U.S. Postal Service Announces Holiday Shipping Deadlines: What It Means For You

by Jennifer Shea
Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

The U.S. Postal Service has revealed its holiday shipping deadlines for the 2021 season. If you’re mailing Christmas presents, here’s what that means for you.

For domestic mail sent within the lower 48 states, you’ll need to mail it by Dec. 15 via USPS Ground Service to get it to its intended recipient in time.

If you can send it by First-Class Mail, you can wait until Dec. 17 to mail it, the Postal Service claims. Send it by Priority Mail, and you can wait until Dec. 18.

If you’re doing last-minute shopping and can’t get presents out until Dec. 23, you’ll need to ship them Priority Mail Express.

For Alaska and Hawaii shipping dates, or for information about international and military mail, see the USPS website’s tables here.

If you’re celebrating Hanukkah, you’ll have to mail your presents much sooner than that. And the USPS has rolled out a new stamp just in time for Hanukkah, depicting two children and a fully lit menorah on the last evening of the holiday.

New Postal Service Policies Are Not Without Controversy

The USPS has been struggling to adjust recently as it implements some new policies, courtesy of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s 10-year plan for the postal service. Among those new policies is a shift toward delivering more mail by truck rather than by air. Under DeJoy’s plan, more mail will also be funneled through surface transfer centers (STCs) before making it onto delivery trucks.

“The problem with that system is that there are not enough truck drivers,” Iowa Postal Workers Union President Kimberly Karol told NBC News. “We’re moving mail to surface transportation centers. And there aren’t enough drivers who can move that mail. They wait until trucks are 100 percent loaded and that could take days before they dispatch it.”

For whatever reason, the USPS often can’t track mail while it is at an STC. That has prompted customers tracking their mail to wonder why the postal service appears to be holding the mail for so long.

“We may accept the mail at the counter at a post office, but then when we send it to the surface centers, the mail can’t be tracked,” Karol said. “They hold it, sometimes for days. It looks like the postal service is holding that mail but the mail is not even in our hands. It’s very hard for customers to track their mail.”

The end result – protracted delivery times – has meant disappointment or personal crisis for people getting birthday presents or medicine through the mail. And that may be why the postal service is urging people to send holiday presents early this year.

For its part, the USPS stresses that the changes will only affect a third of first-class mail and seven percent of periodicals.

“These new service standards will increase delivery reliability, consistency, and efficiency for our customers and across our network,” USPS spokesperson Kim Frum said in a statement.