learn more at

Retailers like Walmart, Target and Kohl’s all have similar though in some cases longer, shipping windows, depending on the items you’ve ordered. 

This year, Best Buy has promised overnight delivery for 99% of customers, however be aware that if the item you want or the ZIP code you’re shipping to doesn’t allow for it, overnight delivery isn’t guaranteed. 

Amazon has announced the dates for Prime members and all customers to place orders for delivery by Dec. 25. However, buyer beware as dates can vary by item and delivery speed. Not all items are sold by Amazon, some are through third-party sellers and not eligible for Prime delivery. 

Dec. 14: Last day to order and get free delivery on orders over $25, free for all customers

Dec. 18: Last day to order items eligible for standard shipping, free for Prime members

Dec. 22: Last day for free delivery on tens of millions of items for Prime members

Dec. 23: Last day for free one-day delivery on more than 10 million items for Prime members

Dec. 24: Last day to order millions of items eligible for Same-Day Delivery (free for Prime members in eligible areas on orders over $35, order by 9:30 a.m. local time). Also free two-hour grocery delivery, reserved exclusively for Prime members in select cities.

Learn more at

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.


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