Cheap parcel delivery

Tips for sending via Royal Mail, discount web couriers & online retailers

Sending a parcel to family or friends this Christmas? The cost can quickly add up, but by comparing delivery via Royal Mail, discount courier sites and direct via online retailers, it's possible to save a packet (sorry). You can also have items collected directly from your home, with Royal Mail again extending its free parcel collection offer, while discount courier site Parcel2Go is currently offering 15% off your first delivery.

Last posting dates for Christmas

As ever, Royal Mail is advising people to post early for Christmas, particularly if posting to an international address. Its last posting dates are as follows:

  • Monday 18 December: 2nd class, 2nd class signed for, tracked 48-hour
  • Wednesday 20 December: 1st class, 1st class signed for, tracked 24-hour
  • Thursday 21 December: Special delivery guaranteed
  • Friday 22 December: Special delivery guaranteed with Saturday guarantee

For full details, see the Post Office website or Royal Mail website. If you're sending via an online retailer or courier, see our last posting dates help.

Buying from an online UK store for someone else? It's almost always cheaper to send direct

If you're buying from an online store for someone else, it's almost always cheaper to get it sent directly to the recipient, especially as it's often free when you spend over a certain amount (normally £20-£50, depending on the retailer). Plus many stores let you write gift notes to the recipient so you can personalise it.

This can really help with larger or heavier gifts as Royal Mail and parcel firms charge by size and weight, while retailers don't tend to – it's normally based on the underlying cost of the item. Even where there's a charge, it's usually only a few quid.

For example, when we looked at sending a 'Baby Yoda' toy worth £57 via standard delivery, Amazon was free (on orders over £25 if you don't have Prime), ShopDisney was free (as our order was £50+, £3.95 otherwise), and Zavvi was £1.99.

Plus you've the benefit of it being quicker and there being only one delivery charge, as you're not having to send the item(s) to yourself first. But it isn't an option for everyone, for example, if you're buying from local businesses that don't deliver, want to look at what you're buying first hand or want to add personal touches such as gift wrap or a card.

Looking to send gifts to friends and family overseas? For tips and tricks on how to pay less – check out MSE Jenny's blog on Slashing the cost of sending parcels abroad.

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Sending an item yourself? The cheapest option likely depends on weight

There are a lot of variables when it comes to parcel delivery, eg, location, weight, size, drop off or collection, delivery speed etc, so we can't give you exact prices as they vary enormously – but during our research we've spotted some trends based on the weight of the item you're sending. 

  • A small item less than 1kg? Royal Mail usually wins – though not always by a lot. For an idea of items under 1kg, a reusable aluminium water bottle, a large page-a-day daily diary or a 1,000-piece jigsaw should all fall within this bracket.

    We've checked hundreds of examples over the years, and Royal Mail usually wins, even if it's sometimes by pennies rather than pounds. It's not guaranteed though, so check before you send – and remember to take the size of the parcel, the value of the contents and the service you want into account. When we last tested 10 examples, we found that Royal Mail was cheaper for parcels under 1kg on seven occasions.

    For example, in one of our checks, sending a parcel worth £100, weighing 500g, dimensions 40cm x 30cm x 15cm, cost £4.49 via Royal Mail (£150 cover, delivery within 2-3 working days, tracked with signature, home collection) vs £5.55 for the cheapest discount courier site (£100 cover, delivery within 2-4 working days, tracked with signature).

    But Royal Mail isn't always cheaper, so check. For example, in one of our tests we wanted to send a parcel worth £60, weighing 600g, dimensions 10cm x 25cm x 25cm, and found we could send via courier collection for £5.52 (£60 cover, delivery within 3-4 working days), compared with £5.99 via Royal Mail (£150 cover, delivery within 2-3 working days).

    Use Royal Mail's price finder to quickly check prices and delivery options based on your parcel's weight, size, value and destination.

  • A heavier item of 1kg or more? Discount courier sites are usually cheapest. Examples of items weighing 1kg or more include a pair of boots, a couple of hardback books or a blender.

    Again, we've tested this hundreds of times over the years, and once again there's a trend – discount courier sites usually win. But again, this isn't guaranteed, so check. And if you want your parcel collected, while discount courier sites would usually win, Royal Mail may be cheaper at the moment as it's offering free collection until Wednesday 31 January.

    When we tested 10 examples (not taking the above Royal Mail promotion into account), we found that for parcels over 1kg, a discount courier beat Royal Mail on eight occasions. For example, in one of our tests we sent two cook books weighing a total of 2.1kg via standard delivery, and the cheapest courier was £6 vs £7 sent via Royal Mail.

How to find courier firms and compare them

This isn't about going direct to the biggies, such as DPD, Evri and FedEx (though it can be worth checking them also if you've time). Instead, use special discount courier websites which do two things:

  1. Buy spare delivery slots from the big-name couriers and then flog those slots cheaply.
  2. Allow you to search for and compare those discounted slots to find the cheapest.

Here's a list of discount courier websites and which firms they compare:

New. 15% off your first delivery with Parcel2Go – newbies only

Parcel2Go logo, which is a blue 'P' and orange '2G' on a white background.

It's been a while since we've featured a code to get money off a discount courier website, but we've blagged one for new users of Parcel2Go*. You can get 15% off (before VAT) your first parcel delivery via the site, up to a maximum discount of £15, using the code MSE15 until 11.59pm on Monday 1 January 2024.

While there's no guarantee the discount will automatically make Parcel2Go the cheapest option for sending your parcel, in some of our checks, it made it cheaper to send a parcel using Royal Mail via Parcel2Go than it did to send a parcel using Royal Mail directly through the Royal Mail website/app.

The size, weight and value of your parcel, as well as speed of delivery, tracking, signature and more, will dictate what you pay, so to make sure you're getting a good price, compare Parcel2Go with Royal Mail and at least one other discount courier site before booking.

This discount code cannot be used with any other discount. If you're sending a parcel intended to arrive in time for Christmas, check the Parcel2Go last posting dates*

  • How to use the code

    1. Go to Parcel2Go* and select where you want to send your parcel to, its length and its weight, then hit the 'get a quote' button.

    2. Choose the service you want. You can filter the results by speed, price, rating, collection, drop-off and more, then hit the 'book' button of the service you want.

    3. Enter your details and parcel details. Depending on the service you've selected and the value of what you're sending, you may be asked if you want to pay for additional parcel protection at this point.

    4. Enter delivery details. Depending on the service you've chosen, you may be asked to enter collection details and select a label option too.

    5. Enter the code MSE15 in the 'promotional code' box on the order summary page and hit the 'apply' button – 15% will then be discounted from the total before VAT.

    6. Hit the 'accept terms and continue' button to go on and choose a payment method (credit card, debit card, Apple Pay, Google Pay, PayPal) and complete your booking.
  • How does Parcel2Go stack up?

    At the time of writing, Parcel2Go is rated 'great' – 3.9 stars out of five – from 133,658 reviews on customer review website Trustpilot.

    The Parcel2Go app for Android devices does not fair so well, with 1.9 stars out of five from 446 reviews, but the app for iOS devices has received much more postive feedback, with 4.7 stars out of five from 10,000 reviews.

Extended. Sending a parcel or prepaid return via Royal Mail? It will collect for free until Wednesday 31 January

If you've checked the 'send it yourself' options and found that Royal Mail is the best choice for you – or not far off – the good news is it's yet again extended its offer to collect parcels for free until Wednesday 31 January. The offer's been extended or re-introduced on and off since at least May 2022. 

Normally, Royal Mail's Parcel Collect service costs an extra 72p on top of the cost of postage (or 60p if you're returning a parcel that has Royal Mail prepaid postage). A postie will then collect the parcel you're sending from your doorstep or a nominated 'safe place', rather than you having to take it to a Post Office. It's particularly useful if you're sending a bulky item, several parcels at once or would struggle to get to the Post Office.

How to take advantage of the promotion

  1. Pay for postage via the Royal Mail website or the Royal Mail app (available for iOS and Android devices) – free collection is automatically added.
  2. Choose the date and time you want collection (you'll usually be given a four-hour window). If you already have a collection booked for that day, you can add your parcel to it.
  3. Select if you need a free pre-printed postage label, and pick a safe place for collection if no one'll be home (you can only get one pre-printed label if collection is from a safe place).
  4. When your parcel is collected, you'll receive an email as proof of postage.

Paid for postage already, or sending a prepaid return parcel?

Book free collection via the Royal Mail website or Royal Mail app and enter the tracking number or postage item ID on the label you're using.

Same-day collection for extra parcels

If you've booked a parcel for collection, and have others to send that haven't been booked, you can ask your postie to take these too when they call to collect the parcel you did book, although it's not guaranteed they'll be able to take them. Any extra parcels will need a barcoded Royal Mail address label on them – those without, such as those with stamps on, won't be collected. 

Need to knows

  • Collections are Monday to Saturday (but not bank holidays)
  • You can book up to five days in advance and until the day before, though Royal Mail advises taking your item to a post office for guaranteed next-day delivery
  • Maximum parcel size and weight will depend on the postage you purchase – for letter and parcel sizes and weights, see Royal Mail's UK size guide or international size guide
  • There's no limit to the number of parcels you can have collected, but if you're sending more than 20 a week, Royal Mail recommends you look into a business account
  • Offer ends at 11.59pm on Wednesday 31 January 2024

For more info, see the Royal Mail parcel collection webpage.

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Parcel delivery need-to-knows

  • Check the last posting dates for Christmas

    However you send, be sure to check the final dates you can post your goodies by to arrive on time, especially for Christmas, and try to get them away early, especially if they're headed abroad. For a full list of last posting dates for Christmas, including collections, go to the Royal Mail website.

    Of course, couriers and online retailers may have different dates so it's important to check these. Also bear in mind that if you're buying a gift online and sending it on yourself, you'll need to factor in time for it to get to you, and then time for delivery to the recipient once you've sent it off again.

  • You can often pay more for quicker delivery and other extras

    The cost of parcel delivery varies depending on a lot of things – size, speed, what it's worth, whether you want it collected or are willing to drop it off, if you want it to be tracked and signed for, and so on. Take all of these into account when comparing prices.

  • Always check the delivery company out

    Make sure you only go with a courier firm you've heard of and feel happy to use. If the difference is only a few pennies, it may be better to go with the big name with a decent reputation rather than an unknown quantity.

    For an idea of customer service, January's poll of MoneySavers highlighted which of the big delivery firms have the best and worst feedback – see the Parcel delivery firms rated MSE News story from then for full info. You should still read the T&Cs carefully before sending though, to make sure you're covered should something go wrong.

  • Make sure to measure and weigh your package accurately

    Poor packing may void postal insurance and compensation claims, so package your goods properly.

    Be sure to measure and weigh your parcel accurately when getting a quote. If the package is bigger or heavier than stated, you may have to pay a surcharge.

    If you try sending something over 31.5kg it may not be accepted, as safety guidelines mean goods of this weight should be carried by at least two people. This means you may need a specialist service – these may be offered but, as you'd expect, usually cost more.

  • If you're sending a parcel and want it collected from home, you'll likely need a printer

    If you want your parcel collected from your home, rather than having to post it or drop it off yourself, you're likely to need a printer in order to print out the label required. Some discount courier services offer a 'no printer required' collection option though – especially handy if you're unable to leave home due to coronavirus – so keep an eye out when comparing them (though this can cost extra).

  • If you're sending parcels yourself via Royal Mail or a courier firm, allow more time

    If you're sending parcels yourself, rather than direct via online retailers, remember to take into account the time it will take for you to either buy the items you want locally or for them to be delivered to you from elsewhere and then package them up before you can send them on to the recipient yourself.

  • If parcels go missing, you've few rights

    Parcels do, on occasion, go missing, but there's no reason sending via a discount courier site should increase the chances of this happening. Yet always think twice before sending very expensive or irreplaceable items.

    If the worst happens, it can be a bit of a pain as you should first go to the middleman – the discount courier site. The site you used should give you a claim form from the courier firm itself. It's up to them to deal with any enquiries. Sometimes they're understaffed, so be sure to chase things up. Weigh this up before deciding how to send your parcel.

Sending overseas? The principles are the same

It's usually cheaper to get a UK retailer to send an item overseas, even to places as far away as Australia. For example, MSE Jenny found she could send 3kg of make-up to Australia for £6 via the retailer, compared with £28 for the cheapest courier and £65 via Royal Mail. It's still important to compare prices, and you face the same Post Office vs courier question if you want to send something yourself.

For full tips and tricks, see MSE Jenny's blog on slashing the cost of sending parcels abroad.

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