USPS First Class vs. Priority Mail – When to Use Each Service
When shipping with USPS, most shippers use First Class Mail or Priority Mail. Both servcies have their pros and cons, and the service you choose depend on many factors.
We know it can be confusing to determine which service is best for you, so here is our guide to learning which USPS service is best for you.
What is USPS First Class Mail?
Despite its name, First Class Mail isn’t USPS’s fast shipping service. First Class Mail is used to ship letters, thick envelopes, padded envelopes, and lightweight packages.
The USPS has different classes available for its mail. Additional classes include:
- Second Class Mail: periodicals, magazines, newspapers that are printed more than 4 times a year.
- Third Class Mail: Marketing mail, flyers, mailers, etc.
- Fourth Class Mail: Media Mail (CDs, vinyl records, DVDs, books, bound print media consisting of 8 or more pages.)
What is USPS Priority Mail?
Priority Mail is the USPS’s fastest shipping service. Think of it as being similar to Amazon Prime’s 2-day shipping, but with flat rates on packages up to 70 lbs. Because of the faster speed, it’s more expensive than First Class Mail.
Priority Mail is similar to services provided by UPS and FedEx. However, Priority Mail is typically cheaper than UPS or FedEx for packages weighing under 10 lbs.
Max Dimensions and Weight for USPS
First Class Mail is typically used for smaller, lighter packages — weighing under a pound — with items whose insured value isn’t very high. Items over a pound and/or items of higher value work better with Priority Mail.
|Restriction Type||First Class Mail Max Restrictions||Priority Mail Max Restrictions|
|USPS First Class Mail||USPS Priority Mail|
|Max Dimensions||108” in combined length and girth.||108” in combined length and girth|
|Max Weight||15.99 oz||70 lbs|
Default Insurance Coverage for USPS
A major benefit of Priority Mail is that it automatically includes insurance coverage if a parcel is lost or damaged in transit. First Class Mail has no default insurance coverage. However, both Priority Mail and First Class Mail allow additional coverage to be purchased through the USPS or through a third-party provider.
|Coverage Type||First Class Mail Coverage||Priority Mail Coverage|
USPS First Class vs Priority Mail Price Comparison
First Class Mail is a more economical shipping option than Priority Mail. If you would like a breakdown of the shipping rates available to you.
USPS Transit Time
First Class Mail uses USPS zonestake a look at the estimated delivery time it takes for different locations around the US and worldwide:
USPS First Class vs Priority Mail Domestic Transit Time
|USPS Service||Zone 1||Zone 3||Zone 5||Zone 8|
|Media Mail||2 days||3 days||6 days||6-13 days|
|First Class Mail||2 days||3 days||3 days||3-5 days|
|Priority Mail||1-2 day||2 days||2 days||3 days|
|Priority Mail Express||1-2 days||1-2 days||1-2 days||1-2 days|
USPS First Class vs Priority Mail International Transit Time
|Service||Estimate Transit Time|
|First Class Mail International||No guaranteed time frame|
|Priority Mail International||6-10 days*|
|Priority Express International||3-5 days*|
First Class vs. Priority Mail: The Differences
First Class and Priority Mail look pretty similar but they each have unique offerings.
First Class and Priority Mail differ based on weight, size, shape, and the delivery timeframe for of packages. These are the most common things to take into account when deciding which service to use.
First Class is primarily used to ship parcels that are 3.5 ounces or lower. This results in First Class mail being used for sending letters, thick envelopes, and lightweight packages. It’s a cost-effective way to send smaller, lighter items quickly and efficiently.
Priority Mail on the other hand is often used to send packages weighing up to 70lbs. It’s prioritized first before standard mail, hence its name, and is the favored way to send large parcels and packages.
If your packages weigh less than 3.5 ounces, they should be sent First Class since and costs less and is only slighlty slower than Priority.
Package size is one of the most important factors when considering which USPS mail service to go for, let’s take a closer look at USPS sizing guide.
The maximum dimensions of packages sent via First Class mail can be 108” in combined length and girth – this is where the longest side is the “length” and the circumference of the parcel’s thickest section is the “girth”. The maximum weight of a package being delivered by First Class mail is 15.99 oz.
Priority mail packages can again have a maximum dimension of 108” in combined length and girth. However, the maximum weight is considerably more at 70 lbs.
One of the biggest differences between the two services is that First Class mail doesn’t have a default insurance policy like Priority Mail. So, in cases where a package is lost or damaged during delivery via First Class, the sender isn’t covered. But with Priority Mail, they are.
However, you can add insurance coverage onto your First Class mail deliveries for an additional fee.
Priority mail, on the other hand, comes with an insurance policy attached. This covers up to $100 for domestic coverage and $200 for international coverage.
Keep the products that you’ll be shipping in mind here because, while some products are light in weight, they may benefit from the insurance policy that’s included with Priority Mail. For example, watches almost always weigh less than 1 lb, which means they can be shipped at an affordable price through the First Class service.
But Priority Mail offers up to $200 worth of coverage depending on where the watch is being shipped which will cover if the package is lost or damaged.
Comparing First Class and Priority Mail shipping time is probably one of the crucial factors when determining which service to go for. However, both shipping options have fast delivery timeframes between two and three days.
USPS uses shipping zones in classifying the delivery times for both domestic and international shipping, which may vary slightly across the two services. Priority Mail is the better option if you are looking for even faster international deliveries than the other services.
When it comes to Priority Mail vs. first-class cost, first-class mail is the more economical option. However, specific prices depend on several factors and are subject to the current inflation rates frequently changing. Where the fee for Priority Mail is calculated based on the distance and can be more costly, pricing for first-class considers other factors such as size, weight, and distance.
Often, Priority Mail has fixed rates for specific packages and boxes based on the sizes and weight.
Both First Class and Priority Mail offer tracking updates until the package arrives at the destination. Updates include delivery dates and attempted deliveries if there is any missed delivery. The tracking feature is offered at no additional cost.
When to Use First Class or Priority Mail
Making a choice between First Class mail vs. Priority Mail comes down to a few factors. USPS First Class mail is a cost-effective shipping option for sending packages under 1lb, specifically for typed or handwritten letters, postcards, thick/big envelopes, brochures, and ordinary bills.
Priority Mail is going to be a better option if you are sending heavier or larger packages that you want delivered quicker. You’ll have the added benefit of free tracking and insurance with this option as well.
First Class Mail Vs Priority Mail: FAQs
Here are some of the common questions we’ve heardf abot the two ail services and when to use them.
What’s the difference between USPS Priority Mail and USPS First Class?
The main difference is in the size of the packages that can be delivered via each service. First class mail is limited to smaller packages that weigh less than 3.5 ounces, while Priority Mail can include packages that weigh up to 70 lbs.
The other difference is that Priority Mail comes with insurance coverage if a product gets lost or damaged during delivery. This is useful if you’re sending high-ticket items.
Is Priority Mail faster than First Class mail?
The delivery times of both services depending on where you’re sending your packages. Domestic deliveries are much quicker for both, as are international deliveries.
Domestic mail sent via First Class mail usually takes between two and three days to arrive depending on the delivery address, while domestic mail sent via USPS’ Priority service can take between one and three days.
For international deliveries, First Class mail has no guarantee or estimate, while Priority Mail usually takes between six and ten days to arrive.
Is First Class mail considered Priority Mail?
First class mail is considered a Priority Mail over other standard mail services. However, Priority Mail is an extension of First Class mail that includes weightier packages. Packages sent through both services are prioritized, it purely depends on the weight of your products and whether you want to take advantage of the built-in insurance that comes with Priority Mail.
Can I ship first-class mail in a Priority Mail box or envelope?
No, a Priority Mail box or envelope should have Priority Mail postage, or it will be returned for additional postage.
Does first-class mail only take 1-3 days for delivery?
Absolutely! First-class mail delivery time is usually between 1 and 3 days, regardless of where you are in the United States of America.
How accurate is the USPS Priority Mail Map?
The Priority Mail Map is usually very accurate. Exceptions occur only when something unexpected causes a delay.
What is faster, first-class, or Priority Mail?
Priority Mail is typically faster than First-Class, shipping in an estimated 1-3 business days, rather than 1-5 days.
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To wrap up, Priority Mail is often the most affordable way to send packages for ecommerce businesses. This is because it comes with free package tracking, a one to three day delivery time frame, and $100 of built-in insurance.
To learn more about how ShippingTree can help with fulfillment, book a call with our experts.