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Topic: Can he do this?

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Subject: Can he do this?
Date Posted: 1/21/2011 6:13 PM ET
Member Since: 7/25/2005
Posts: 25,634
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I took a few regular #10 size envelopes to the post office today.  They each included a postcard and a couple of tea bags.  They weighed .5 oz (44 cents) but I knew I'd have to pay more for them.   The postal worker first said it was going to cost an extra twenty cents, okay, no problem.  Then he asked me what was inside. When I told him they had tea bags he told me that they had now become parcels and would cost me $1.20 to mail them!

They were just pick me ups for some friends so I decided not to do it. 

My question is, did he have the right to ask me what they contained and then price them?  What if they had been, say a card and a bookmark?  Would that have cost less?

Date Posted: 1/21/2011 7:07 PM ET
Member Since: 7/30/2007
Posts: 4,275
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letters go though super fast sorting machines with lots of belts and rollers.  the envelopes have to go through several 90 degree bends and are compressed between the belts to move them though the machines.  It is never a good idea to mail anything other than paper in a paper envelope.  Had the clerk charged you the letter rate, your friends more than likely would have gotten the envelope with a tear on the left side and the tea bags missing, because they had been squeezed out of the envelope like toothpaste and the PO would have had a huge mess inside the sorting machine with the tea bags. If you mail anything like that, you should always use a small padded envelope at least.

Date Posted: 1/21/2011 8:04 PM ET
Member Since: 8/16/2007
Posts: 15,225
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It sounds like he was charging you the nonemachinable rate in the first place, not sure why tea would make a difference. A CD in its case can go as a letter with the nonmachinable up-charge, I don't know why a teabag would be worse. They do like to try to machine non-machinable and bust the crap out of it, so maybe they don't want something that can mess up their machines when they do thatindecision

Date Posted: 1/21/2011 11:33 PM ET
Member Since: 12/28/2006
Posts: 14,177
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A few times I mailed DS an energy bar in a letter size envelope.  Just wrap a piece of cardstock around it and maybe a snack size zip lock bag.  I'm sure they arrived just fine.  I mailed at the counter and don't recall answering any content questions other than the usual "anything perishable, liquid, fragile, etc...?"

Date Posted: 1/22/2011 11:27 AM ET
Member Since: 4/28/2009
Posts: 10,185
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I'm told by clerks that anything thicker than half inch gets charged parcel rate even if it's in an envelope--that's why it's not a good idea to send a ton of coupons in a regular envy.

FYI--- that CD you mentioned, can go media mail-- but ask first cause first class is cheaper for some.

Date Posted: 1/22/2011 12:47 PM ET
Member Since: 8/16/2007
Posts: 15,225
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FYI--- that CD you mentioned, can go media mail-- but ask first cause first class is cheaper for some

A regular CD should always go cheaper as a first class nonmachinable.

Date Posted: 1/22/2011 3:09 PM ET
Member Since: 12/28/2006
Posts: 14,177
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Ani's couple of teabags shouldn't be any thicker than an energy bar . . . under 1/2 inch?

Date Posted: 1/22/2011 9:30 PM ET
Member Since: 7/25/2005
Posts: 25,634
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Yes, the package was less than 1/4 inch thick.   He started to charge me twenty cents for the non machinable, which I totally understand.  I just thought it was odd and a bit uncalled for to ask me what I was mailing and then decide it became a parcel. 

Date Posted: 1/23/2011 2:22 AM ET
Member Since: 12/28/2006
Posts: 14,177
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I agree, the size is usually more important than contents (except Media Mail).  Don't know which PO you use over there in the banana belt Ani, but we hear USPS training at the smaller units can be hit and miss (often informal and incomplete).

Cathy A. (Cathy) - ,
Date Posted: 1/23/2011 11:51 AM ET
Member Since: 12/27/2005
Posts: 4,150
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Here are the applicable regulations with relevant quotes pasted below: http://pe.usps.com/text/dmm300/133.htm

b. The letter price applies to letter-size pieces that meet the standards in 101.1.1 and weigh 3.5 ounces or less, and that are not eligible for and claimed at the card price.

1.5 Nonmachinable Surcharge

The nonmachinable surcharge is charged per piece and applies to letter-size pieces that meet one or more of the nonmachinable characteristics in 101.1.2. Pieces mailed at the card price are not subject to the nonmachinable surcharge.

2.2.1 Inspection of Contents

First-Class Mail is closed against postal inspection. Federal law and USPS regulations restrict both opening and reviewing the contents of First-Class Mail by anyone other than the addressee.


Here are the standards for "letter-size pieces":

1.1 Dimensional Standards for Letters

 Letter-size mail is:

a. Not less than 5 inches long, 3-1/2 inches high, and 0.007-inch thick.

b. Not more than 11-1/2 inches long, or more than 6-1/8 inches high, or more than 1/4-inch thick.

c. Not more than 3.5 ounces (First-Class Mail letter-size pieces over 3.5 ounces pay flat-size prices).

d. Rectangular, with four square corners and parallel opposite sides. Letter-size, card-type mailpieces made of cardstock may have finished corners that do not exceed a radius of 0.125 inch (1/8 inch). See Exhibit 1.1d.


Here are the nonmachinable characteristics:

1.2 Nonmachinable Criteria

 A letter-size piece is nonmachinable (see 6.4) if it has one or more of the following characteristics (see 601.1.4 to determine the length, height, top, and bottom of a mailpiece):

a. Has an aspect ratio (length divided by height) of less than 1.3 or more than 2.5.

b. Is polybagged, polywrapped, enclosed in any plastic material, or has an exterior surface made of a material that is not paper. Windows in envelopes made of paper do not make mailpieces nonmachinable. Attachments allowable under applicable eligibility standards do not make mailpieces nonmachinable.

c. Has clasps, strings, buttons, or similar closure devices.

d. Contains items such as pens, pencils, keys, or coins that cause the thickness of the mailpiece to be uneven; or loose keys or coins or similar objects not affixed to the contents within the mailpiece. Loose items may cause a letter to be nonmailable when mailed in paper envelopes; (see 601.2.3, Odd-Shaped Items in Paper Envelopes).

e. Is too rigid (does not bend easily when subjected to a transport belt tension of 40 pounds around an 11-inch diameter turn).

f. For pieces more than 4-1/4 inches high or 6 inches long, the thickness is less than 0.009 inch.

g. Has a delivery address parallel to the shorter dimension of the mailpiece.

h. Is a self-mailer that is not prepared according to 201.3.14.

i. Is a booklet that is not prepared according to 201.3.15.


Based on all this and your description of the contents, I'd say you had a non-machineable letter and that the clerk was not allowed to ask you about the contents or decide that it was a parcel based on the contents alone. If the teabags made the envelope more than 1/4" thick, then you did have a parcel, but the contents are still irrelevant.

Date Posted: 1/24/2011 9:54 PM ET
Member Since: 12/28/2006
Posts: 14,177
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OK Ani, asked at my local handy-dandy-awesome postal branch.  And apparently there are so many rate options, each with different guidelines, that it's very possible you would be questioned regarding contents.  Thickness, flexability, weight, etc. are all taken into account.  BUT with all the different rates, my clerk says it's difficult to understand and standardize mailings . . . even in a well educated office that communicate with one another.  He went on to say that PO branches with the POS online services have it much easier than the smaller branches when trying to determine rates.