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Shipping with USPS Priority Mail

Updated on January 18, 2011

Priority Mail is an expedited shipping service offered by the United States Postal Service. Whether you’re shipping homemade cookies cross country, mailing a belated gift to your great-niece, or rushing a job application, whatever the situation may be Priority Mail is an option to consider. This hub focuses on general information I’ve gathered from utilizing Priority Mail multiple times and information available on the Internet. For further questions or information, please visit

Even if you’re new to Priority Mail, chances are you’d encounter an advertisement for it while flipping TV channels, browsing through a popular magazine or having a product shipped to you in Priority Mail packaging. Just as other shipping carriers such as UPS or FedEx promote their services, the USPS does the same for its signature Priority Mail services, primarily its ‘flat rate’ products.

How does it work?
Priority Mail provides delivery to any US-based address (domestic and APO/FPO) within 2-3 business days, with 2 days being typical. When shipping something relatively local (eg. an item sent from San Francisco, CA to Sacramento, CA) it has been my experience that it may even be delivered the very next day. Priority Mail services offer flat rate boxes and envelopes, and ‘Zone-based’ pricing to meet specific needs.

Flat Rate
Flat rate products ship for one flat rate as long as the item(s) reasonably fits into the provided packaging and does not exceed 70 lbs. Pricing varies and is determined by specific dimensions of the packaging. It starts off with the flat-rate envelope (per, currently priced at $4.90), the small flat-rate box ($4.95), the medium flat rate box (2 different sizes are provided at $10.70) , and the large flat rate box ($14.50 for domestic addresses and $12.50 for APO/FPO addresses).

Considering postal services are based on weight and distance, flat rate shipping is optimal for quick delivery and/or heavier items. For those seeking expedited shipping but would rather forgo flat rate shipping, the USPS provides the option of Zone-based pricing.


Zone-based pricing still uses Priority Mail packaging (without flat rate labeling) but unlike flat rate services, is weighed and like its name states, is based on Zones, or a system the USPS uses to determine the distance mail travels from its starting point to its final destination. Zones are listed in the Postal Zones Chart and are based on the first three-digits of zipcodes.

Because this shipping system takes all weight into consideration, it’s important to note that in some cases, it is more cost-effective to use flat-rate shipping for an item. For example, depending on where the item is going, if it weighs more than 2 lbs, flat rate shipping may be the better pricing option. Conversely, the same may be true for flat rate shipping when compared to its counterpart; Zone based pricing may be the better value in the end depending again upon weight and distance.

Priority Mail packaging is free and can easily be obtained from a local postal office location (for locations click here) or by ordering free materials# online at Likewise, shipping can be purchased at a postal office or online where shipping labels can be printed at home and discounts of up to 14% off the cost of shipping are offered.

When shipping items through Priority Mail, services such as delivery confirmation (also commonly referred to as “tracking”), signature confirmation and insurance are available but incur additional costs. However, the USPS does offer free pick-up for your Priority Mail items that are ready to go when your routine mail carrier comes by to deliver your daily mail.

Other Information
Information regarding ‘commercial base pricing’ for those in that category is described online here. For further information, other details and Priority Mail stipulations, please refer again to the this chart for starters.

In Summary
Priority Mail offers consumers (and businesses) expedited mail services that are time-sensitive and generally affordable. Whether one chooses flat rate or Zone-based shipping, there are options that can be tailored to individual needs. My closing recommendation: if you have any questions or need clarification about shipping, don’t hesitate to contact your local postal office or consult customer service via the USPS site for some answers. Good luck!


Media credits: Thank you to aprilzosia for priority mail envelopes photo (top), Aranami for USPS mailing materials photo, and video by ExplainedBy (bottom). 


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