First Class Mail vs Priority Mail: Choosing the Right USPS Service

June 5, 2019

So, you’re shipping a package and need to know which service to use. With the USPS, you have two main options to choose from—Priority Mail and First Class Mail. Let’s compare them and see how they stack up against each other. Making sure you use the best service for each of your parcels is a quick and easy way to save time and money when shipping.

Why is it called First Class Mail?

First Class Mail may sound like it’s the cream of the crop, and to a certain extent, it is. But this is not in comparison to Priority Mail. First Class Mail is a class of mail used to ship letters, thick envelopes, padded envelopes, and lightweight packages. First Class Mail is considered the top tier of mail in comparison to:

  • Second Class Mail: periodicals, magazines, newspapers that are printed more than 4 times a year.
  • Third Class Mail: Marketing mail, flyers, mailers, etc.
  • Fourth Class Mail: Media Mail (CDs, vinyl records, DVDs, books, bound print media consisting of 8 or more pages.)

Shipping T-Shirts

Shirts, especially t-shirts are a good candidate to ship with First Class Mail. They’re light-weight and durable. Try using a poly mailers to cut down additional costs.

Why is it called Priority Mail?

Priority Mail is the USPS’s class of mail that is their top priority to ship out. It delivers parcels at a quicker speed than First Class Mail and allows for far heavier parcels (up to 70 lbs). Internationally, it is advantageous since it typically cuts shipping time down significantly. Because of this, it is a little bit more expensive than First Class Mail.

Priority Mail is also closer to UPS and FedEx services. However, it is frequently more economical than both UPS or FedEx for packages weighing under about 10 lbs. This is generally because a USPS vehicle passes by addresses each day. Smaller parcels that can fit in a mailbox typically are economical. If the parcel’s size/weight require the delivery driver to leave their vehicle and/or are too large to fit in their messenger bag, then the price can begin to rise quickly.

Shipping Shoes

Shoes are almost always going to ship using Priority Mail (Unless they weigh less than 16 oz). Check to see if Flat Rate options offer discounts over standard Priority Mail packaging.

Max Dimensions and Weight

USPS First Class Mail is typically used for smaller, lighter parcels with items whose insured value is not very high. Items over a pound and/or items of higher value work better with Priority Mail.

Max Default Insurance Coverage

A major advantage of USPS Priority Mail is that it includes coverage in the event that a parcel becomes lost or damaged in transit. First Class Mail offers no default coverage, however, both Priority Mail and First Class Mail do allow additional coverage to be purchased through the USPS or through a third-party provider such as Shipsurance.

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Shipping Watches and Other Jewelry

While a watch almost always weighs under 1 lb and can be shipped with First Class Mail, Priority Mail offers up to $100 of coverage in the event that the parcel is lost or damaged.

Price Comparison

First Class Mail is a more economical shipping option than Priority Mail. When the parcel is available to ship with either First Class or Priority, Priority Mail is usually about $3.00 more per parcel. If you would like a breakdown of the shipping rates available to you, check out these rates available to any ShipStation user through their complimentary account.

Want to learn even more ways to save on shipping? Enter your email below for more tips and secrets from our Cheapest Way To Ship eBook:

Transit Time

Now that First Class Mail uses USPS zones when rating, it’s easier to compare transit times. Let’s take a look at the estimated delivery time it takes for different locations around the US and globally:


*service guarantee of 1-2 days regardless of domestic destination

Shipping Vinyl Records

Vinyl records most commonly ship with Media Mail. As do books, CDs, DVDs, and other physical media. If expedited delivery is important, consider upgrading to First Class Mail or Priority Mail (depending on weight or insured value).


*For many major markets. Actual transit time can vary based on origin, destination, and customs delays.

Shipping Pet Food

Dog food and other pet food is typically heavy. Ship USPS with Priority Mail. If it weighs above 10 lbs or so, it may be more affordable to ship with FedEx or UPS.

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