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Package Deal

Planning and comparison shopping can save a bundle on shipping costs.

May 13, 2000|NANCY KINSEY NEEDHAM | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Sending a package has never been so complicated.

So many rules. So many choices.

With college graduation announcements and wedding invitations arriving, it's important to know what you are doing before you start mailing gifts.

Years ago, finding a box was the biggest hassle.

Now, you not only have to find a box, but you have to find the perfect box--and be sure to use the right kind of tape.

A bare box is recommended so as not to get anything caught in delicate machinery. String and masking tape are not recommended or even allowed.

And then there is the question of how fast you want it to get there.

"Don't wait until the last minute to mail your package," warned Chris Mauff, a clerk at Longs Drugs.

Longs stores in Camarillo, Thousand Oaks and Westlake Village just opened mail counters that will send packages a variety of ways, including by U.S. Postal Service, United Parcel Service and FedEx.

We went there to see how much it would cost to mail a package that weighed approximately 10 pounds and measured 11 inches by 5 inches by 8 inches--about the size and weight of a 12-pack of soda. OK, it really was a 12-pack, in a box.

Mauff put it on a scale and then looked at a computer screen that showed several ways our beverage could be shipped.

Sending it by Economy FedEx to England would cost $112.35 and $118.41 by priority FedEx.

If we sent it by U.S. Postal Service using four- to six-week surface mail, it could get there for $38.75. It would cost $83.40 by five- to seven-day parcel post air.

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If we mailed it from Thousand Oaks to a residence in San Antonio, it would cost $9.91 by UPS ground, $23 for three-day service and $34 for two-day air. It would cost $57.50 to arrive by the end of the next day, $65.36 for it to get there by 10:30 a.m. the next day or $101.11 to arrive even earlier.

The postal service's Priority Mail, which usually takes two to three days, costs $18.80 to San Antonio; and $53 for overnight express.

So you see what Mauff meant by not waiting until the last minute. A lot of money can be saved by thinking ahead when it comes to sending a package.

And those we spoke with would not guarantee that the package would arrive at any particular time, as some factors are out of their control.

Heidi Tosounian, who owns EZMail in Thousand Oaks, has been mailing packages for people for 11 years.

She also uses a scale and a computer to give her customers a variety of choices on how to mail packages and even has some suggestions of specialty freight companies for oversized packages, she said.

Patronizing a privately owned mail center can save customers money because they can offer a variety of choices, Tosounian said.

"Sometimes, depending on the package, one mail service is less expensive than another," she said. "It could be the post office is less or UPS or FedEx is less."

Tosounian can also help with repackaging, if something is in a bigger box than necessary.

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At EZMail, our package could get to San Antonio by UPS in four days for $11.44, by U.S. Priority Mail for $14.25 or by next-day mail for $38.54. The FedEx cost, for arrival by 3 p.m. the next day, was $39.75 and arrival by the next morning was $41.50.

To send the package U.S. mail to England would cost $92.55 by air and $37.48 by surface. A two-day FedEx would be $143.

Mailing a package at the post office often requires waiting in long lines, but we found that our package could get to England by surface in two to four weeks for $24.22, by airmail in about a week for $54.47 or in three to five days for $58.50.

That same package, mailed to San Antonio from the post office using five-day mail costs $10.92, with two-day priority $11.23 and overnight $33.80.

Information concerning package size limitations, prices and what is allowed as far as contents can be found by calling the postal service at (800) 275-8777.

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At UPS, all packages are automatically insured for $100, with increased coverage costing 35 cents per $100. At the post office, $100 worth of insurance costs $1.85 and goes up depending on how much the contents of the package are valued by the sender.

The post office only accepts packages up to 70 pounds, while UPS accepts packages up to 150 pounds.

UPS will pick up packages for a fee, or the sender can take the package to a UPS drop-off center. For the closest place or mailing instructions, call (800) 742-5877.

To mail our package to San Antonio, UPS ground cost $7.35 if we brought it to UPS ourselves. Second-day air was $24.40 and next-day was $45.50.

Calling before you go to the trouble of finding a box or even purchasing the item can be helpful.

Not only can size and weight make a difference, but there are some items that can't be sent to certain countries.

When you are sending a wedding gift, for instance, you might choose a lace tablecloth over a Belgian waffle maker after you find out how much more it will cost to send the heavier gift.

Pen sets are a good idea if you are mailing a graduation present.

Or you could add what you were going to spend on the gift and postage together and just send a check for what it would cost to mail a letter.

That way you will also save on wrapping paper. But that is another story.

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Nancy Needham writes a weekly consumer column and can be reached at nancy.needham@reporter.net.

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