Ask AFS – Our Experts Weigh In On Holiday Cut-Off Dates

Most of the major parcel shipping carriers have released their 2021 holiday cut-off dates. Besides making sure we know exactly what those dates are, is there anything else we should keep in mind?

It’s already shaping up to be an incredibly challenging shipping year, so the answer is definitely yes. 

Although UPS and FedEx are both looking to substantially increase their workforces for the holidays, “looking to” is the operative term, because they’re not the only large companies trying to hire from the same limited pool.

As a result, while we feel certain that all of the major parcel carriers will try to do everything possible to deliver holiday packages on time, we also think it would be wise for shippers to either:

  1. Err on the side of caution when establishing their own drop-dead order dates; our recommendation would be to set those dates anywhere from three to five days earlier than the official carrier cut-off date for any holiday orders that are shipping via ground or economy.
  2. Encourage their customers to consider using more premium/air shipping for holiday orders that are especially time sensitive. This is something that UPS in particular seems to be strongly advocating, since for the second year in a row it has declined to commit to a universal holiday ship-by date for ground packages that are needed by December 24.

Besides making our company’s cut-off dates earlier, is there anything else that we can do to help manage the chaos and protect our customers’ shopping and shipping experience this peak season?

For starters, you can run promos and offer early shopping incentives now, while things are less busy.   This will ensure that your customers will have their holiday purchases well before Christmas or Hanukkah – and that fewer of their parcels will contribute to the huge online ordering surge that typically occurs in late December.

You can also use several areas of your website to remind customers that this year is expected to be especially busy and that delays and shortages are more likely. After all, forewarned is forearmed.

And as always, you can provide your customers with real-time shipment tracking capability. While it won’t protect your customers’ deliveries from being delayed, it will at least give them a better sense of where their orders actually are – and remind them that at the very least, your company won’t be the reason for any orders that don’t arrive on time.

The Port of Los Angeles’s director recently mentioned the advantages of differentiating between ocean cargo that needed to be offloaded and delivered immediately and cargo that could wait. Should eTailers consider implementing a similar strategy that differentiates between holiday orders and non-holiday orders?

We don’t see why not. Anything that a business can do to help reduce holiday surges helps. So if your company can provide a way for customers to differentiate between orders that absolutely must be delivered by Christmas or Hanukkah (like Bobby’s Paw Patrol play set) and those that are more flexible, it may enable your fulfillment centers and carriers to better prioritize their various orders and get the holiday ones delivered sooner.  

One way to do that might be using a coupon code like NORUSH21 for any orders that aren’t needed before December 24. 

2021 Holiday Shipping Deadlines


Recommended last days for shipping gifts domestically for Dec. 24 delivery:

  • Ground: Check the UPS website for a quote.
  • 3-Day Select: Dec. 21
  • 2nd Day Air: Dec. 22
  • Next Day Air: Dec. 23


Last days to ship gifts within the U.S.:

  • FedEx Home Delivery, FedEx Ground: Dec. 15
  • FedEx Express Saver, FedEx 3Day Freight: Dec. 21
  • FedEx 2Day: Dec. 22
  • FedEx 1Day Freight, FedEx Extra Hours: Dec. 23
  • FedEx SameDay: Dec. 24


Recommended “send-by dates for expected delivery” before Dec. 25 in the 48 contiguous states:

  • Retail Ground: Dec. 15
  • First-Class Mail: Dec. 17
  • Priority Mail: Dec. 18
  • Priority Mail Express: Dec. 23

Editorial photo credit: Rob Crandall /



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