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Priority Mail Isn't First Class

Thinking of sending that important check or letter via Priority Mail? Save your money, reports The Wall Street Journal. Its analysis of Postal Service statistics, in the May 29th edition, says you're not getting your money's worth.

According to the WSJ, the average Priority Mail shipment takes more than half a day longer to reach its destination than regular first class!

The Journal admits some of the disparity is because a greater portion of first-class mail is local, and so can be delivered more quickly.

However, one-third of Priority Mail items intended for delivery within three days didn't make that deadline in the last USPS fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30. The paper also says the average piece of Priority Mail now takes about 13 hours longer than it did last summer.

The USPS argues that was before the terrorist and anthrax attacks, and before new security restrictions were imposed. That requires that most cargo on passenger jets be screened for explosives, forcing some mail off planes and onto trucks. The USPS manager of package services, Jim Cochrane, says service has improved in the last several weeks and is now at its highest level in about two years.

He admits, however, that for mail going less than 600 miles, it "might not make sense" to spend extra on Priority Mail.

The difference between the two services, for a one-ounce letter, is now $3.16, but when rates go up at the end of June, that difference will be $3.48.

For an extra half a buck, mailers can request confirmation of delivery with Priority Mail, but after June 30, that service will also be offered for first-class mail.

The Wall Street Journal reported that of a group of letters it recently mailed from Atlanta to seven cities around the country, about half the first-class mail arrived before or on the same day as Priority Mail packages mailed at the same time.

The difference in costs was between $1.55 and $3.16 per piece.

"Priority Mail is a waste," says rock concert CD collector Greg Hurwitt. "First-class makes a lot more sense."

Priority Mail in the fiscal year that ended last Sept. 30 accounted for about 7 percent, or $5 billion, of the Postal Service's revenue.

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