The truth about Priority Mail: Ten times the price of First Class, but no faster

It was a simple thing to do. The New York Daily News sent 10 batches of mail to points all around the country. To each destination, one piece went as First Class mail, which costs from 42¢, and another piece went as Priority Mail, which costs from $4.95. Despite the U.S. Postal Service's aggressive efforts to upsell Americans into buying Priority Mail postage, the deliveries arrived on the same day 80% of the time.

I think we all expected the Postal Service's more expensive mail options to perhaps be a slick bit of puffery, but I don't think we expected them to be pretty much worthless. More to the point, I think most people assumed that Priority Mail was faster, a misconception that the Postal Service is in no hurry to openly and clearly correct.
The Post Office, facing a bigger cash crunch than most national services, has been pretty heavy with the sales pitches for its premium mailing services. But what they don't tell you at the counter, when they try to get you to spring for Priority Mail or Delivery Confirmation or any number of other fries-with-that options, is what the fine print actually says. You think you're getting quicker and more secure service, but that's an illusion. Not that the Post Office will mention that.

Priority Mail, the Daily News says a postal rep told it, "promises but doesn't guarantee two- to three-day delivery." What it does get you over First Class mail is the ability to buy insurance. So, in essence, you have to buy the premium product to get another premium option, and even then, there's no guarantee your item wouldn't have gotten there faster than the cheap way.

"They're similar," admits the Postal rep. "Delivery is going to be the same, especially when you're talking about shorter distances." Now he tells us.

The News also discovered that in most of its tests, Express Mail, the pinnacle of Postal Service methods, beat both Priority and First Class in only one instance. (That was for a mailing from New York to North Carolina.)

One of the cheapest ways is Media Mail, but as I recently reported, in its effort to force customers to buy more expensive postage, the Post Office has been opening people's packages behind closed doors to verify what's inside them.

It's a fine time to be exposed like this: The next postal increase is upon us. Stamps rise 2¢, to 44¢, on May 11.
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