edit June 1st: UPS has announced that they will also be adding this exact surcharge to their services, as well. More details will be added as they emerge.
In the eCommerce world, there are a few absolutes. One of those absolutes is paying more for shipping as time goes on. To stay true to that idea, FedEx has increased their surcharges to include a handling fee on packages that are longer than 48 inches, as opposed to the previous threshold of 60 inches.
The changes for this will take effect June 1, 2016. According to Internet Retailer who broke the news, FedEx is quoted saying the handling charge threshold was lowered to account for the fact that eCommerce shipments are getting more dynamic and varied in size, and that these surcharge increases would help handle the increasing complexity of sorting these specific items.
According to the FedEx Shipping Fee Information guide, this will add a $10.50 surcharge to any item that is longer than 48 inches along its longest side. If you ship large packages often, consider this new threshold and potentially paying $10.50 more on every large shipment.
Shipping large packages with other carriers
UPS and USPS both offer support for large packages. Similar to FedEx, UPS charges a $10.50 handling fee for packages that are longer than 60 inches. It is unclear if they will also change the threshold to 48 inches like FedEx, but due to the nature of the shipping industry, I suspect they will quickly follow in FedEx’s footsteps and adopt the same exact new threshold eventually.
With USPS, it gets a little complicated, but not terribly so. For Priority Mail shipments, the maximum length + girth for your package cannot exceed 108 inches. For an idea of how to measure length + girth, here is an image from USPS to help visualize.
As long as you are under the length + girth limit, you will not receive any handling charges.
One small exception for Priority Mail packages is that if your package is shipping to Zones 1-4, under 20 lbs., the combined length+girth of your package is greater than 84 inches– but less than 108 inches, then your package will be charged as if it were a 20 lb. package, regardless of its weight. This is called “balloon pricing”.
If you want to ship a package over 108 inches in combined length and girth, you will have to use USPS Parcel Select service. Parcel Select supports a package length/girth combination up to 108-130 inches, but if your item falls into these dimensions, you will be charged an “Oversized” rate, which is very expensive compared to usual Parcel Select rates.
About Shipping Surcharges
Surcharges do a good job of making rate comparing services across carriers more difficult. Fuel surcharges, residential delivery charges, Saturday delivery charges, and handling charges can make the rates you see posted by private carriers like UPS and FedEx that aren’t reflective of what you pay. Often you will be charged on your invoice received from UPS and FedEx for surcharges incurred while your item was in delivery rather than seeing the price immediately when you print the label. This makes sense as some surcharges cannot be accounted for unless the situation actually occurs during shipment to the customer, but it can catch you off guard and hurt the bottom line if not anticipated.
How to Avoid Surcharges
One big benefit shipping with the United States Postal Service is that when you pay for a label, you won’t receive any additional surcharges for the delivery of the shipment (except in a few rare cases). They do not have many of the same surcharges FedEx and UPS have like residential delivery fees, fuel surcharges, or a Saturday delivery fee.
Ultimately, it’s up to the seller to decide which service mix is best for their product selection. When you compare services, make sure you anticipate the potential surcharges you will have to pay.