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Here's what you need to know about this year's holiday shipping deadlines

Planning for Christmas shipping deadlines
Christmas shipping deadlines shoppers should know 06:34

If you've already done your holiday shopping, ship those gifts out immediately to avoid paying a premium to guarantee their arrival by Christmas.

The first of the holiday season's shipping deadlines kicked in on Wednesday, FedEx Ground's cutoff day for guaranteed Christmas delivery.

Consumers who miss the cutoff can still pay a premium for FedEx's next-day and overnight services to have their packages arrive on time for the holiday:

  • For FedEx's Express Saver or FedEx three-day freight services, the deadline for Christmas delivery is December 20. 
  • For Fed-Ex two-day and one-day freight services, the deadline is December 21.

"If your boxes aren't on a line like this now, you need to start thinking about how you're going to get them where you want them," CBS News correspondent Kris Van Cleave reported from FedEx's main parcel sorting hub in Memphis, Tenn.

"The brand is on the line"

This time of year, hundreds of FedEx planes touch down in Memphis every 24 hours, each carrying around 20,000 packages. 

"We understand that some of these gifts are highly personal, and really the brand is on the line," FedEx senior operations manager Walter Kirkeminde told CBS News.

Around the holidays, roughly 2.4 million packages are sorted daily at the megahub. Parcels typically spend about three hours in the facility before they're loaded onto planes bound for thei destinations.

"For the excess capacity that Santa doesn't have on the sleigh, we're helping drop it off with our purple-tailed airplanes," Kirkeminde said.

"Just like Santa's little helper, I feel like I am able to get to the customer before the holiday season," said FedEx driver Jacob Tucker. 

Command center employees at Memphis Airport are constantly monitoring the weather, too. In the event of an impending storm, they may need to deviate planes from normal routes. 

Give yourself a cushion

There's still time for less organized consumers to put on their Santa hats — as long as they're willing to pay for expedited shipping.

UPS' shipping deadlines are as follows: 

  • December 20 to mail packages via its 3-Day Select service. 
  • December 21 for gifts mailed by 2nd Day Air.
  • December 22 for Next Day Air packages.

The United States Postal Service's deadline for guaranteed delivery by December 25 are: 

  • December 17 for ground and first-class mail.
  • December 19 for packages via priority mail.
  • December 23 using USPS's Priority Mail Express service. 

"The Postal Service will deliver its Priority Overnight mail on Christmas day. That does not mean you should wait until Christmas Eve to send it," Van Cleave said. "Do yourself a favor and mail things the middle of next week or sooner to make sure they get where you want them to go. Give yourself a cushion."

Major retailers' deadlines are approaching, too: 

  • Old Navy's free/standard shipping deadline for Christmas Day delivery is December 15.
  • Target's deadline for Christmas Day delivery using standard shipping is December 22. 
  • Macy's consumers, place your gift orders by December 21.

Sophisticated tracking

Logistics firms have sophisticated tracking systems in place, too, in order to locate packages that might be delayed.

"These packages get scanned at every step of the way. So, if there is a delay, they've got a spot to track them," Van Cleave said. 

Valuable or otherwise important packages even contain radio frequency identification (RFID) tags for real-time tracking. 

"All of the shippers have seen a big increase in shipping but they've invested in technology to try to make sure that every package gets where they want it to go and they've got a very good success rate at doing that," Van Cleave said. 

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