No reindeer needed: How to ship your gifts on time

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It's 10 days before Christmas, and the crunch is on.

FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service say Monday is their busiest day of the year. Both predict moving a record-setting amount of stuff. Unlike last year, though, when a snowstorm and logistical glitches kept many people from getting their Christmas presents on time, the carriers say they're ready for this year's surge.

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The Postal Service said it will process more than 640 million cards, letters and packages Monday. FedEx said it will move 22.6 million shipments. FedEx senior vice president of services Patrick Fitzgerald told CNBC on Monday the company was ready with more trucks, more workers and more than 600 planes to ferry packages around the world.

"We have been meeting with customers for months," said Susan Rosenberg, spokeswoman for UPS, which predicted it will move 34 million packages on its peak day next Monday. "We've got a lot of smart engineers that are calculating and using algorithms [for] predicting volume."

While this is reassuring, shoppers can take some proactive steps to make sure their packages arrive on time.

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For starters, send gifts straight to recipients. This cuts down on the time that package will be sitting on a plane or truck. (It also makes returns easier if they have to exchange your gift, since they'll have all the shipping information.)

Besides making sure the address is correct, don't re-use boxes, especially if they have old labels on them, FedEx packing expert Cordell Golden said.

Choose your carrier wisely, if you have the option. CNBC said that since Black Friday, UPS has taken an average of just over five days to ship, while FedEx is just under six days and the Postal Services is a little over six days.

Pay attention to cutoff dates for on-time Christmas delivery. Monday is the last day regular postal mail is guaranteed to arrive on time. The cutoff for FedEx Ground service is Wednesday, and UPS Ground has a Thursday cutoff.

Retailers' cutoff

If you're relying on a retailer's cutoff, check back often, because some change those dates. StellaService, a company that rates and measures e-commerce customer satisfaction, finds that in some cases, customers might have more time than they thought, but sometimes, sellers shorten those windows instead.

"We're seeing some dates change day-by-day. At this point, many of the retailers we're tracking are shifting their dates close to Christmas," Kevon Hills, StellaService's vice president of research, said via email. "Most often, these stated cutoff dates change when volume is either lighter or heavier than initially forecasted." Hills said shoppers' dissatisfaction over undelivered packages last year is prompting retailers to be more cautious in their on-time delivery promises this year.

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If you don't want to pay to get your gifts delivered, mark your calendar: Thursday is Free Shipping Day, when more than 1,000 retailers will offer free shipping in time for Christmas. "It's the number one promotion shoppers respond to," said Luke Knowles, founder of Free Shipping Day.

Since launching six years ago, it's been creeping closer to Christmas, Knowles said. "With Free Shipping Day, we try to push the boundaries, we do it pretty late," he said. "We really want to get as close to Christmas as we can."

If you miss the cutoff for standard shipping, two-day or overnight shipping is still an option — and it might not cost as much as you think, Knowles said.

"Retailers really need to make sales at this time of year," he said. "Once they get to that delivery deadline… they still have a few days, so that's when they have those two-day discounts," he said. It might not be free, but retailers might discount the price of speedier shipping if it nets them a sale, Knowles said.