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How to Plan for Slower, More Expensive Mail Service This Holiday Season

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If it feels like your mail has been slower to arrive this month, it’s not your imagination (nor is it your mail carrier being lazy). The U.S. Postal Service has been delivering First-Class Mail more slowly since new service standards were enacted on Oct. 1; and at the same time, it’s raising prices for sending packages, just in time for the holidays. Below is a breakdown of cost and speed (or a lack thereof) to help you more realistically plan to send and receive your holiday mail.

Your mail will almost definitely take longer to arrive

Part of a 10-year postal service reorganization plan designed to stop the agency from hemorrhaging money, the Postal Service’s new scheme is expected slow target delivery times by about 30%. While everyone’s mail is likely to be somewhat slower, states west of the Rockies, and the lower 48’s “mainland extremities,” will generally have longer delays, sometimes up to a day on average. For instance, 70% of first-class mail sent to Nevada will take longer to arrive.

In general, the mail you could have previously expected to arrive in three days can now be expected take three, four, or five days, depending on how far it has to travel.

Previously, the Postal Service expected domestic mail traveling less than 280 miles to be delivered in two days, and mail going further to be delivered in three. The new system breaks things down into five tiers: If your letter is traveling 139 miles, it’s supposed to arrive in two days. If it’s traveling 930 miles or less, three days. Longer-distance mail will be delivered on the fourth or fifth day.

This tool from the Washington Post breaks the entire process down by Zip code to give you an idea of how much longer the post office predicts you’ll have to wait for your mail.

It’s going to cost more to send packages

In August, the Postal Service raised the price of a standard stamp from 55 cents to 58 cents, and it’s also jacking up the cost of sending packages—but only for the holidays. Between Oct. 3 and Dec. 25, shipping parcels will be from 25 cents to $5 more expensive, depending on the service you use to send them and how far they travel.

You can get a specific number for the cost of shipping your package with the post office’s pricing calculator, but in general, the new rate increases break down like this:

  • Priority Mail (PM) and Priority Mail Express (PME) flat rate boxes and envelopes: 75 cents
  • Zones 1-4, 0-10 lbs.: 25 cents
  • Zones 5-9, 0-10 lbs.: 75 cents
  • Zones 1-4, 11-20 lbs.: $1.50
  • Zones 5-9, 11-20lbs.: $3.00
  • Zones 1-4, 21-70 lbs.: $2.50
  • Zones 5-9, 21-70 lbs.: $5.00
  • First-Class Package Service: 30 cents

There may be an upside to slower mail delivery

Adding three days onto expected wait times for mail might seem like a huge change, but given the Postal Service’s success rate at hitting their current targets, it’s partly just realism. Under the previous plan, predicting when a longer-distance piece of mail might arrive was all but impossible: According to a report presented to congress by Postal Service, in 2020, only 58% of letters expected to take three days actually hit their mark.

If the postal service’s new standards allow the agency to achieve the predicted times, at least consumers and business will be able to better plan for the arrival of mail.

“This allows, from our perspective, for the customers to plan, to have predictability,” Robert Cintron, the Postal Service’s vice president of logistics, told the Washington Post. “They’re going to know what they’re going to get. There’s that one to two days for the longest [delivery] distances that we have to achieve, and we have to achieve those today. Whether we’re traversing 300 or 3,000 miles, it’s the same service standard. And that’s really the part that we see that’s not sustainable.”

That all sounds reasonable, but whether the Postal Service will be able to actually deliver the mail on its new, slower schedule remains to be seen.

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