This article was updated to reflect correct deadlines and to note that Parcel Airlift Mail and Space Available Mail are no longer available.
If your packages and letters will be among the estimated 12.6 million pounds of mail heading overseas to military destinations this holiday season, the U.S. Postal Service has suggested mailing dates to get them there by Christmas.
But be aware: There’s a grinch at work. Postal service price increases have affected military mail, too.
For example, the cost for sending the largest priority mail flat rate box to a military destination has increased by $1.55 compared to the same time in 2020 — from $19.60 in 2020 to $21.15, as of Oct. 3. A permanent price increase was implemented in January; and an additional temporary price increase went into effect Oct. 3 and ends Dec. 25. The temporary increase affects a number of popular mailing options, including the military mailing options.
And don’t forget, it’s already costing more to mail your holiday cards. On Aug. 29, the price of a first-class Forever stamp went up by 3 cents, to 58 cents.
The postal service’s suggested deadlines for various methods of shipping are the same for most APO/FPO/DPO (Air/Army Post Office/Fleet Post Office/Diplomatic Post Office) ZIP codes. The exception is mail going to ZIP code 093, which covers overseas contingency areas.
Although you can send mail later than these dates, these are the suggestions if you want to get your goodies to their destination by Dec. 25. Subtract 28 days from the dates if you want them there for the beginning of Hanukkah.
♦ USPS retail ground mail (the slowest way to go, formerly known as standard post): Nov. 6.
♦ First-class and priority mail (letters, cards and packages): Dec. 9.
♦ Priority mail express military services: Dec. 16. This service is not available for ZIP 093.
♦ Space available mail (SAM): No longer available.
♦ Parcel airlift mail (PAL): No longer available.
Across the board, the cost for sending the priority mail and priority mail express flat rate boxes and envelopes has gone up by 75 cents in the temporary increase. That’s in addition to the permanent increases that took effect in January.
According to the U.S. Postal Service, these temporary increases for some of the more popular shipping products for retail and business customers, to include military shipping, are necessary “to cover extra costs in anticipation of peak-season volume surges similar to levels experienced in 2020.”
Given the current supply chain problems, there may be a question of whether you can find the gift to ship. Shipping issues haven’t yet affected military mail sent using the retail ground option — going overseas by ship, officials said.. “The Military Postal Service Agency is unaware of any issues impacting mail flow to or from overseas military post offices at this time,” said MPSA officials in a statement to Military Times.
One source outside the MPSA said that agency was putting some of that seagoing mail on planes, but that couldn’t be immediately confirmed. There are other options for sending mail by air to military destinations overseas through the postal service.
MPSA officials urge mailers to pay close attention to the holiday mailing deadlines, and to check the U.S. Postal Service website for domestic and international shipping prohibitions and restrictions before mailing to or from an overseas military location. Follow the requirements for addressing the package; making sure you write the service member’s full name, and include the unit and APO/FPO/DPO address with the nine-digit ZIP code, if one is assigned. Don’t include the country name where the service member is stationed. Using only those unit and APO/FPO/DPO addresses will help make sure it stays within the mail system and isn’t rerouted into the international mail system. Include a return address.
Also, add an index card with the service member’s name and address, and a return address, in case the label or box gets damaged in shipping.
Priority mail flat rate boxes themselves are free; you can stuff whatever you can fit into them, and they cost one flat fee to ship your goodies, regardless of weight. The boxes come in various shapes and sizes; you can get them for free at post offices and at www.usps.com/freeboxes. The U.S. Postal Service has created a free Military Care Kit based on the items most frequently requested by military families. To order, call 800-610-8734
There’s also a $1.50 discount per box to mail those flat rate boxes to APO/FPO/DPO addresses. So with the discount, that largest priority mail flat rate box going to an APO/FPO/DPO address is $21.15.
As always, check with your local post office for the shipping option that best meets your needs. You may find there’s not much difference in cost to ship your package the fastest way.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.