Great Package Race 2013

And they are off…!

This is the Holiday Edition of the Great Package Race and like many holidays it will be a stress test: We are sending our packages during the busiest few days of the year for package delivery. Our recipient is… Santa Claus, himself!

In November we received confirmation by email from “Cristina Elf and the Friday Elves” that Santa would receive our packages. On Friday 13 December, we sent four packages to the Jolly Old Elf himself, at Santa’s Workshop Village, on the Arctic Circle, 8 kilometers north of Rovaniemi, Finland. The packages will be received and held for Santa at Santa Claus’ Main Post Office, which is described as being “located in an impressive building of handsome natural stone and aged pine, with a splendid landmark of the Tower of the Christmas Elf in front of it.”. The address is:

Joulupukin Pääposti
(Santa Claus’ Main Post Office)
Itella Posti Oy

Here is some interesting information about Santa Claus Village, and here are some statistics on letters to Santa.

The packages contain Georgia Tech paraphernalia: t-shirts (XXXL, of course, to fit Santa), baseball hats, and coffee mugs (also usable for egg nog, mulled wine, or other seasonal beverages). You can see the boxes being packed for Santa here.

The start: 13 December

We went on-line to fill out shipping forms for each shipment. We took the UPS, DHL, and FedEx packages to a nearby Kwik-Copy; and we took the USPS package to a nearby postoffice.

On Friday night we received an email notification that our UPS package had been delayed for want of a “commercial invoice”, even though we had filled out the form on-line. Unfortunately, our package sat all weekend. On Monday morning UPS phoned to ask that we fax a copy (even though it still existed in our on-line account at UPS).

The scorecard as of 2017 Saturday Atlanta time, 21 December

We have a winner: DHL delivered on Tuesday 17 December, two days ahead of the next competitor.

To: Santa Claus Village, Lapland, outside Rovienmi, Finland
Carrier Service Cost Delivery Tracking # Comments
DHL Express Worldwide $155.70 17 Dec 1501h local time: Winner! 9966224656 6 hops total: Atlanta to Cincinnati to Leipzig to Helsinki to Oumu to Napapiiri Rovaniemi
USPS Global Express $95.42 19 Dec 1102h local time 8398498334 Atlanta to Memphis to Paris to Vantaa (Finland) to Napapiiri Rovaniemi
UPS Worldwide Saver $99.79 19 Dec 1440h local time 1ZA5A2420490341738 Finally underway 16 December after being held up for paperwork mistakenly claimed to be missing. 9 hops: Atlanta to Hapeville, GA to Louisville to Philadelphia to Koeln (Germany) to Malmo Sturup (Sweden) to Vantaa (Finland) to Helsinki to Tampere (Finland) to Napapiiri Rovaniemi. Our package was signed for by “Elf”
FedEx Int’l Economy $162.70 23 Dec 1435h local time 875471244031 No updates from 1042 19 Dec,until delivery

The routes

After local pickup, each package was driven to a local freight terminal, sorted, and then flown to one of the major sortation facilities the carriers operate in the mid-western US: UPS uses Louisville, KY; FedEx uses Memphis, TN; DHL uses Cincinnati, OH.


  • Websites: The company websites varied in ease-of-use in completing shipping papers. USPS was especially easy; and UPS seemed straightforward (though with problems later, as you will read). DHL was confusing at first because it was very wordy and not always clear on what to do. At the FedEx website we filled out all the forms only to be told that we could not process an online shipment without an account.
  • Costs: FedEx stands out for being more expensive than the others. Generally, carriers estimated costs accurately, except for DHL, which had projected the cost as $108.38.
  • Start:
    • DHL got off to a very fast start and seemed to stay at least one hop ahead of the competition. Their package was already in Helsinki by Sunday night 15 Dec, Atlanta time. At this time, the others were only known to have departed their main sortation facilities in the US.
    • UPS somehow missed the fact that we had indeed filled out all the required paperwork on-line and held up our package over the weekend. On Monday morning, we opened our account and confirmed that our paperwork was indeed complete on the UPS system. However, customer service said they could not access it and asked us to print and fax a copy to them.
  • Tracking:
    • DHL tracking seems closer to real-time than others and their website for tracking seems cleaner and easier to understand.
    • USPS seemed quite slow in updating: there would be no information for more than a day and then suddenly a flurry of updates.
    • UPS removed all the tracking detail immediately following delivery.
    • FedEx updates ceased for four days after the package got close (Vantaa). Perhaps this was due to a subcontractor being lax about updates?
  • Delivery:
    • UPS might have been competitive but for its mishandling of the customer invoice, which delayed the start by two days.
    • We hope to hear more details directly from Santa himself.

Finally, it is worth observing that this year most carriers seem to have had problems with delivery during the Christmas holidays.


Thanks to Carole Bennett, Kathryn Raley, Meka Wimberly, and to my students for help in preparing and sending the packages; and thanks to the recipients for documenting their arrival.