How can I get a letter there fast?
February 3, 2008 1:00 PM   Subscribe

I sometimes want something I send to reach the recipient as quickly as possible, but I don't care to pay for priority service. How can I find out what the quickest local US mail dropoff would be?

I'd like some things I mail to arrive ASAP, such as NetFlix DVDs or expense reports where I'm due reimbursement. Common sense suggests sending these directly from the USPS early in the morning, but the drive up mailboxes outside the branches near me just list an afternoon pickup time. I suspect each branch then has some additional delay before that mail gets to the processing station.

Certain businesses (payroll outsourcing, banks, etc.) make a point of knowing how to get things to arrive in the most expedient way. How can I do the same? Is there a master list of pickup times or mail planning app on the Web somewhere?
posted by tomwheeler to Work & Money (5 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I suspect each branch then has some additional delay before that mail gets to the processing station.

Certain businesses (payroll outsourcing, banks, etc.) make a point of knowing how to get things to arrive in the most expedient way. How can I do the same?

You bring it to the processing station yourself.
posted by winston at 1:28 PM on February 3, 2008

My only experience is with this sort of thing is in Canada, so, while I imagine that the USPS operates in a similar way to Canada Post, take this all with a grain of salt:

Mail is collected throughout the day from boxes, post offices, large offices, etc. Most of the sorting of mail takes place in a sorting centres that use very large and very fast machines to read, code, and sort the mail. Once a reasonable volume of mail has arrived at the sorting centre, they fire up the sorting machine and sort the mail down to the desired level of specificity for the destination area (that might be the individual letter carrier, the local post office, or a whole country). They keep going until all the mail for that day has been sorted. Early the next morning (or less commonly, that same night), they load the mail onto trucks and send it off across the country, to the airport, or wherever.

Consequently, I don't think it makes much difference at what time you drop off the mail as long as it is before the truck comes by for the day. Sending it from the post office isn't likely to help much, because the truck probably only comes by once a day to pick up the mail in any case and even if it does come by more often, the mail probably isn't going to go anywhere until the whole day's mail has been sorted. If you don't live in or near an large urban centre, your mail might take an extra day just to get to the sorting centre.

Large businesses generally get their mail delivered quickly by a) being near the big, central sorting centres and dropping their mail off there directly or having it picked up, b) pre-coding and pre-sorting their mail so that it doesn't have to be sorted as much.

If you ever get a chance to tour a mail sorting facility, I highly recommend it.
posted by ssg at 1:46 PM on February 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Two important things to consider about expediting through USPS. Every mailbox has a notice on the bottom stating where you can bring your mail for an earlier pickup. If you are in a large city this should be helpful.

Secondly, earlier pick-up or not, once the mail goes through the slot you lose all control of when it will be delivered. I've found I have some control over this by actually handing the mail to a clerk inside the post office. Remember that standard first class mail makes no delivery claim other than "as soon as possible". They do however say the following:

First Class Mail receives expeditious handling and transportation in an effort to achieve the following service objectives: overnight delivery between the point of mailing and the locally designated cities and sectional centers, second day delivery for locally designated states, third day delivery for the remainder of the USA. The USPS does not guarantee the delivery of First Class Mail. However, First Class Mail deposited before 5:00 PM at sectional centers and destined for a local metropolitan delivery area is often delivered overnight.
posted by Xurando at 1:47 PM on February 3, 2008

Seconding taking your mail to the processing center (which may be a totally separate facility from the main post office). Or if you live near a major airport, see if there's a post office at the airport.

Or just keep looking for a branch post office or mailbox that lists more than one pickup a day. I once* found a mailbox with several pickups each day, and if I dropped a letter there on the way to work, it arrived four states away the next day! Every time. (Apparently the processing center was taking mail to the airport during the day, rather than waiting to send everything in the evening.) Of course, YMMV.

*25 years ago
posted by exphysicist345 at 2:08 PM on February 3, 2008

Go into the local post office and ask someone when they send mail on. More accurate than trying to guess by looking at the box times outside.
posted by smackfu at 2:48 PM on February 3, 2008

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