cheapest way to ship a package under 1 pound

Want to ship an item at the most affordable price? If the package is under 1 pound and is a reasonable size*, then USPS (United States Post Office) Priority Mail is the way to go. Their prices for packages under 1 pound ($4.95 anywhere in the United States as of this blog post) are much better than the prices from FedEx, UPS, or DHL.

*The maximum size is 108 inches or less in combined length and distance around the thickest part.

FREE BOXES FROM THE POST OFFICE
They also have FREE 11.5″ x 13.125″ x 2.375″ boxes. The only catch is that you have to use those boxes for Priority Mail. You can order the boxes online and have the Post Office delivery them to you for free. Or simply pick them up at your local Post Office. But don’t make the mistake of using Priority Mail Flat Rate boxes. More on that later.

I have shipped almost 200 packages via Priority Mail using their free boxes. It saves me money because I don’t have to hassle with buying boxes. The Priority Mail boxes are also self-sealing, so there’s some cost savings on tape as well. Plus, their boxes lend a nice, professional feel rather than using some box that I have lying around. Now, I learned very quickly that it’s important for me to keep my packages under 1 pound. Keep on reading.

YOU COULD BE PAYING A LOT MORE FOR PRIORITY MAIL IF YOUR PACKAGE IS OVER 15 OUNCES
Pricing gets a little more complicated when your package gets over 15 ounces and you may want to consider other shipping options as a result. For certain situations, Priority Mail is still a good option, for others it’s not. There’s two factors that determine the USPS Priority Mail price for 1+ pound packages: weight and shipping distance. Let’s cover weight first.

weight:
USPS Priority Mail prices change based a system of pounds. The best way to explain this with examples. A package that is 1 pound 1 ounce is the same price as a package that is 1 pound 15 ounces. A package that is 2 pounds will cost more than a 1 pound 15 ounce package. The changing point for cost is at the X pound 0 ounce mark.

shipping distance:
The further away the recipient is from you, the higher the cost. Remember, if your package is under one pound, then it doesn’t matter where in the U.S. you are shipping to. It’s the same cost. It’s only when packages get to be 1 pound and heavier does distance-based price point kick in.

So let’s say I’m shipping a 1 lb 0 oz package from Chicago to Los Angeles. It would cost $8.10 (as of this blog post). Whoa, that’s a huge spike from $4.95. If my package was one little ounce less (15 oz), then it would be only $4.95. Now, if I’m shipping that same 1 lb 0 oz package from Chicago to somewhere in Illinois it would be $5.50. Compare that to the $8.10 cost to Los Angeles. Distance plays a HUGE role in Priority Mail costs when the package is 1+ pounds.

The Post Office has a formula of “zones” to determine the distance fees. It’s very unclear exactly how they define zones. Your best bet is to either look at their pricing chart to see what the highest cost a certain weight package would be or use their price calculator which is quite handy.

I pulled the following zone defintion from prestashop.com. I couldn’t find such definition on usps.com, so I can’t account for how accurate this info is, but it gives a general idea of how the zone system works.

Zone Distance
1 Non-local zones within a 50 mile radius of the point of origination
2 50 to 150 mile radius
3 150 to 300 mile radius
4 300 to 600 mile radius
5 600 to 1000 mile radius
6 1000 to 1400 mile radius
7 1400 to 1800 mile radius
8 1800 miles and over

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FLAT RATE PRIORITY MAIL AND PRIORITY MAIL
the boxes
You’ll also need to know the difference between Flat Rate Priority Mail and Priority Mail or at the very least that you can’t use Flat Rate boxes to ship Priority Mail. Items can be sent via Flat Rate only if you use the assigned Flat Rate boxes. And THAT’S where it gets tricky for Priority Mail. When I first tried using Priority Mail I made the mistake of trying to use a Flat Rate Priority Mail box. Rookie mistake. Flat Rate boxes can only be used with the Flat Rate service.

prices
Flat Rate allows packages to be sent for one price only if you use Flat Rate boxes. It can be up to 70 pounds (not sure) and must be shipped with the U.S. (not sure).

Plus, it doesn’t help that the Post Office is going through a big marketing campaign trying to get people to use Flat Rate Priority Mail. And why wouldn’t they? If Grandma Jones is shipping some slippers to her grandson downstate, the Post Office doesn’t want her to know that she could pay just $4.95 for Priority Mail. They plaster the Post Office lobby with big signs for Flat Rate Priority Mail. And Grandma Jones ends up paying $13.95 instead of $4.95.

Now there are instances where Flat Rate Priority Mail is a better option than Priority Mail. When a package gets to a certain combo of weight/shipping distance, then Flat Rate wins. For example, if I’m shipping a 5lb package to Los Angeles it would cost $15.20 via Priority Mail and Flat Rate is $13.95 (as of this blog post). There’s different size boxes for Flat Rate which changes the price, but the “Large Flat Rate Box Domestic” is about the same size as the Priority Mail box.

When you start spending over $10 to ship something via USPS, then you’re better off looking into using UPS, FedEx, or DHL. I have never used USPS Flat Rate Priority Mail. I find UPS to offer better prices.

9 Comments
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Tom Saaristo
15 years ago

People don’t believe me when I tell them that Priority Mail (under 1 lb) is cheap cheap cheap and fast fast fast! At least my eBay customers know.

Matt Maldre
Admin
15 years ago

How much does the box itself weigh?

Tom Saaristo
15 years ago

I haven’t been on eBay in a while, but my username is tomsaaristo

Matt
Matt
15 years ago

Great Info- Best Part is the USPO buys the box and ships it fast for 4.95!!

Karl Hoesch
14 years ago

Thanks a lot for the advice. Trying to figure out shipping for our Small Foreign Language Materials company and this is very handy.

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[…] Yesterday, specific benefits of shipping USPS Priority Mail were given. Now, here’s something you can do to spice up your Priority Mail box. Use a $4.95 stamp instead of the ugly, plain-jane barcodes that the Post Office prints off. I’m not sure how much using a stamp instead of a barcode sticker will slow down the delivery of your package. Hopefully there’s no difference. […]