updated 11/29/2004 5:13:00 PM ET 2004-11-29T22:13:00

The U.S. Postal Service expects to handle 20 billion pieces of mail between Thanksgiving and Christmas, up slightly from last year, the agency said Monday.

“It’s a good time of year for us. We look forward to this time of year,” Postmaster General John Potter said.

While the overall total averaged out to 670 million items per day, the peak mailing day is expected to be Monday, Dec. 20, as people send out cards the weekend before Christmas. Mailings could jump to 850 million items that day.

The busiest delivery day is expected to come two days later.

Potter said the agency was striving to make mailing as convenient as possible, selling stamps by telephone at 1-800-STAMP-24 and via the Internet at www.usps.com, as well as at 38,000 post offices, 21,000 retail stores and 16,000 automated teller machines.

Many post offices will have extended hours, and some will open on Sundays.

Potter said the agency had added a flat-rate priority mail box that could go anywhere in the country for $7.70 carrying “whatever you can fit in it.”

Mail domestic packages by Dec. 14
Mailing tips include:

  • Wrap parcels securely.
  • Print the return and recipient’s addresses clearly.
  • Never guess the ZIP code. Call 1-800-ASK-USPS for ZIP code information.

For military mail, the suggested deadline to send material via Parcel Airlift is Dec. 4. Priority mail can be sent until Dec. 11 to military addresses beginning with the ZIP 093.

For domestic packages, the post office says to switch from parcel post to Priority Mail on Dec. 14 and to Express Mail on Dec. 23.

Mail going overseas has the following suggested deadlines:

  • Global airmail parcel post should be sent by Dec. 6 to Africa, Central and South America; Dec. 10 for Europe; and Dec. 13 elsewhere.
  • For airmail cards and letters, the suggested deadlines are Dec. 6 for Africa, Central and South America and Dec. 13 for the rest of the world.
  • Global express mail should be sent by Dec. 11 to Africa, Central and South America and Europe; Dec. 17 to Asia, the Pacific, Australia, New Zealand, the Caribbean, Mexico and the Middle East; and Dec. 18 to Canada.
  • Global express guaranteed items can wait until Dec. 21 for Canada and Dec. 20 elsewhere.

Most wonderful time of the year
The post office gets a boost in income from the mass of holiday mail, helping its bottom line.

Potter has promised that the current 37-cent first-class rate will not change until 2006. Because of the nearly yearlong process involved in changing rates, that means the agency would have to begin the process next year, probably early in the year.

The amount of any increase remains uncertain, with action stalled in Congress on changes to the law governing postal operations. The post office has been seeking more flexibility in changing rates and service and wants to be relieved of the obligation — which is not imposed on any other agency — of paying military retirement benefits for its workers who were in the armed services.

Potter has said that without the requested changes, the increase could be in double digits. A 10 percent hike would boost the price of stamps from 37 cents to 41 cents, and a 15 percent hike could increase the cost of mailing a letter to 43 cents.

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