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The Margin: Sending mail is about to get slower and pricier just in time for the holidays

The holiday season seems to kick off earlier every year, but this time around, you might want to get those holiday packages in the mail as soon as you can.

The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is implementing changes in the next few days that will make sending certain pieces of mail slower and more expensive.

Starting Oct. 1, the USPS is rolling out new service standards for first class mail and periodicals, which is intended to “increase delivery reliability, consistency and efficiency for our customers and across our network,” according to a service alert.

While standard shipping times for mail traveling locally will continue to be two days, mail traveling longer distances could take an extra one to two days to arrive at its destination. But the USPS said that 61% of first class mail and 93% of periodicals should be unaffected by this change.

So why the delays in some cases? Well, increasing the delivery times for mail going longer distances will allow the USPS to rely more on its cheaper ground transportation, it said. The Postal Service will “make better use of our trucks and existing surface network to move the mail, relying less on costly air transportation.”

“We do not own planes and lack control over factors affecting air transportation (e.g. availability of planes, cargo space, weather),” USPS said, “but we do have a surface transportation network with a history of higher reliability, excess capacity and better service performance.”

The USPS is also setting higher shipping rates for the peak holiday season, which will go into effect on Oct. 3 and last through Dec. 26. The prices could increase as little as 75 cents for some packages, and up to $5 for others, depending on weight and region. This seasonal adjustment “will bring prices for the Postal Service’s commercial and retail customers in line with competitive practices,” it said.

Related: U.S. Postal Service looking to hire more than 40,000 employees for the holidays

So the mail service advises people to plan ahead this holiday season, especially for mail that requires a deadline. Basically, if it would take more than a day to drive your mail to its destination, then send it early.

The changes are part of the Postal Service’s 10-year “Delivering for America” plan, announced by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy earlier this year.

The plan outlines $40 billion in capital investments aimed at modernizing mail delivery and increasing efficiency. It promises to achieve a positive net income within three years, reach a break-even operating performance in 10 years, and avoid $160 billion in projected losses by 2030.

Read more: 5 ways that DeJoy’s new USPS plan could affect your mail delivery

“Our plan calls for growth and investments, as well as targeted cost reductions and other strategies that will enable us to operate in a precise and efficient manner to meet future challenges, as we put the Postal Service on a path for financial sustainability and service excellence,” DeJoy said when announcing the plan.

Indeed, despite an operating revenue increase of $845 million compared to the same quarter last year, USPS reported $3 billion in losses for the 2021 third quarter.

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