The Differences Between FedEx and UPS: Comparison | iDrive Logistics

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The Differences Between FedEx and UPS: Comparison

FedEx and UPS have a lot in common: They offer comparable air and ground services, similar expedited options, and services for everything from low-weight economy to freight shipping. Until 2017, both major carriers even had the same ground rates! The list of similarities goes on (click for a full fact sheet) but there are some major differences that may impact your shipping. Here are three big ones:

  1. FedEx uses multiple networks, while UPS utilizes just one. As FedEx has grown and acquired new services, each new division remains a separate and distinct shipping network. That’s why FedEx Ground has a different colored logo than FedEx Express! Meanwhile, UPS is all one network, so there is no division in logos or services.
  2. UPS employees are unionized, while most FedEx employees are non-union. Some claim this affects the reliability of each service because union workers could go on strike. However, in over 100 years of service, UPS workers have only gone on strike once. (PILOT STRIKE?)
  3. FedEx often uses independent contractors, while UPS uses employees for all services. This difference also explains why FedEx doesn’t quote a specific number of vehicles in their ground fleet while UPS does—many of FedEx’s fleet are private vehicles!

Multiple vs. Single Shipping Network

The network difference is the biggest difference between FedEx and UPS. The model for UPS is hub-and-spoke, where everything is interconnected. Service levels share resources and it doesn’t matter whether a shipment is air or ground, each package follows a similar flow from origin to destination. Behold this handy graphic to see the network:

FedEx is different because they split up services into multiple networks under the FedEx company umbrella. This is why you see different logos, colors and even truck types, and why you may get multiple FedEx deliveries on the same day—one may be from Express (air), the other from Ground. See the networks illustrated below:

Visual flow map shows how FedEx splits air and ground shipping into multiple networks

Now, using these graphics, think about how a package might move from Utah to Hawaii—how many hubs, planes, trucks, or other facilities will it pass through? The differences between FedEx and UPS networks can lead to surprising differences in time-in-transit from one carrier to the other.

Network Differences Impact Time-in-Transit

“FedEx is better for air shipments, but UPS is better for ground.” Have you ever heard that advice? As it turns out, it’s not true—at least not anymore. United Parcel Service (UPS) began ground transportation services long before air transportation was available. In fact, their first deliveries were from a Model T shortly after the Wright Brothers’ first flight. Federal Express, on the other hand, took off in 1973 as a fourteen-plane air transportation service which later acquired FedEx Ground services.

In spite of historic reputations, by 2017 both carriers are rounded out to the point where—in general—current air and ground on-time delivery percentages are about the same.

But when it comes down to your specific delivery needs, there may be a few differences between the two shipping giants. The network differences result in different guarantees for delivery times, largely depending your origin and destination zip codes.

Which carrier will be faster for your next delivery?

One of the simplest ways to find out is by checking time-in-transit/ground maps, easily generated at and Select either “outbound” or “inbound,” enter the zip code, and submit to generate a color-coded map with your guaranteed delivery deadlines. For example, here is a comparison of transit times for a package leaving our office headquarters in Lehi, UT, just outside of Salt Lake City:

Look closely and you’ll notice that UPS is the faster option for shipping a package from Lehi, Utah to Hawaii, promising to get it there in 3 days while FedEx may take up to 5. Conversely, for a parcel to Pittsburgh, we might choose FedEx because it should get there a full day faster than with UPS.

The differences are subtle but may affect your specific deliveries and might even be enough to convince you to choose one carrier over the other. One note of caution with these tools, however. While they do represent good estimates of transit times by county, they do not show the precise estimates for your specific parcels. Those detailed specifics can be calculated elsewhere.

FedEx and UPS Differences Difficult to Navigate

The differences we highlighted are important, but simplistic; the truth is far more complex. You’d be surprised by how much your geography impacts your shipping costs with a carrier. That’s why iDrive is here—to analyze your data and your unique shipping characteristics (from a carrier cost model perspective) and craft the most optimal path for procuring stronger carrier agreements.

Contact us today to learn about how iDrive’s carrier-cost-model approach can optimize everything from your distribution strategy to your carrier agreements.  888-797-0929  |