Imagine this situation: your colleagues in Los Angeles have landed a last-minute, 12 pm meeting tomorrow to present a product prototype to would-be investors. But there’s one problem. That prototype is at your R&D facility—1,000 miles away in West Valley City, Utah.
What do you do? Pack it up and ship it overnight, of course. But how can you be sure it will arrive on time?
Knowing how overnight shipping works is crucial for any digital-age business if you’ve ever had a major investment on the line or are routinely under the gun on shipping turnarounds. So, if you’re wondering how long does overnight shipping take, here’s everything you need to know.
What Is Overnight Shipping?
Overnight shipping is the fastest way to send your business’ products from one location to another. Also known as next-day delivery, carriers that offer overnight shipping will, in most cases, guarantee their customers will receive their order by the next business day.
There’s one caveat: that guarantee isn’t a legally binding contract. Rather, it’s a carrier’s pledge to do their best to deliver their shipment by a specified time on the next day. In many cases, if a package shipped overnight doesn’t reach its destination by its predetermined time window, you will be eligible for a refund.
How Does Overnight Shipping Work?
Most private carriers offer three options for next-day delivery windows:
- Early-morning (delivered by 8 am)
- Mid-morning (delivered by 10:30 am)
- Afternoon (delivered by 4 pm)
Due to the expedited nature of overnight shipping, it tends to be the most expensive delivery option for a carrier like FedEx or USPS. Moreover, the earlier the delivery window you choose, the more overnight shipping will cost.
In addition to your time slot, the overall cost of overnight shipping hinges on several other key factors, including:
- Package dimensions
- Package weight
- Shipping zones
- Carrier contracts
- The next-day time you need it to arrive by
What are the Different Options for Overnight Shipping?
Each shipping carrier will have different options for overnight shipping. UPS, FedEx, and United States Postal Service (USPS) are the three main services used by businesses and here are their overnight service options:
UPS offers overnight and next-day shipping through three tiers: Next Day Early Air, Next Day Air, and Next Day Air Saver.
The Next Day Early Air shipping option guarantees delivery by 8 am, Next Day Air guarantees delivery by 10 am, and Next Day Air Saver by 4:30 pm to commercial and end-of-day residential addresses for most US locations.
FedEx offers its options through three tiers as well:
FedEx First Overnight, FedEx Priority Overnight, and FedEx Standard Overnight. First Overnight guarantees delivery by 9:30 am, Priority Overnight guarantees mid-morning delivery by 10:30 for commercial and 4:30 pm for residential locations, and Standard Overnight guarantees delivery by 4:30 for retail and 8 pm for residential.
Unlike the other services, USPS only offers one overnight shipping option. Priority Mail Express guarantees delivery by the next business day at 10:30 am.
With varying delivery options, overnight shipping costs can vary as well. If you’re wondering, “how much is overnight shipping?” it can range from $26 to over $200, depending on the shipping service and method. If you choose to offer expedited shipping, it’s important to understand how it works and how the shipping cost can impact your operation.
As mentioned earlier, a shipping zone can also impact the overnight shipping cost. While all three major carriers determine the costs through shipping zones, they all vary. But generally speaking, FedEx, UPS, and USPS shipping zone methods are accessible to every business to determine their shipping cost.
What Factors Affect Overnight Shipping Deliveries?
While carriers will try hard to fulfill their next-day delivery promise, the reality is that a host of variables can impact whether or not an overnight shipment is logistically feasible. These include:
- Drop-off deadlines – Most carriers have an overnight delivery cut-off time. If you don’t transfer custody of your package before this deadline, it will be impossible for the carrier to deliver it by the next day. That said, cut-off times can vary widely by location, so be sure to check ahead if you have a quick shipping turnaround.
- Package destination – While carriers today have unprecedentedly sophisticated distribution systems, even those have limitations. If a package needs to be shipped off the beaten track—e.g., to a rural area outside or beyond the normal distribution route—it will likely take longer to reach its final destination.
- A weekend order – Most carriers’ overnight service days stick to a Monday through Friday schedule. Sometimes, it may still be possible to make an overnight shipment on a Saturday—for an additional charge, of course—but you’re likely to be working with a carrier at reduced capacity.
- Extraordinary freight – If you need to deliver a package that’s oversized or contains hazardous materials, the shipment may require special packaging and handling precautions. In these cases, it could take additional time to ensure that the freight can be safely and securely delivered.
- Seasonal peaks – On high-traffic occasions like Black Friday or Christmas Eve, carriers are operating at maximum capacity. Outsized seasonal demand tends to strain carriers’ overnight capabilities, so even if your package makes the cut, be prepared to pay a premium for expedited delivery.
- Inclement weather – So goes the postman’s motto1: “Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” But there are limits to this creed. No matter how determined your carrier is, climatic factors and severe weather events are entirely beyond their control—so, if delivery planes stay on the ground, your overnight delivery will, too.
- Incorrect address specification – Always take care when you input the intended destination of your overnight delivery. Improperly filling out your package’s address may render a carrier unable to ship your package. In such cases, the carrier will ask for a correction and typically charge an additional fee before attempting another delivery.
- International shipping – Some carriers allow for overnight shipping to select international destinations. However, factors like distance from point of origin to destination, customs, and import regulations can all serve to delay the process.
- Recipient unavailability – Some shipments require their recipients to accept and sign for an overnight package. If they’re unable to do so, the package will be rerouted to your carrier’s local distribution center and attempt another in-person delivery the next day. To avoid this situation, be sure to keep your customers or vendors informed of expected arrival times.
Get Overnight Shipping You Can Count On
So, how long is overnight shipping, really?
Returning to our earlier example, if you can make your carrier’s next-day deadline—and skirt high-traffic delivery times and extreme weather circumstances—chances are your prototype will arrive from West Valley City in time for your big investor meeting.
And if you truly want to maximize overnight delivery reliability? Work with a shipping service that can help you find the right carrier, reduce shipping costs, and optimize logistics so every package gets where it needs to go, just in time.
At Shipware, we offer audit and consulting services to help you find the best shipping carrier for your business and generate bottom-line savings from reduced shipping rates. You will get to work with an experienced and knowledgeable expert to find the right solutions for your fulfillment.
Contact us to learn more and start streamlining your shipping and fulfillment process.
- USPS. Postal Service Mission and “Motto” https://about.usps.com/who/profile/history/pdf/mission-motto.pdf