We have created a table that shows the variety of services available by DHL, Fedex and UPS for shipping non-freight items internationally. Let’s take a moment to examine the different services available.

Same Day
“Same day” delivery is available from all three shippers. This service really means that the package will be on the next available flight. If the package is a document and not-dutiable there should be no problem getting the package off the plane and to its destination as if it were hand carried.

Document…to be or not to be…
For international packages customs clearance is an important component of package arrival time. Documents that do not need customs are limited just by flight arrival and delivery. DHL recognizes this and offers a service focused on document or non-dutiable items. The separate treatment of these items contributes to minimal delivery delays. One might imagine that there are probably certain times of day, using DHL Same Day Service, Fedex International Next Flight or UPS Express Critical SM, when a package might have arrived at the same time as with DHL International Document Service at but at a reduced cost.

Are Specialized Services Always Needed?
Along the same lines let’s examine the additional specialized services offered by Fedex and UPS, one wonders if the “expedited” package would have arrived at the same time using DHL Document Service if the package was just a document. While there are definitely instances where dutiable items have time critical arrival deadlines, most time critical international packages are business documents with original signatures. Any other type of documents can be sent by email or facsimile. To pay a premium to insure that documents arrive at 10:30 in 2-3 business days should be considered carefully when a less expensive service DHL International Documents Service may suffice.

An Illustration…
In order illustrate the point let’s take a package leaving New York destined for Germany. The package is picked up in New York by 5PM EST Tuesday (11:00PM German Time Wednesday). This package then leaves Newark at 12:00AM EST on Tuesday Evening (6:00AM German Time Wednesday) arrives in Germany at 5:00 PM Wednesday night where it will be sorted and ready to leave for delivery at 5:30AM German local time Thursday. The chances are very good that a non-dutiable document would arrive in Germany from New York by 10:30 AM on the second day even without the premium service. This should be true if you used DHL International Document Service, FedEx International Economy or UPS Worldwide SaverSM. Of course this all depends on timing and connections however this Gedankenexperiment allowed plenty of time for connections and presumably these billion dollar package carriers have worked all of that out anyway. All three of the carriers have a time arrival estimator which is really a calculation using their established flight plan arrival schedules. This will give you a good idea of when your carrier believes a non dutiable item such as a document would arrive. If there is no advantage in days for using the premium service then it is up to you to decide if you want to pay for the “premium delivery time”.


Dutiable Items and Arrival Time Guarantees
Arrival times for documents or non-dutiable items are usually pretty certain as they do not have to go through customs clearance. Dutiable items are subject to customs clearance and therefore always at risk for delivery delay. While the package may arrive at a specific time at your country, if the customs does not clear it in a timely fashion then the delay is inevitable, in which case the “fault” for the delay is not due to the carrier but to “third party government” influences. Customs delays are almost always paper work problems which can usually be traced back to the shipper. For this reason, the chances of being able to collect a refund for unfulfilled premium service are very small.

The Moral of the Story…
I am reminded of a story that I read in The Undercover Economist by Steven D Levitt where he outlines how a premium cappuccino does not cost the coffee shop much more than a regular cappuccino but the coffee shop can charge a 25% premium on it because of the perception of additional benefit. A little bit of digging on the part of the shipper may help uncover what flights a package would be on and what service level would be most effective for the shipper. Of course the shipper that actually does that research is few and far between and the carriers know and understand this and so business as usual… Knowledge is power but only if you go after it.