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Thread: Best shipping option: Priority Mail by weight vs. Flat Rate vs. First Class Parcel...

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    Best shipping option: Priority Mail by weight vs. Flat Rate vs. First Class Parcel...

    Perhaps a thread on this topic exists? If not, I thought a discussion on which shipping methods are most cost-effective would be in order. If this has been discussed in detail elsewhere, perhaps this should be deleted. If it belongs in a different forum, it should be moved. I'll limit this to USPS, but of course there are other ways of shipping. I'll also limit it to regular 2-3 day (or so) shipping. Of course, there are more expensive and quicker ways.

    At the present, in my opinion USPS emphasizes the Flat Rate system to the exclusion of others. I've shipped a lot of boxes, and never sent anything by Flat Rate. I think once or twice it would have saved maybe a dollar. The First Class Parcel option, on the other hand, is a very inexpensive way to ship fairly lightweight items. Yet many people are unaware of it, as I was until recently.

    Here is how I would characterize the various options and their advantages and disadvantages. Hopefully others can fix my mistakes.

    Priority Mail by weight: 2-3 days, 1 day for close destinations

    Very large boxes can be used (perhaps someone can provide the dimension limits). Price goes up steadily with weight. From distant parts of the country it starts at $7.15 for a pound or less; a dollar or more less for closer shipping. For shipping between nearby states, price goes up slowly with weight. For example, 5 lb from CA to NV can be $10 or so, yet over $20 from CA to NY. If one can pay attention to the size, distance and weight, this tends to be a great way to ship. The postage price calculator comes in handy:

    http://postcalc.usps.com

    Advantages: Large and not terribly heavy items can be shipped reasonably. Shipping is cheap in state or to nearby states. Boxes in many sizes are free from USPS.com

    Disadvantages. Weight is so important that one can spend a lot of effort trying to minimize each pound increase. Boxes are not available at Post Offices (at least around here).

    Flat Rate: 2-3 days, 1 day for close destinations

    One pays to ship a box of a certain size. Weight does not matter, up to a limit of 70 lb., I think. This system is ideal for small and very heavy items. The smallest box starts at $5.95, anywhere in the country. A "large" box is $17.90. I put large in quotes because USPS makes boxes for the regular Priority Mail system that are considerably larger.

    Advantages: Boxes are easily obtainable at Post Offices. One does not have to worry (within reason) about the weight of the box contents. Price is predictable--no fighting to eliminate an ounce.

    Disadvantages: The boxes tend to be very small, and the price of shipping goes up quickly with the size of the box. A "large" box is more expensive than shipping a larger 3 lb. package by the regular Priorty Mail system.

    First Class Parcel::

    This is the same rate as sending a fat envelope. Prices start around $2, with a limit of about $4 as the weight limit is approached. The upper limit is 13 oz, including of course, weight of the box. I'm not sure how or if package dimensions differ from Priority Mail. Delivery times, I think, tend to be about the same as a First Class Envelope.

    Advantages: The cheapest option for lightweight packages. For nearby destinations, it may be just as fast as Priority Mail.

    Disadvantages: It may be slower than Priority Mail, especially to distant locations. Packages are possibly more exposed to heat and cold in transit than Priority Mail. USPS does not provide boxes in any form. Priority mail boxes cannot be used--the sender needs to provide his or her own. If the package goes over 13 ounces, it gets bounced up to Priority Mail.

    If people think this is useful I can edit the above as people point out mistakes. Be brutal, but also remember this needs to be as brief as possible. It should be shorter, not longer.
    Last edited by RandyS; 02-23-2015 at 01:45 AM.

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    BS Bulldozer SubRosa's Avatar
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    A pretty accurate comparison. Imo first class is not suitable for most instances of shipping plant materials, other than seeds and dormant plants when the weather is suitable.
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    Cthulhu138's Avatar
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    Agreed. Priority is always the best choice.

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    I can think of a number of examples where First Class Parcel is an obvious choice. A few offhand:

    1) Shipping locally. For me, to other locations in the SF Bay Area. Either option takes a day, and weather is virtually never an issue. The only difference between Priority Mail and First Class is cost.

    2) Shipping dormant or very stable items items (for example some tubers).

    3) The low value of the item(s) being shipped does not justify paying $6 or $7 to ship, but makes sense if it's half that.

    4) Shipping something I have in such large quantities that the small risk of it not making the trip doesn't justify the higher cost. Example: cuttings of a rampant vine.

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    kulamauiman's Avatar
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    depends on distance. First class works for me between islands then to the west coast. Harder to the East Coast unless plants dormant or are seeds....

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    Hello, I must be going... Not a Number's Avatar
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    First Class works best in state or to bordering states. Two - three days typical during non-rush season or extreme weather but can take up to 10 days.

    Flat Rate Priority is constrained by the size and shape of the boxes. The items must fit within the box. If you modify the flat rate box to fit the items it will be charged as non-flat rate. Non-Flat Rate Priority is charged by distance (zones) and weight. 2-4 days is typical for Priority but these delivery times are not guaranteed. The only guaranteed delivery times are Overnight Express.
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    I just wanted to add that a First rate parcel or bubble envelope (I think they are considered the "same") comes with a tracking number, called a PID number. The people at my post office refuse to say that it's a tracking number, but it certainly works as one.

    That said, my most recent bubble envelope was sent from California to central Florida on the 17th--a full 7 days ago. It was scheduled to arrive on the 21st. Just simple envelope with some Passiflora seeds inside. The current status: "in transit, delayed", with no explanation, of course. It's very frustrating.

    I did send a large number of packages around the holidays, Priority Mail. Many took a day longer than usual, but I don't remember any problems.

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    A leuco by any other name would still be as gluttonous. CorneliusSchrute's Avatar
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    Here, here. OPs post is spot-on IMO.

    I don't usually ship anything too expensive or heavy, as such First Class is my preferred method even across the continent. I always check the arrival times and try to ship living items on Mondays to make sure First Class is optimized for my needs. If my package exceeds the thirteen-ounce rule then Priority is my necessary preference. I seldom choose Priority over First Class, though; indeed, I only choose Priority over First Class when the $50 insurance is warranted. If tracking is required one can add it to First Class for something around $1.

    You can also use your own boxes for Priority mail. I often do so, as I find long boxes with triangular cross sections are good for shipping Sarracenia with intact pitchers. Though the USPS offers such boxes, my post office never stocks them.

    I find the flat rate shipping to be a rip-off unless I am shipping lead/gold bars. Sometimes it is fun to see how much you can make one of those little small Flat Rate boxes weigh. Which reminds me... anyone want to buy some fishing weights padded with sand?
    Last edited by CorneliusSchrute; 02-24-2015 at 01:55 PM.
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