Why USPS Priority Mail Matters [Updated with 2018 Rates]

If you’re re-evaluating your e-commerce shipping strategy and want to find a solution that combines speed and affordability, then you should take a look at USPS Priority Mail®. Featuring delivery to most domestic locations in 1-3 days, Priority Mail is a fast, affordable service that includes free USPS Tracking®, free Package Pickup and USPS insurance with most shipments. The Postal Service also offers a variety of free supplies for Priority Mail shipments, which can save businesses even more money.

There are several Priority Mail options available:

  • Priority Mail (zone/weight pricing)
  • Priority Mail Flat Rate®
  • Priority Mail Regional Rate®
  • Priority Mail Express
  • Priority Mail International
  • Priority Mail Express International

Priority Mail versus private carriers

All of the above-mentioned services can easily compete with the private carriers in terms of speed and delivery, and also come without the surcharges private carriers tend tack on for residential delivery and fuel, as well as minimum net charges. FedEx and UPS also use dimensional weight pricing, which can make shipping through USPS even more cost effective. Here are a few examples of how you’ll save when shipping via USPS Priority Mail (zone/weight pricing) versus the private carriers (click on images to enlarge) :

Chart comparing USPS Priority Mail rates against UPS and FedEx Ground rates

Chart comparing USPS Priority Mail with UPS and FedEx 3 Day Service

Let’s take a deeper look at the particulars of each of these Priority Mail categories, starting with the domestic options, which offer:

  • Delivery to most domestic locations in 1-3 business days
  • $50 of free USPS insurance coverage with most shipments
  • Free USPS Tracking and Package Pickup
  • Saturday delivery and, in some cases, even Sunday delivery, without the additional weekend delivery surcharges tacked on by private carriers

Priority Mail (zone/weight pricing)

USPS Priority Mail is priced by weight and zone, with the exception of Priority Mail Flat Rate and Regional Rate packaging. With this option, the price is based on the weight of the package and the distance it will travel—the heavier a package is and the greater the distance between sender and recipient, the higher the cost will be.

The distance is not measured in miles, but in “zones” that are determined by the USPS. Zones start with “Zone 1,” which is closest to you, and increase from there based on distance from your starting point. The farther away you ship your package, the more zones it must cross and the higher the delivery cost. You’ll save the most when shipping lightweight items, and especially if shipping shorter distances—a 1 pound shipment will cost $6.55 going to Zone 1, but costs $7.76 going to Zone 8.

Need help visualizing USPS Zones based on your location? This map can help.

While you’re allowed to ship using your own packaging for Zone-based Priority Mail, the USPS does offer some free packaging options for these types of shipments (look for USPS boxes without the words “Flat Rate” or “Regional Rate”—this shoe box is one example).

Priority Mail Flat Rate

The USPS Priority Mail Flat Rate service offers a pre-priced shipping cost based on the box or envelope size, not the weight or distance. This eliminates the need to weigh packages or calculate shipping fees—you can ship a package weighing up to 70 pounds anywhere in the U.S. for a flat rate, as long as the item fits in the appropriate USPS packaging.

The USPS has several sizes of flat rate boxes and envelopes with a range of affordable prices (click on image to enlarge):

Chart showing Priority Mail Flat Rate packaging options and pricing

You must use Priority Mail Flat Rate packaging in order to pay Flat Rate pricing. In other words, you can’t use your own packaging when using Priority Mail Flat Rate.

Priority Mail Flat Rate is best for businesses selling heavy items going long distances, and also for when you want to include multiple items in a single shipment. Here’s an example of what it costs to ship a 10-pound package across 8 zones using a Priority Mail Medium Flat Rate Box (side loading) versus private carrier options. With Priority Mail Flat Rate, you stand to save more than $5 versus ground service and as much as $42.16 versus 3-day services! Please note that while the dimensional weight is lower than the actual weight for the package in this example, this doesn’t save you any money, as FedEx and UPS charge the rate for the higher weight, whether actual or dimensional. Click on image to enlarge:

USPS Priority Mail Flat Rate versus UPS and FedEx Ground and 3-Day Services

Priority Mail Regional Rate

Where Priority Mail Flat Rate pricing is based solely on what packaging you use to ship, Priority Mail Regional Rate pricing is based on both your box size and its destination. Regional Rate boxes come in two types. Boxes A and B both have two unique configurations (each offer a top-loading and side-loading option), so shippers can select the size and shape that best suits their needs. The boxes do have weight limits, but they’re generous and tend to satisfy most shippers—the Box A weight limit is 15 pounds and the Box B limit is 20 pounds. Click on image to enlarge:

Priority Mail Regional Rate packaging options and dimensions

As with Priority Mail Flat Rate, the same packaging rule applies here—you must use Priority Mail Regional Rate packaging in order to pay Regional Rate pricing, and cannot use your own packaging.

Because pricing is determined by both box size and destination, this option is best for businesses shipping small, dense packages traveling shorter distances. Here are current rates, listed by box type and zone (click on image to enlarge):

Priority Mail Regional Rate 2018 PricingCubic pricing

If your e-commerce business ships more than 50,000 small, heavy packages a year (think paperweights or hardcover books), you’ll want to take a look at USPS Cubic Pricing via Priority Mail for additional savings. This option is available through Commercial Plus Pricing (CPP) — the discounted rates offered to electronic postage users that ship high volumes. Want to know how to determine if you’re eligible? Priority Mail packages must weigh less than 20 pounds and measure a maximum of 0.5 cubic feet. Determine cubic pricing for a package with the following calculation:

Length x Width x Height /1,728 = cubic feet.

Be sure to round package measurements down to the nearest ¼ (or 0.25) inch—for example, 6.375” (6 3/8”) rounds down to 6.25” (6 ¼”).

If your cubic feet value is less than 0.50, your package is eligible for one of the five cubic tier rates. Learn more.

Priority Mail Express

Priority Mail Express is the fastest domestic mail service offered by USPS, providing regular and overnight delivery to most U.S. addresses. Priority Mail Express includes free tracking and up to $100 of free USPS insurance coverage.

As with Priority Mail, Priority Mail Express users can leverage regular zone-based pricing, as well as flat rate envelopes. The Postal Service also offers a variety of free packaging for Priority Mail Express shipments, which can save businesses even more money.

Here are a couple examples of how you’ll save when shipping via USPS Priority Mail Express versus 2-day services offered by the private carriers (click on image to enlarge):

Chart comparing USPS Priority Mail Express with UPS and FedEx 2-Day Service

International options

Seeking the speed and affordability of Priority Mail for your international shipments? Take a look at Priority Mail International and Priority Mail Express International.

Priority Mail International

Priority Mail International is a reliable and affordable way to ship non-time sensitive packages up to 70 pounds to more than 180 countries. The delivery standard for this mail class is 6-10 business days to most locations. Priority Mail International includes:

  • Up to $100 insurance for non-negotiable document reconstruction and up to $200 insurance for merchandise for loss or damage (both subject to individual country restrictions).
  • USPS Tracking (limitations may apply for certain destinations, and tracking is not available for Priority Mail International Flat Rate Envelopes or Small Flat Rate Boxes)
  • Free Package Pickup

Priority Mail International offers pricing based on destination country and weight (maximum weight of 70 pounds), as well as flat rate boxes and envelopes with which you pay one rate based on the destination country, as long as your shipment fits in the USPS packaging and doesn’t exceed weight restrictions (4 pounds for flat rate envelopes and small flat rate boxes, and 20 pounds for medium and large flat rate boxes). Here’s a snapshot of current rates (click on image to enlarge):

Priority Mail International 2018 Commercial Base Pricing

Priority Mail Express International

Priority Mail Express International offers shippers economical expedited international delivery to most countries, in addition to date-specific, money-back guaranteed service to select major market countries such as China and Great Britain. The delivery standard for this mail class is 3-5 business days. Priority Mail Express International includes:

  • up to $100 insurance for non-negotiable document reconstruction and up to $200 insurance for merchandise loss, damage, or missing contents (both subject to individual country restrictions)
  • USPS Tracking (limitations may apply for certain destinations)
  • Free Package Pickup

Priority Mail Express International offers pricing based on destination weight and weight (maximum weight of 70 pounds), as well as flat rate envelopes with which you pay one rate based on the destination country, as long as your shipment fits in the USPS packaging and doesn’t exceed weight restrictions (4 pounds maximum). Here’s a snapshot of current rates (click on image to enlarge):

Priority Mail Express International 2018 Rates Commercial Base Pricing

International options: time versus money

If you need to ship something outside of the U.S., choosing the right Priority Mail product boils down to cost and time. Priority Mail International is a better option when cost is more of an issue than time, with delivery in 6-10 business days. If you have a more urgent shipment that needs to arrive within 3-5 business days, you’ll want to pay more for Priority Mail Express International, which is especially useful if the destination qualifies for date-specific delivery with a money-back guarantee. For example, it costs $23.70 to send a Priority Mail International Flat Rate Envelope to Canada (with commercial base pricing) but $40.85 to send a Priority Mail Express International Flat Rate Envelope. You could save $17.15 per envelope by choosing Priority Mail International instead of Priority Mail Express International.

Choosing the right Priority Mail option for your business

When shipping within the U.S., you’ll want to evaluate urgency of delivery, package weight and size, and shipping distance in order to pick the best Priority Mail option:

  • Priority Mail (zone/weight pricing): for shipping lightweight packages
  • Priority Mail Flat Rate: for shipping heavier packages long distances
  • Priority Mail Regional Rate: for shipping heavier packages short distances
  • Priority Mail Express: for fastest domestic delivery

For instance, if you’re in Dallas and want to ship a 1 lb. package to Houston, your best bet would be to ship using Priority Mail zone/weight pricing. Shipping the same package using Priority Mail Express would cost you $15.94 more, so only use this service if it’s urgent. Click on image to enlarge:

Priority Mail comparison chart for 1 lb package travelling 3 zones

If your shipment is heavier and is travelling a longer distance, you’ll get the best rate using Priority Mail Flat Rate. Here’s how it breaks down for a 4 lb. package travelling across eight zones, from Seattle to Atlanta (click on image to enlarge):

Priority Mail comparison chart for a 4 lb package travelling 8 zones

Download our “Understanding your Priority Mail Options” brochure to view current pricing and cost comparison between Priority Mail service categories.

Rate information

How we generated the information for this blog post:

  • FedEx: 2018 FedEx Standard List Rates with 20 percent discount applied; FedEx published fuel and residential surcharges for January 1, 2018
  • 2018 UPS Daily List Rates with 20 percent discount applied; UPS published fuel and residential surcharges for January 1, 2018
  • 2018 USPS Commercial Base Pricing Tables

About Endicia
Endicia is a leading provider of internet-based postage services that make it easier and more affordable to ship parcels through the U.S. Postal Service®. We know that shipping can be complex and our goal is to simplify your shipping operations so you can focus on doing what you do best. Visit us at endicia.com  to learn more.

Contact Us

278 Castro Street
Mountain View, CA 94041-1204

Phone

650-321-2640
800-576-3279

Fax

650-321-0356

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.