How late for an express mail delivery

Package arrives too late: delivery date not met

In this guide we look into the question of whether a customer can claim compensation for a delayed parcel. However, the advice is not a substitute for professional legal advice and is published by the Paketda editorial team without any guarantee.


Late deliveries are always annoying. Christmas presents or birthday presents that are delivered too late are a classic. Bridal wear, party decorations or a delicious cake are also of no use to the recipient if they are only delivered after the event. In the Paketda forum, customers also regularly report to us about late deliveries of spare parts, without which car repairs cannot take place. Special cases are also (express) letters with important documents such as visas, ID cards or passports.


Table of Contents

  1. When is a package considered delayed at all?
  2. Registered or late mail
  3. The parcel service did not meet the expected delivery date
  4. Who can complain about the delayed delivery: sender or recipient?
  5. Did the sender promise delivery on the specified date?
  6. Fixed delivery date not met: what now?
  7. Approximate delivery date not met: put seller in default
  8. Differences between standard parcels and express parcels
  9. Compensation if an express package arrives late
    1. Liability in the event of a delay by DHL Express
    2. Liability in the event of a delay in DPD express parcels
    3. Liability in the event of a delay in UPS Express parcels
    4. Liability for delays in GLS Express parcels
    5. Liability for delayed Hermes parcels

When is a package considered delayed at all?

Common sense would suggest that a package should reach the recipient within a few days. In the vast majority of cases it works. But sometimes not. Some customers then immediately fear the misappropriation of their property. But it's not that easy to argue.

The parcel services secure themselves in their general terms and conditions (GTC): they do not guarantee specific delivery times. At least not for standard parcels, which usually cost between 5 and 15 euros for shipping. It can only look different with expensive express parcels (see this section below).

By the way: so-called DHL priority parcels, which major customers such as Zalando or Amazon (Prime) send, are standard parcels and not real express parcels. The parcel service guarantees preferential treatment - but no specific delivery time. Therefore, no compensation can be claimed from the parcel service for delayed priority parcels or Amazon Prime parcels. As a customer concerned, it is best to complain directly to the seller. Rumor has it that Amazon grants a free month of Prime for delayed Prime packages.

► If a standard package does not arrive at the recipient within 3 days, no claim for damages can be derived from it. Not even if you are one week late.

The Paketda editorial team is even aware of a case in which a package was lost for several months and the parcel service had already paid compensation for the loss. However, the package reappeared, was delivered and the parcel service demanded the compensation for the damage because the transport service was provided by the parcel service. After a number of months, it was done.

Basically, a standard parcel can never be late from the point of view of the parcel services. Precisely because no specific delivery date has been promised. However, parcel services assume that a parcel will remain lost if it has not reached the recipient approx. 20-30 days after dispatch. If so, read our lost package guide.

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Registered or late mail

Registered mail is no faster than normal mail, and registered mail is not preferred. The differences between a registered mail and a standard letter are the proof of delivery and a low level of insurance cover against loss (registered mail max. 20 euros, normal registered mail max. 25 euros).

Deutsche Post only has to pay compensation for registered mail in the event of loss. If a registered mail is delivered late, Swiss Post does not have to pay any compensation. Because Deutsche Post does not guarantee a specific delivery time for registered mail (and for standard letters). From this it follows in the logic of the Post that a registered mail cannot be delayed at all - because no delivery date has been guaranteed.

And when is a letter / registered mail considered lost? Quotation from the terms and conditions of Deutsche Post, point 6.4, status 1.2.2017: "A shipment is considered lost if it has not been delivered to the recipient within 20 days of posting and its whereabouts cannot be determined."

► The Paketda editorial team recommends: If a domestic registered letter has not reached the recipient after 1 week, send an inquiry to the post office. If you are registered to a foreign country near you, you should wait 2 weeks. 3 weeks for registered mail overseas.

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The parcel service did not meet the expected delivery date

Many parcel services such as DHL, DPD or Hermes show in the shipment tracking when a package is expected to be delivered. GLS and UPS also offer this service by sending shipment notifications by email. This is to make it easier for the parcel recipients to schedule the acceptance of the parcel or to redirect a parcel.

From a legal point of view, the package announcements are non-binding forecasts. As a customer, you cannot nail down the parcel service's adherence to the forecast delivery time. Parcel delivery is influenced by many factors, such as the volume of parcels, the road conditions or defective trucks / delivery vehicles. The sudden illness of a delivery driver can also throw any prognosis upside down.

► As a customer, you cannot sue a parcel service if the expected delivery date is not met. These are non-binding computer forecasts based on average experience.

The fact that the computer forecasts are not intelligent can also be seen from the fact that, for example, DHL announces an expected parcel delivery until late in the evening, even though the parcel was not even loaded into the delivery vehicle on the day in question and the deliverer has long since finished work.

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Who can complain about the delayed delivery: sender or recipient?

Recipients have no contractual relationship with the parcel service and therefore bad cards to complain about a delayed parcel to the parcel service. In extreme cases, where parcels arrive weeks late, the recipient may receive a free parcel stamp as a goodwill gesture. Hardly more is possible.

But there is also consumer law, which applies to mail order or online orders. So when a private person buys from a company.

► Online shops are obliged to inform their customers of the expected delivery time. And online shops are liable for the fault of the parcel services they hire. If, for example, a new smartphone is advertised as "deliverable in 2-3 working days", but the package gets stuck with DHL, then the retailer cannot pass the blame on to DHL. The dealer is responsible for ensuring that the goods reach the customer within the promised delivery time.

If you as the recipient are affected by a delayed online order, complain about the delay to the retailer. The dealer should in turn contact the parcel service and clarify the whereabouts of the package. As a customer, you don't have to chase after your package yourself.

If the retailer does not manage to deliver the package within a reasonable waiting time of e.g. 1 week, ask him for a replacement delivery. Perhaps the dealer will get involved and send a new delivery of goods to you.

As a customer, you have a 14-day right of withdrawal. This only begins when the goods are received. Of course, you can also exercise your revocation before receiving the goods. If you are tired of waiting for a late package, explain to the merchant (sender) that you want to cancel the purchase. You will then receive the purchase price back.

Here is a sample letter of a declaration of cancellation

If the package arrives at you at some point, you must either refuse to accept it or send it back to the dealer manually.

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Did the sender promise delivery on the specified date?

Deliveries are always agreed on a so-called fixed date if the goods are required for a certain event (date) and a delayed delivery would be pointless. A well-known example of fixed-date deliveries are e.g. wedding dresses. If a wedding dress was only delivered after the wedding, the bride would no longer have any use for it. Fixed dates must be adhered to by the supplier in order not to be liable for damages. However, fixed dates only apply if they have been expressly agreed, for example if the delivery date is noted in the sales contract with the addition "fixed" or "binding arrival".

According to the law, a calendar-based delivery date must have been agreed (cf. § 286 BGB). Example 1: June 25, 2017 is such a clear date. Example 2: The 17th calendar week 2017 can also be determined in terms of calendar. The delivery period would expire on the last day of the 17th calendar week.

A delivery date cannot be determined in terms of the calendar if the sender writes, for example: "The goods will leave our warehouse in 2-3 days". Because it is uncertain how long the transport from the warehouse to the customer will take.

What about delivery agreements over the phone? If, for example, furniture or household appliances are delivered by a forwarding agent, the recipient usually receives a call from the forwarding agent 1-2 days in advance. However, the delivery date announced by telephone (e.g. "the day after tomorrow 12pm - 6pm") is not a fixed date. This is what is known as a forwarding agent's advice note.

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Fixed delivery date not met: what now?

If you as a customer have been given an exact delivery date by the seller, which has been assured with the addition of "fixed" or "binding" or something similar, you have the following options if the delivery date is not met:

• You declare your withdrawal from the sales contract. In this case, the seller no longer needs to deliver the goods. And you as a customer do not need to pay (or get your money back if you pay in advance). The legal basis is § 323 BGB. As a customer, you can also claim damages against the seller (see § 325 BGB).

Compensation can be, for example, additional costs that you as a customer incur because you have to buy the goods elsewhere. But be careful: such claims are difficult to enforce. And as a customer, you have a so-called damage mitigation obligation. For example, if a German seller delivers a couch too late, you are not allowed to buy this couch overseas as a replacement because it would be disproportionately expensive there due to the delivery fees. Before you claim damages, it is best to speak to a lawyer to assess the chances of success and the appropriateness of the damages.

• You continue to insist on the fulfillment of the purchase contract, ie on the delivery of the goods. And you are demanding compensation for late delivery. This possibility arises from § 280 paragraph 2 BGB. The amount of the compensation is difficult to measure and depends on the individual case. For example, if a lawnmower was delivered to you late and you therefore had to borrow a lawnmower, you could claim the rental fee from the seller as compensation. If, on the other hand, you had to sit on the old sofa for a few weeks because of a late delivery of new furniture, this is not a financially measurable damage and cannot be claimed as compensation.

Attention: As a customer, you must not be responsible for the delay in delivery. If a package was stored in a parcel shop, for example, because you did not accept it at home on the promised delivery date, then the seller is not to blame. Liability in the event of force majeure is also excluded, e.g. if heavy snowfall delayed road transport.

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Approximate delivery date not met: put seller in default

If the seller has not guaranteed a fixed delivery date, but has only given a rough or estimated delivery time (e.g. "mid-May"), the customer must first set the seller in default. This arises from Section 286 of the German Civil Code (BGB). It is only possible to give notice of default when the rough delivery date has passed. In the example of mid-May, the 15.05

In the dunning letter, the customer must request the seller to deliver the goods by day X. The period up to day X must be reasonably long. If, for example, it was a matter of buying furniture and the furniture had a delivery time of 8 weeks anyway, a grace period of 2 weeks seems appropriate. If, on the other hand, it is an everyday item that can be delivered quickly, such as a game console, then a grace period of 1 week is sufficient.

► It is best to notify the seller of default in writing by registered mail. You need proof if the seller allows the grace period to pass without delivery.

If no goods are delivered within the grace period set by you and the seller has no excuse for this (e.g. force majeure), you can withdraw from the purchase contract and / or demand compensation for late delivery. These possibilities are explained in the previous section.

Tip: Use our sample letters to put dealers in default and, if necessary, to claim compensation.
Sample letters for delayed delivery

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Differences between standard parcels and express parcels

While there can be no delay with standard parcels due to the parcel service's general terms and conditions, the situation is different with express parcels. Express parcels are usually delivered from one day to the next within Germany. The prerequisite is that the parcel has been delivered to the post office or a parcel shop in good time.

For express parcels, earlier delivery times apply than for standard parcels. It is safest to post them in the morning so that they can be transported on the same day. You can usually find out the exact delivery deadlines in the parcel shop search of DHL, UPS & Co. If there is no acceptance deadline for express parcels, express parcels may not be accepted at the location! If necessary, inquire with the parcel shop employee on site.

If the sender has kept the delivery deadline, the parcel service must also keep the promised delivery time. As a rule, express parcels within Germany arrive at the recipient the next day. It may take longer for international parcels. That depends on the chosen shipping tariff. The faster, the more expensive.

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Compensation if an express package arrives late

If an express parcel is delivered late, the parcel service is usually liable for the delay. A look at the terms and conditions is necessary in order to know the amount of liability. There may be exceptions for certain delivery areas (e.g. no express deliveries to islands).

Paketda has taken a close look at the terms and conditions as of 6/2016, but without guarantee. Please make sure by taking a look at the current terms and conditions of your parcel service


Liability in the event of a delay by DHL Express

At DHL there are several documents that should be used to answer the question of liability in the event of delayed parcels. The DHL terms and conditions and additional regulations for the "money-back guarantee" apply. The latter takes effect if DHL Express delivers the package later than instructed by the customer.

► Attention, the DHL Express money-back guarantee is limited to the reimbursement of the surcharge for a so-called time option. This means a guaranteed delivery, e.g. before 12 noon. Such a time option can only be requested by the sender of the package from DHL Express. If the time option is not adhered to, the sender gets the surcharge back.

Fictitious example: A DHL Express package with delivery on the next working day before 12 noon costs 40 euros postage. A "normal" DHL Express package with delivery by the end of the next working day costs 30 euros. The difference is 10 euros. DHL Express would reimburse this surcharge for delivery before 12 noon if the deadline is not met.

If you make use of the money-back guarantee, DHL Express pays the money back without the customer having to prove any damage. The situation is different if one claims compensation on the basis of Section 6.3. the DHL terms and conditions require: Then the financial damage must be proven.

Section 6.3. the DHL terms and conditions regulate the payment of damages without making use of the money-back guarantee. There it says that for parcels with a promised delivery time "DHL's liability for exceeding this delivery time or for deviations from this date is limited to three times the amount of the freight (three times the fee)".The sender can therefore choose whether to demand higher damages from DHL by submitting receipts, or whether to forego submitting receipts and accept the standardized amount of the money-back guarantee.

How can you prove a delay damage to DHL? Example: If a package was delivered late by DHL Express, and therefore an expensive taxi or direct courier had to be sent with a replacement delivery, then these additional costs are damage caused by the delay. DHL Express can be held liable for this up to three times the postage (as of 9/2019).

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Liability in the event of a delay in DPD express parcels

At DPD, the standard terms and conditions apply in conjunction with the "Express Service" conditions of carriage. An important requirement for DPD Express parcels is their marking with a special red and white striped adhesive tape. DPD makes this available to the sender. The DPD employees recognize express parcels by the striped adhesive tape and treat them preferentially.

In the case of late express parcels within Germany, DPD is liable for "financial loss caused by this" up to a maximum of three times the amount of the postage paid. In the case of international express parcels, only the postage will be refunded and no additional compensation (liability with the simple amount).

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Liability in the event of a delay in UPS Express parcels

Just like DHL Express, UPS also offers a money-back guarantee for appointment packages. There it says: "If UPS does not deliver your shipment by the specified time, we will reimburse or credit you the shipping costs upon request ..., in each case net without value added tax, taxes, duties or fees".

The relevant requirements are specified on this website. It is important that the complaint reaches UPS within 15 days of the originally scheduled delivery date. UPS does not reimburse postage if, for example, it is bulky goods or if the delay is due to force majeure.

Item 7 of the UPS Terms and Conditions states that UPS generally does not agree or confirm any delivery times. The money-back guarantee is also not to be understood as such. When the going gets tough, UPS can invoke this clause and defend itself against claims for damages from its customers.

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Liability for delays in GLS Express parcels

GLS advertises with a so-called "standard delivery time" of 24 hours within Germany. This can even be found in point 2.5 of the GLS GTC. In the following sentence, however, it says restrictively: "Compliance with the standard running time is neither assured nor guaranteed."

Private customers do not have the option of sending express parcels with GLS. This is reserved for commercial customers; So e.g. mail order companies who regularly send with GLS. Express parcels are called "Guaranteed24Service" at GLS and their handling is regulated in point 6 of the General Terms and Conditions.

If a GLS express parcel arrives at the recipient's location more than 15 minutes late, GLS pays the sender back the express surcharge. Restrictions: The sales tax is not refunded and the amount of the refund is "dependent on the extent to which the delivery period is exceeded". From this one can probably deduce that the shorter the delay, the less money is reimbursed. This clause gives GLS a great deal of leeway in assessing the compensation. In the opinion of the Paketda editorial team, GLS has the most customer-unfriendly regulation for late express parcels in comparison with DHL, UPS and DPD.

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Liability for delayed Hermes parcels

Hermes does not offer express deliveries. Point 2.3 of the Hermes Terms and Conditions literally states: "2.3 Hermes does not carry out any forwarding. Compliance with a specific delivery period is not owed." In this respect, no compensation for delayed parcels can be enforced.

According to point 6.6 of the General Terms and Conditions, Hermes assumes that a parcel within Germany is considered lost if it has not reached the recipient within 20 days of being sent. In this case, the sender can claim loss of damage from Hermes (see parcel research guide).

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