Whether you’re a business owner sending products to customers or just wanting to ship an item to a friend at the best rate possible, this is a question worth asking yourself.
Which is the fastest out of First Class or Priority Mail? Which is a better value? Does one include superior levels of insurance?
We will look at all of this and more today, in our definitive guide on USPS First Class Vs Priority Mail.
So if you are ready, let’s jump to it.
SUMMARY: First Class Vs Priority Mail
- First-Class mail is more affordable and is the best way to send lightweight packages 15.99 ounces or less. (You cannot send heavier items than that)
- Priority Mail is best for heavier packages up to 70lbs
- Priority mail is a good choice for sending international packages because of faster shipping times and included insurance.
- Priority Mail includes $100 coverage for domestic shipping ($200 on international shipping). Insurance with First Class costs extra.
First Class Vs Priority Mail: The Differences
First, let’s discuss the major differences between the two services.
On a basic level, First Class mail is better suited to small envelopes and parcels (under 15.99 ounces) being delivered within the U.S.
This means that if you are sending letters, envelopes of any size (including padded), and small lightweight packages, you should consider First Class.
Priority mail is a service designed to accommodate larger packages. If your item weighs up to 70lbs, you will get a better rate using Priority Mail than you would with First Class.
Priority mail is also a good choice for sending international packages. This is because of superior insurance options and faster shipping times to a foreign country.
- Related Content: Which is Cheaper UPS or USPS – Full Comparison 2022
First Class Vs Priority Mail: Maximum Dimensions
|Restriction||First Class Mail Limits||Priority Mail Limits|
|Max Dimensions||108” in combined length and girth||108” in combined length and girth|
|Max Weight||15.99 oz°||70 lbs|
So far we have discussed how you can decide which service to use based on package size. But what exactly are the maximum dimensions allowed with each service?
The USPS sizing guide states that the maximum dimensions of packages sent via first class mail can be 108” in combined length and girth (at the thickest point) of the package.
The maximum weight of a First Class item cannot exceed 15.99 oz. Because of these restrictions, the service is designed for small packages.
Priority mail on the other hand allows for much heavier packages to be sent.
Packages can again have a maximum dimension of 108” in combined length and girth, (which is the same maximum dimensions as First Class.
However, the maximum weight is a lot more. As already stated, packages up to 70 lbs can be sent using Priority Mail.
First Class Vs Priority Mail: Delivery Times
|Zone 1||Zone 3||Zone 5||Zone 8|
|First Class Mail||2 Days||3 Days||3 Days||3-5 Days|
|Priority Mail||1-2 Days||2 Days||2 Days||3 Days|
Regarding delivery times, both USPS First-Class and Priority Mail should arrive between one and three days when shipped to a U.S domestic address.
However, as you can see from the table above, Priority Mail is marginally faster on each of the zones covered. (For more on USPS Zones head here).
|Estimated Delivery Speed|
|First Class Mail||No Stated Time Frame|
|Priority Mail International||6 – 10 Days (Location Dependant)|
As mentioned, Priority Mail is a faster choice for international shipments due to superior delivery processing times for sending items abroad.
Another issue with international delivery times for items sent First Class is that the speed will vary depending on destination.
Another point to remember is that First Class and Priority Mail do not offer guarantees on delivery windows on international mail items. A factor that may be an issue for business owners sending packages to customers.
First Class Vs Priority Mail: Shipping Costs
Here comes a factor that will be a major priority for most people; how much does it cost to ship with either First Class or Priority Mail? Which is cheaper.
First of course you need to take package dimensions into account. In many scenarios, you will not even be able to use First Class mail if your package is too heavy.
However, beyond that pinning down which is best in terms of rates can be difficult.
Prices for First Class Mail are dependent on the size, weight, and delivery destination of the item. The box below provides details of the current pricing structure.
First Class Mail – Prices (Effective Jan 9th 2022)
|Max Weight||Zone 1&2||Zone 3||Zone 4||Zone 5||Zone 6||Zone 7||Zone 8||Zone 9|
Priority Mail differs from this due to the addition of fixed rates on specified boxes and envelope sizes.
In other words, if you use a larger-sized box than you need, you could end up shipping a package inefficiently (from a cost perspective) when compared to using First Class.
All this aside, it is commonly stated that shipping via Priority Mail costs about $3 more per package on average.
A good way of determining how much your package will cost to send with either First Class or Priority Mail is to use the USPS shipping calculator.
Priority Mail – Prices (Effective Jan 9th 2022)
|Max Weight (Lbs)||Zone 1/2||Zone 3||Zone 4||Zone 5||Zone 6||Zone 7||Zone 8||Zone 9|
Priority Mail: Flat Rate Options 2022
|Flat Rate Envelopes||$8.95||Small Flat Rate Box||$9.45|
|Legal Flat Rate Envelope||$9.25||Medium Flat Rate Boxes||$16.10|
|Padded Flat Rate Envelope||$9.65||Large Flat Rate Boxes||$21.50|
|APO/FPO/DPO Flat Rate Box||$20.00|
- Related Content: A Look at USPS and its Priority Mail Service
First Class Vs Priority Mail: Shipping Features
There are also shipping features to consider when looking at USPS First Class Vs Priority Mail. What insurance and tracking options are available for instance?
On the subject of insurance, Priority Mail is the superior service.
An insurance policy is attached to each Priority Mail shipment by default. This provides $100 coverage on domestic packages and $200 for international deliveries.
Conversely, First Class mail has no automatic insurance policies attached. In basic terms, if your package is lost or damaged when sent via first class you will not be covered.
To mitigate this you can add insurance to a First Class shipment, however, this will increase the overall fee.
Both first-class mail and priority mail provide similar tracking options throughout the journey of the package.
One would assume that the same tracking technology is used within USPS’ shipment infrastructure for each service.
Using the tracking number provided you will be able to track delivery dates, times, and location of the item. You can also be informed of any attempted/missed deliveries.
These tracking features are available on each service without paying an additional fee.
First Class Vs Priority Mail: Choosing the Right USPS Service
So, which service do you choose between first-class or priority mail? By now you will understand that the weight of the package is an overriding factor.
If it weighs over 15.99oz you will not be able to use the First Class service anyway. Priority Mail is your only option of the two.
However, if it weighs less than this, you do have a choice.
For small, lighter items sent within the U.S, you will be better off using First Class mail. This is because you will get better rates with similar delivery times when compared to Priority Mail.
That being said, if you are sending a small package with a valuable item inside (that fits within first-class dimension limits), you could be better off using Priority mail due to the included insurance.
When deciding on which service to use, you should also consider factors such as weekend deliveries, signature services, special handling, and other potential options too. These could sway your decision, depending on your needs.
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I’m a 25 year veteran of USPS. I’m retired now, but as the editor of Mailbox Master, I can’t quite remove myself from the carrier industry just yet. 🙂