Close up of a man signing a device and taking delivery of a parcel from a delivery person.

Cheap parcel delivery

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

Sending a festive package or parcel to family or friends this Christmas? The cost can quickly add up, but by using this guide to compare sending via Royal Mail, discount courier sites, and direct via online retailers, it's possible to save a packet (sorry) – and you can even have your items collected directly from your home.

Christmas parcel delivery & coronavirus

Royal Mail has said to post Christmas parcels early, particularly if sending internationally, as ongoing Covid-19 restrictions, along with higher volumes and winter weather conditions, can affect delivery. For the latest info, see Royal Mail's service update page, and for when to send by, see our info on last posting dates.

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Buying from an online UK store? It's almost always cheaper to have it sent directly

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

This can really help with heavier gifts as Royal Mail and parcel firms charge by weight, while shops 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 £20 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, eg, 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.

Illustration of a red signpost pointing right.

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.

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 £5.10 via Royal Mail (£100 cover, delivery within 2-3 working days, tracked with signature) 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 £7.98 via Royal Mail collection (£100 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 a universal rule, so check before you send. And if you want your parcel collected, while discount courier sites would usually win, Royal Mail may be cheaper right now as it's offering collection for 30p (normally 72p) until Sunday 26 September.

    When we recently 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 £10 sent via Royal Mail.

How to find courier firms and how to compare them

This isn't about going direct to the biggies, such as Hermes, DPD 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 is a list of discount courier websites and which firms they compare:

We've blagged 8% off the cost of your first order (before VAT) with ParcelHero* when you enter the code MSE8 at the checkout. There's no minimum spend, but the code is only for those who haven't sent a package via ParcelHero before.

It has competitive prices and with the discount you could make a saving, yet it's still worth checking the other discount courier websites above, as well as Royal Mail, as they may still be able to beat the price ParcelHero* offers, even with the discount code.

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Parcel delivery need-to-knows

  • However you send, be sure to check the final dates you can post your goodies by to arrive on time, especially for Christmas. See Royal Mail for a full list of last posting dates, including collections.

    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.

  • The cost of parcel delivery varies depending on a lot of things – speed, whether you want it collected or are willing to drop it off, if you want it to be tracked and signed for, whether you want it insured and how much for, and so on. Take these things into account when comparing prices, and see the point below on whether you need insurance.  

  • It very much depends on who you book through and which courier service you choose. For example, all UK parcels sent via Royal Mail are automatically covered for loss and damage of up to at least £20 – and up to £2,500 depending on the service you choose. MyHermes includes £20 parcel cover as standard on UK deliveries and ParcelHero* includes £50 cover, excluding Hermes.

    When you book through a discount courier website you're getting the equivalent of the courier company's full-price service, so you should get the same protection as if you booked with them directly. The amount of cover you get varies though, as the examples above show, so always check.

    Additional cover is generally available through discount courier websites for an extra fee, and if you have concerns you won't be covered enough, it may be worth adding. Always check any policy exclusions before you buy to ensure your item's covered.

    It's not always cheap though. We've seen cover up to £400 for an extra £24, and up to £800 for £60. If you pay for extra cover, make sure it's on the order confirmation.

  • 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 Top parcel delivery firms MSE News story for full info. You should still read the T&Cs carefully before sending though, to make sure you're covered should something go wrong.

  • 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 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, 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.

  • 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 (and consider insurance).

    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

You will also find it's usually cheaper to get a UK retailer to send an item overseas, even to places as far away as Australia, eg, 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. However, it's also important to compare, 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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