Attention, shoppers: Today is free shipping day!
The clock is ticking. If you want your gifts to arrive by Christmas, you'd better get things wrapped up.
BY NICOLE SPECTOR, NBC News
(NBC News) - The clock is ticking, and if you want your gifts to arrive by Christmas, it's time to get your ducks (or packages) in a row.
First order of business: Today is Free Shipping Day (December 16). With over 1,000 retailers participating, chances are you can probably get free delivery for your goodies. Check the full list for Free Shipping Day here.
"The cutoff date to purchase gifts that will arrive in time for Christmas is December 18th, so [try and] score free shipping while getting your gifts delivered on time," said Sara Skirboll, retail and trends expert at RetailMeNot.
If you miss out, or if your favorite retailer isn't participating, here are the holiday schedules for USPS, UPS, and FedEx. We've also included some tips from holiday shipping experts to help make sure there are no hiccups along Santa's sleigh ride!
U.S. Postal Service (USPS)
For shipping within the U.S:
Dec. 20: Last day to send packages via First Class Mail
Dec. 21: Last day to send packages via Priority Mail
Dec. 23: Last day to send packages via Priority Express Mail
The deadlines for shipping internationally via First Class and Priority Mail have already passed, but you still have other options, so long as you get a move on it. Check out the schedule for select foreign regions and countries here.
For shipping within the U.S.:
Dec 19: Deadline for UPS 3 Day Select
Dec. 21: Deadline for UPS 2nd Day Air
Dec. 22: Deadline for UPS 2nd Day Air (must use Saturday Delivery option), and deadline for UPS Next Day Air
Dec. 23: Deadline for UPS Next Day Air (must use Saturday Delivery option)
Dec 17: Deadline for Home Delivery and Ground Delivery shipments
Dec 20: Deadline for Express Save shipments
Dec. 21: Deadline for FedEx 2Day and FedEx 2Day A.M.
Dec 22: Deadline for 2-Day and 2-Day A.M.
Dec 23: Deadline for Standard Overnight, Priority Overnight, First Overnight
Dec 25: Deadline for Same Day
What to know about perishables
Sending out a gingerbread house or your famous homemade fruitcake? You'll want to pay extra attention to the fine print.
"When shipping perishable items, paying attention to rules and regulations can go a long way toward ensuring packages arrive unharmed," said Kevin Lathrop, CEO and President of Unishippers Global Logistics.
Lathrop added that some days of the weeks are better than others to ship out perishables.
"The best days to ship perishable items are Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays with next-day delivery. Keep in mind that Saturday delivery results in an additional charge and may not be received by businesses that are closed on the weekends."
Go for the box — and lots of reinforcement
Now that your gift is wrapped and ready to go, what's the best package to put it in? Paper and plastic mailers are tempting because they're lighter and cheaper; but John Monarch, CEO and founder of Direct Outbound, a warehousing and fulfillment company, says that cardboard boxes are the way to go.
"Boxes scan faster and easier than padded mailer envelopes, and are less likely to have a delay due to a wrinkled or damaged shipping label," he told NBC News.
You'll also want to fortify the box even more aggressively than normal. This is the busiest shipping season of the year and boxes are bound to get jostled around when en route. There's also the likelihood of your gifts passing through rough weather, so make sure they can withstand it.
"Reinforce parcels with clear or brown packaging tape for added protection on corners and all seams," advised Lathrop. "Also, be sure to place clear packaging tape over labels to prevent the address from smearing.
The insurance assurance
Many of us wrangle with the question of whether to pay to insure an item we're sending off. The good news: Some carrier services already include insurance in the shipping price.
"Many service levels include insurance, but a few do not. If you have a valuable item it is highly recommended that you do not ship via First Class Mail for instance," said Monarch. "A base level of insurance is included on levels such as USPS Priority, UPS Ground, and FedEx Ground — typically $50-100. Ask a representative at each location to increase the insurance to your desired value, and keep your receipt from the carrier just in case."
Be sure to declare the value of your gift on the slip in the designated field. If you don't, and the gift is lost or damaged, you could face a financial loss.
"If you do not declare a value for your UPS shipment and damage or loss occurs, UPS is only liable for up to $100 USD," said Lathrop. "If your package value exceeds $100, [we] recommend declaring a higher value, which will automatically insure it for a small additional cost."