Choosing the Right Service: USPS First Class vs Priority vs Ground

There are many decisions that need to be made when sending a package. It isn’t as simple as throwing on a stamp and getting the address right. Given the variety of items that pass through the US mail system, paired with an individual’s specific speed and cost needs – a number of mail services exist to better cater to the experience.  Just looking at the USPS website, you’ll see a few services, including:

  • USPS First Class Package 
  • USPS Priority Mail 
  • USPS Ground 

Upon first glance, it can be difficult to tell which service is the most cost effective for your needs. Knowing your options ahead of time will be a huge aid the next time you send off a package, and will save you a moment of awkward, blank stares with the desk clerk.  

USPS First Class Package 

First Class Mail is a service used to ship letters, thick or padded envelopes, and lightweight packages.  This is going to be the best option for sending compact, light items quickly and effectively.  By light, they mean a maximum of 13 oz.  Be warned, certain package shapes like tubes may incur additional charges as they must be hand sorted. If you’re adhering to the appropriate size and weight parameters, it should end up being less expensive than Priority, with around the same shipping speed. 

USPS states that a First Class Package should take 1-3 days to be delivered.  Realistically, you can expect that there will be some exceptions, and it’s possible this timeframe is closer to 2-5 days when shipping to other locations in the United States. The closer the destination location is, the faster the package will get there. Luckily, you won’t have to stress over the uncertainty of arrival: when you ship First Class, you’ll have a delivery confirmation that will enable you to track your package on its journey. 

Another key difference between USPS First Class vs Priority is that First Class does not include an insurance policy, while Priority Mail comes with $50 worth coverage included with the price of service.  You are able to add an insurance policy to cover your shipment, but it will come at an additional fee. Now, let’s examine USPS First Class Package vs Priority Mail.

USPS Priority Mail 

Much like First Class Mail, USPS Priority Mail generally will take 1-3 days to deliver. However, the reason it is called ‘Priority Mail,’ is because it takes first priority in shipping out.  This is particularly useful when shipping internationally and it has a better chance to arrive more quickly than other USPS services (save for Priority Express).

Priority also allows you to ship much heavier parcels, up to 70 lbs, compared to the smaller package requirements of First Class. Your Priority package can reach a maximum combined length and girth of 108 inches (for rectangular packages, Girth equals Height multiplied by two plus Width multiplied by two). A really fantastic feature of USPS Priority is that their shipping supplies come free! By going on the website or post office, you can arrange to have Priority Mail boxes sent to you at no cost.  Alternatively, you can use your own shipping materials, as long as they don’t exceed the weight and sizing limits of Priority Mail. 

USPS Priority will include an insurance policy in your payment. This policy covers up to $50 for domestic shipments ($100 coverage if you are a Commercial Plus customers) and $200 for international. While flat rate costs can be found on the USPS website, shipping rates increase incrementally by weight for non-flat rate options. In these circumstances, we advise using the Online Shipping Calculator to calculate the exact Priority Mail rates.  If you want Commercial Plus pricing and insurance without needing to meet the volume requirements, you can sign up to a service like Shippo.

Another service found under the umbrella of USPS Priority Mail is Priority Mail Express.  The biggest difference between USPS Express vs Priority is that Express is the fastest USPS domestic and international shipping service.  This service allows your package to be shipped 7 days a week, almost every day of the year.  This is akin to overnight service, and it provides a money-back guarantee if that timeframe is not met.  As you might expect, this is a somewhat more expensive option, with prices starting at $26.35.  Just like Priority Mail, it comes with free Flat Rate Boxes and it meets the same weight requirements (must be below 70 lbs). 

With that baseline understanding, we can now examine USPS Ground vs Priority.  

USPS Ground 

To put things in perspective, USPS Ground was formerly called ‘parcel post,’ or ‘standard post.’  One of the best times to utilize USPS Ground is when your parcel is much larger (up to 70 pounds), and you’re looking to ship it for a more affordable price.  Packages shipped with USPS Ground can support up to 130 inches in length and girth, compared to 108 inches for USPS Priority (for even larger shipments, consider freight options).  The trade-off for the more amenable price is a slightly longer shipping time. The advertised shipping time is 2-8 business days, but it’s not uncommon to see it take 2 weeks.  If your shipping needs are time-sensitive, this may not be the best option for you. Tracking is included at no additional charge. Some additional charges may be imposed for packages measuring over 108 inches in combined length and girth, or if the package is shaped like a tube or roll. 

If the address is labeled incorrectly or it is unable to reach its final destination, USPS Ground does not cover the cost of forwarding or returning that shipment.  You will need to pay an additional postage fee for these services. 

Alternatively, you may want to consider FedEx or UPS ground delivery, which sees packages arrive closer to the 5-day mark.  

Within Ground Shipping, there are a few options, depending on the items: 

  • Parcel Select: this option is best when the parcel exceeds sizing requirements or is unable to be shipped via airplane. It’s often applied to bulk shipments. 
  • Media Mail: this option is geared towards anyone who would like to send books, CDs, videos, and computer programs. This service also sees a 2-8 business day shipping speed, and you can’t send video games or computer drives. 
  • Library Mail: this service is catered to nonprofits, most often schools, and allows them to ship items like books or CDs for a discounted rate. 
  • Bound Printed Matter: this service is for printed materials under 15 lbs, the printed matter must be permanently bound with staples or glue to qualify. 

Much like their packaging, these services are not one-size-fits-all.  Hopefully, this guide has given you a clear idea as to which USPS services are best for your unique needs.