When to use USPS First-Class Mail® vs. Priority Mail® and Priority Mail Express®

We break down the differences between the most commonly-used USPS services, First-Class Mail, Priority Mail, and Priority Mail Express.

Important notice: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most major carriers have suspended guaranteed overnight delivery. If you need guaranteed overnight delivery, USPS Priority Mail Express is one of your only options.

When sending mail or packages, it’s important to understand the differences between the classes of service that the USPS offers and choose the one that best meets your needs. Factors to consider when deciding include cost, speed of delivery and the size and weight of the item you are sending.

Let’s break down the differences between the most commonly-used USPS services: First-Class Mail®, Priority Mail®, and Priority Mail Express®, and when to choose one over the other.

First-Class Mail

First-Class Mail includes most types of mail that you’d find in your mailbox, from postcards and letters, to flats and lightweight parcels. Mail is delivered in two to three business days, and if you’re sending a package, USPS Tracking® is included. Insurance is also available, at an additional cost.

First-Class Mail offers the best price for mail that that weighs less than 13 ounces. Pricing is based on size, shape and weight, not by distance. So you’ll pay the same price no matter how many U.S. zip codes the mail crosses.

You also save 3 cents compared to stamps for First-Class letters and postcards when you use a postage meter or print postage online.

Priority Mail and Priority Mail Express

If your mail piece weighs more than 13 ounces, it must be sent by Priority Mail or Priority Mail Express.

Priority Mail combines value and speed, with free package pickup service at your home or office, $50 of included insurance and USPS Tracking included when you mail online or at retail.

Pricing is generally based on weight and zone, starting at a $7.15 commercial rate and $7.75 for retail and online. You also have the option to use Priority Mail Flat Rate® packaging, however, where you pay one price across all zip codes. There’s no need to weigh parcels or calculate postage for any parcel up to 70 pounds. Simply add a pre-printed barcode label or full shipping label, and you’re ready to send.

Like First-Class Mail, Priority Mail delivery typically takes one to three business days to deliver. Currently, Pitney Bowes is offering a free Priority Mail starter kit, delivered right to your door.

Priority Mail Express is the fastest and safest mail service available. with guaranteed overnight delivery and $100 insurance included. Overnight delivery starts at $26.35 for retail and online pricing, and $22.75 for commercial.

It is important to note amid COVID-19 the USPS has suspended the guarantee on Priority Mail Express International Service to a number of destinations including France, Great Britain, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, China and Hong Kong.*

Domestically, the guarantee on Priority Mail Express service to many Alaska zip codes has been changed to “Loss Only”.  The loss of regular air service to the area has led USPS to suspend the offer of guarantee on delivery timeframe.  It will still offer a guarantee against loss of the item.*

Unsure if something should be sent via First Class Mail, Priority Mail or Priority Mail Express? Use our interactive tool to help you determine the best option.

Looking for a way to simplify & save on your mailings & packages? Learn more about PitneyShip® shipping software, our all-in-one integrated carrier shipping solution.

*As of April 16, 2020

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