WTH?! How To Use USPS Priority Regional Flat Rate Boxes

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 ...Without Totally Losing Your Mind.

As an eBay seller, I love USPS’s new Regional Flat Rate boxes and rates!

As a one-time English major (as well as a one-time Communications major), I kind of hate them.

First—what’s with the name?  Regional what?  Flat who?  Could it be any more confusing?

Second—what’s with the USPS website?  It’s not really answering any question a normal human being might have and appears to have been written by either A) someone who understands the concept so well that he has no idea what could possibly confuse anyone else and/or B) a pair of hamsters with mad typing skills.

That’s okay, though—I think I may have figured the whole mess out.  Follow along with me as I explain every little detail in the manner of a Kindergarten teacher, or skip the parts that seem obvious to you, and we’ll all be saving money in no time.

And if you have anything to add or correct, please do contact me, and let me know!  I'll be happy to make revisions and add clarification.  I'm still learning too.

Note: All of these numbers assume "Commercial Base" pricing, which is what any of us pay when shipping online.

Why are they called "Regional"?  Can I only use them in certain regions?  Are they only helpful if I'm shipping short (or long) distances?  I’m so confused.  Are you SURE this program wasn’t devised by hamsters? I hear some of them are pretty smart.

As far as I can tell, they're called "Regional" because the rate you pay for them varies based on how far you are sending them (to what zone or "region").  This is as opposed to regular Flat Rate supplies, which cost the same to ship anywhere in the US.

You can use the Regional boxes anywhere within the US, and they will save you money if you use them appropriately, no matter how close or far they are going.

Now, forget all about the name "Regional."  It will just confuse you. 

So... Are they flat rates?  Or what?

Yes, they are flat rates, in the sense that they will always cost $X for packages sent to the same zone, no matter what the weight.  "$X" will vary based on the zone, but it will not change whether what is in the box weighs 1 oz or 10 lbs.

In other words, they are flat rates-- in that the rates are independent of weight (up to a limit)-- but they are regional in that they vary based on region.  

(You can check out the usps.com "Commercial Base Prices" page and scroll down to the bottom to be better able to compare apples to apples.)

Let’s flesh this out with an example.

Say I live in New York City (that’d be the one that’s in New York State).

Everything I ship in an "A" box to California will cost me $9.37, no matter how much it weighs (up to a maximum of 15 lbs).

Everything I ship in a "B" box to California will cost me $14.62, no matter what it weighs (up to a maximum of 20 lbs).

If I ship to New Jersey, within my own “Zone,” it will always be $4.97 for "A" and $5.81 for "B."  And so on. 

So, when should I be using them?

Glad you asked!

The "A" boxes ship at the same rate as a regular 2-lb package.

The "B" boxes ship at the same rate as a regular 4-lb package.

Thus, you should be using an "A" box for items over 2 lbs that fit into an "A" box.

You should be using a "B" box for items over 4 lbs that fit into an "B" box.

(*Up to 15-20 lbs.)

I've taken the weight-based Priority chart, put it next to the Regional Flat Rate chart and highlighted the corresponding rates.


As you can see (er, sorta-- this is as big as eBay Guides will let me make these graphics), the prices are as detailed above.  "A" at a 2-lb rate, "B" at a 4-lb rate.

(There are exceptions to this rule, however, which I will detail in the next answer.)

Okay, but how big are these boxes, really?

Pretty big!

Okay, if you want to get technical…

Right now, the "A" comes as either:

A1: 10 x 7 x 4.75

A2: ~ 12.75 x 11 x 2.5

A2 is just a little shorter than the top-loading rectangular O-1097 (why can't we call him something more descriptive, like "George?"), which I use pretty regularly.

Both “A” Boxes are about 332 cubic inches in volume.

The "B" boxes are obviously larger (706-707 cubic inches):

B1: 12 x 10.25 x 5

B2: ~16 x 14.5 x 3

...and among the largest Priority Mail boxes you can get.

In fact, the “B” boxes are larger than any USPS-provided Priority Box except for our friend the O-BOX7 (12 x 12 x 8) and the Large Flat Rate Box.

Here’s where our exceptions come in!

(This is a little on the advanced end of the spectrum, so feel free to skip if you don’t want to get bogged down.)

While the Regional Boxes will generally save you money over the regular Priority rate, they are sometimes more expensive than the regular (non-“Regional”) Flat Rate Boxes.

The simplest way to explain these exceptions is this:

Large Flat Rate Exception:

The Large Flat Rate Box is 42 cents cheaper than the Regional “B” Box to “Zone” 8 (the farthest “Zone” from you).  This is the one case in which it is cheaper to use the Large Flat Rate Box rather than the Regional “B” Box for items over 4 lbs—plus, the Large Flat Rate Box is actually a bit bigger than the “B” Boxes.

Medium Flat Rate Exception:

The Medium Flat Rate Box is substantially cheaper than the Regional “B” Box to “Zones” 5-8.  (In the case of a New Yorker, this would be to Chicago or farther.)  To save money over regular Priority rates, the catch is, of course, that the item must ship at a 4 lb rate or higher (3 lbs or higher to Zone 8) AND fit into a Medium Flat Rate Box (which is unusual unless your items are fairly dense).

If this is confusing, just check out the cheat sheet at the bottom of the guide.

How do I get these magical boxes?  And can I pay these rates at the counter?  How do I ship them?

Geez, enough with the questions, already!  What am I, the Answer Lady?

Oh, right.

You order the boxes via usps.com (for free!) much as you would any other Priority Mail box.  Unlike most Priority Mail supplies, however, I do not believe that the Regional Rate boxes are available at your local post office.

And no, you can’t pay for postage at the counter.  The prices and postage for Regional boxes are only available when you purchase postage online.  That's why they're cutting us this break-- so we'll be more likely to use online postage.

Right now, you can ship these Regional Rate Boxes in one of several ways:

1) eBay Shipping

2) USPS’s Click'n'Ship

3) Endicia

As of this writing (March 20, 2011) Stamps.com and PayPal Shipping are expected to follow suit soon.

So, what's the catch?

Besides the fact that you'll have to order the boxes and print postage online (which is probably a plus for most of us), the only catch I'm aware of is that the weight limits on these boxes are lower than the weight limits for traditional Flat Rate Boxes.  15 lbs for "A" and 20 lbs for "B," as opposed to 70 lbs for traditional Flat Rate Boxes.

Unless you are shipping gold bars, there's no practical difference.

How do I offer this rate to my customers?

If you use calculated shipping, just enter 2 lbs if you are planning on shipping in an "A" box, 4 lbs if you are shipping in a "B" box.  This may be problematic, however, if you also ship internationally using calculated shipping. In that case, you may prefer to use regular calculated shipping and refund your customers.

Hopefully eBay will be adding the Regional Flat Rate shipping option to listings soon, so that it can all be streamlined.

If you charge a single flat rate (not to be confused with a FRE/FRB) for shipping-- or if use Free Shipping-- obviously this is a non-issue, just more money in your pocket where you are able to save it.   

I hope this was helpful!  I thank you, and so do the hamsters.

Bonus! Ultimate Cheat Sheet for Priority Mail Boxes:

  • Use the Small Flat Rate Box if possible, as it is less expensive to ship than any other box.  Otherwise…
  • Items shipping at or below the 2-lb rate:
    • Use regular Priority boxes or your own box.
  • Items shipping at or above the 3-lb rate:
    • Use Regional “A” Boxes for all items that will fit into them.  Otherwise…
  • Items shipping at the 3-lb rate that will NOT fit into “A” Boxes:
    • Use regular Priority packaging, EXCEPT for those sent to “Zone 8” (the farthest zone).  These are best sent via Medium Flat Rate Boxes, which will save you $1.64 if your item will fit into one.  (i.e., your item is too big for an “A” Box but not too big for a Medium Flat Rate Box.)  
  • Items shipping at the 4-lb rate or higher that WILL fit into Medium Flat Rate Boxes:
    • Use the Medium Flat Rate Boxes in “Zones” 5-8.  Otherwise the Regional “B” Boxes will be cheaper, so use them instead in “Zones” 1-4.  As the “B” Boxes are also larger, virtually anything that fits into a Medium Flat Rate Box should fit into a “B” Box.
  • Items shipping at the 4-lb rate or higher that will NOT fit into Medium Flat Rate Boxes, but WILL fit into Regional “B” Boxes:
    • Use the Regional “B” Box in all cases EXCEPT for those sent to “Zone 8” (the farthest zone).  These are best sent via LARGE Flat Rate Boxes, saving you $0.42.
  • Items shipping at the 4-lb rate or higher that will NOT fit into Regional “B” Boxes, but WILL fit into Large Flat Rate Boxes:
    • Send ‘em in the Large Flat Rate Boxes!  But you knew that.
  • Items shipping at the 4-lb rate or higher that will NOT fit into ANY Flat Rate packaging:
    • Sorry, buddy—you’re on your own!  You’ll have to ship at the regular (weight- and zone-based) rates.  Try the big O-BOX7 or use your own packaging.
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