Inspected in accordance with standards in Domestic Mail Manual (DMM) 173.2.2
Yesterday I went to the post office to pick up a book a friend sent me. He sent the package by media mail, but the USPS delivered it postage due. The USPS had opened the package and inspected its contents to confirm eligibility for media mail rates. Additional first-class postage was due for a one-page letter my friend had enclosed with the book.
I paid the fifty cents due for the enclosed letter, and I received the package. It was stamped “Opened for inspection by USPS” and contained a slip explaining why extra postage was due.
The inspection didn’t surprise to me. Whenever I’ve sent a book by media mail, postal workers have always explained that media mail is subject to inspection. What was (or has been) a surprise to me was the postage due on the enclosed letter. This has been a recurring issue for me. In my experience the rule for enclosed personal messages in media mail has been applied inconsistently.
What happens to media mail when USPS determines it contains non-qualifying enclosures?
I have a PO box, and in my case, media mail that was sent to me was delivered to me postage due. I received a pick-up slip and had to pay additional postage. I’ve read differing accounts from other people of what might happen. One Amazon sellers reports that a USPS worker told her the package would be delivered postage due. Another Amazon seller reports that the package was returned with additional postage due.
What can you send with qualifying media mail? What can’t you send?
The standards for enclosures and attachments in noncommercial media mail are found in DMM 173.6.0. The standards for commercial mail are found in DMM 273.6.0.
In my case, I believe that the USPS inspector erred in his or her determination that the enclosed letter required additional postage. As of November 2018, it looks like these are the standards for enclosed letters (DMMM 173.6.4):
Incidental First-Class Mail matter may be enclosed in or attached to any Media Mail or Library Mail piece without payment of First-Class Mail postage. An incidental First-Class Mail attachment or enclosure must be matter that, if mailed separately, would require First-Class Mail postage, is closely associated with but secondary to the host piece, and is prepared so as not to interfere with postal processing. An incidental First-Class Mail attachment or enclosure may be a bill for the product or publication, a statement of account for past products or publications, or a personal message or greeting included with a product, publication, or parcel. Postage at the Media Mail or Library Mail price for the host piece is based on the combined weight of the host piece and the incidental First-Class Mail attachment or enclosure.
If you look at the standards linked above, you’ll also see that there are rules regarding enclosed invoices and written markings on qualifying materials.
So was additional postage really due?
The parts that look relevant for my purposes are:
- “Closely associated with but secondary to the host piece”
- “Prepared so as not to interfere with postal processing”
- “May be … a personal message or greeting included with a product, publication, or parcel.”
In my case, the letter was a personal greeting to accompany the book. In the letter, my friend said hello and explained how he had found the book at used book sale. This seems to meet all the criteria explained above, and postage was paid based on the combined total weight of the host piece (the book) and the incidental letter. In my reading of the rules, no additional postage would be due.
I paid it anyway, because it was only fifty cents, I didn’t have the rules in front of me, and I’m not a crank who enjoys making scenes at the post office. But I am interested in what USPS rules do and don’t allow, hence this blog post.
How to avoid extra postage due for first-class enclosures in media mail?
Perhaps you enjoy sending personal emails or have an old fax machine you could dust off. I suggested to my friend that he try the placing the following boldfaced text at the top of his next first-class media mail enclosure:
“This incidental enclosure is a personal message or greeting closely associated with but secondary to the host piece, and it has been prepared so as not to interfere with postal processing. Media mail postage has been paid based on the combined weight of the host piece and this incidental enclosure. It should meet all criteria described in DMM 173.6.4, which describes when incidental first-class mail matter may be enclosed within media mail without payment of first-class postage. Thank you for your hard work and may the Force be with you.”
I’m interested in hearing whether others have had similar experiences. What happened? How have postal workers explained the rules to you?