Help me understand USPS rates
March 24, 2015 9:10 AM   Subscribe

Are the USPS rates quoted online the same as the ones you get at the postal counter?

When I go to the postal counter the guy behind the desk doesn't give me the option for first class mail when I send packages. He just automatically rings me up for priority mail. Is that because it's the only option? I seem to recall being given a choice as to how to send things, but I don't get one with this guy. I had a box that was just over 5 lbs that was being mailed from nyc to upstate ny and I was charged almost $10 for Priority mail. The contents were unimportant so I would've liked to have spent less money, but he just rung me up for Priority mail.
posted by rancher to Work & Money (14 answers total)
Here's a comparison of shipping options from USPS. Sounds like your package was too big to be eligible for the first class rate.
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:20 AM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

"First-Class Mail parcels may weigh up to 13 ounces. If over 13 ounces, the parcel will be rated as Priority Mail." This is what the information booklet of our in-office postage meter says--the site confirms that First Class mail "prices are based on size, shape, and weight up to 13 oz. If a mailpiece exceeds the maximum length, height, or thickness of one price, it will be charged at the next higher price or mailpiece category. Large envelopes (or flats) that exceed maximum dimensions or are rigid will be charged parcel prices."

I believe this is a recent (last few years) change to the pricing rules. Standard post and media post are alternatives to priority mail, but I believe standard post starts slightly higher (>$1) than priority for smaller packages. You can only mail standard post from the post office, whereas you can do priority online. I think your clerk should have asked if you wanted to send it standard post or priority but I'm not sure the cost would have been different.
posted by crush-onastick at 9:20 AM on March 24, 2015

For packages, the "first class mail" equivalent is Standard Post (formerly Parcel Post). It is not available online; you may have to request it specifically at the counter. Looking at the pricing chart, the Standard Post would have been more expensive and/or the same price, so they probably went with Priority Mail for your benefit.

If you sign up for USPS Click n Ship, you can print labels at home (you'll need to know the weight, or ship flat rate) and save anywhere from 5-25% off the in-store price.
posted by melissasaurus at 9:21 AM on March 24, 2015

It depends from clerk to clerk but I've noticed that local to me, some of them start with the priciest option, I have to tell them I want the cheaper service and even then I have to decline quite a bit of upsell. I've found it helps to memorize the various brand names the USPS uses because just saying "no, something cheaper" will make communication much more difficult.

For books, Media Mail is the way to go if time isn't of the essence. Priority Mail's flat rate boxes can be a good deal for price:speed but you must use the (free) USPS boxes, not your own packaging to qualify for that rate.
posted by jamaro at 9:24 AM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's also the individual clerk: at my post office, one clerk always asks which way you want to ship something, one asks sometimes, and two never ask (they just default to Priority, unless you specifically say otherwise). The two who never ask are also the ones who never try to up-sell, either --- "do you need stamps today?" The one who always asks which way you want to ship also always tries to upsell.
posted by easily confused at 9:25 AM on March 24, 2015

Response by poster: So truly, the cheapest way to send a lousy 5 lb box from NYC to upstate NY is $10? That seems like a lot to me for such a short distance. Especially since I wasn't in a hurry to send it.
posted by rancher at 9:32 AM on March 24, 2015

Probably, UPS ground (no hurry delivery) starts at $7.70 for five pounds (it's based on zones and tops out above $40). But if you can't get to a UPS depot, the stand alone stores have surcharges,
posted by crush-onastick at 9:40 AM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

One thing to remember is that our ideas of how much something "should" cost to ship is based on big e-commerce retailers' shipping prices. They get negotiated rates (bulk discounts) that are way better than what we pay retail.
posted by radioamy at 9:42 AM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

So truly, the cheapest way to send a lousy 5 lb box from NYC to upstate NY is $10?

Yes, unless it fits in a small flat rate box ($5ish) or you order the priority mail label online ($7ish). *Sometimes* FedEx ground or UPS can be cheaper than in-store USPS prices, but usually it's about the same or more expensive.

Source: I live in NYC and my family lives upstate.
posted by melissasaurus at 9:44 AM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

$5.09 had you sent it via Media Mail. (rate sheet)
posted by jamaro at 9:47 AM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

$5.09 had you sent it via Media Mail.

But it has to actually qualify for Media Mail (i.e., be books or a very limited list of educational material) -- you can't just send anything Media Mail.
posted by brainmouse at 10:05 AM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ask him if there is any cheaper way to ship it when he rings it up. Package rates (all three dimensions have to be 12 inches or less) can be lower than Large Package rates.
posted by soelo at 10:29 AM on March 24, 2015

Yes, talk to the person. "I'd like to send this as cheaply as possible; I don't care how long it takes; it contains X." That last bit about what it contains is important for Media Mail rates. Also those "if it fits it ships" boxes are usually a pretty cheap way to go.
posted by jeffamaphone at 10:35 AM on March 24, 2015

You can print USPS labels online through PayPal and get the online discount. Go to
posted by Knappster at 11:38 AM on March 24, 2015

« Older What was this story about a scientist contacting...   |   City for a long weekend getaway? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.