Avoid sky-high shipping fees on holiday gifts

LOS ANGELES Many /*online shopping*/ sites are offering free shipping this year to get your business, but not all of them. In fact, some sites are charging shipping fees based on the cost of the item and not on its size and weight.

When Marion Coughlin went online to send her grandson a $45 gift, the cost to send it came as a shock.

"The shipping cost was almost $16, plus 5-something for tax, and I was astounded," said Coughlin.

Consumer Reports money adviser, Mandy Walker, says there are a number of ways to avoid monstrous shipping fees.

"There are sites that offer free or low-cost shipping, so check for those before you start shopping. Some, like Zappos.com, offer free shipping both ways, even if you decide to return an item," said Walker.

Another site that's worth trying is FreeShipping.org, which has a list of all the retailers providing free shipping and it explains any rules for getting the free shipping. You type in the name of a store, then you can see whether there are coupon codes you can use on the store's website to save on shipping.

And some websites will ship for free, but not to your house. Walmart.com lets you shop at its site, then offers free shipping to a Wal-Mart store, where you can pick up your purchase. Borders and Best Buy do it, too.

If there's a must-have infomercial product on your list, beware of the shipping costs. Those shipping fees, listed as "Separate P&H", can be tacked on to each item in an offer, which can double the cost.

You should shop early to avoid sending last-minute gifts to family and friends when shipping costs are at their peak. Also, don't be afraid to contact the website and ask them to match any free shipping charges that other websites may be offering.

There is a free shipping day on Dec. 17, where more than 1,000 merchants are expected to take part and guarantee free shipping by Christmas Eve.

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