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USPS test: We mailed 4 packages with GPS trackers to see how quickly they got there

10 Investigates tracked packages to find out where they go after they're dropped off at the post office.

TAMPA, Fla. — We count on the United States Postal Service rain or shine. Our postal workers always show up, but we’ve heard from you that — sometimes — getting a package via USPS takes a long time or it doesn’t come at all.

With the holiday season fast approaching, we know there’s concern. So, we put the nation's mail service to the test.

It started at our studio in St. Petersburg, Florida. We got two medium Priority Mail boxes and two regular brown boxes to send First-Class mail.

We loaded them up and added GPS trackers in each. We sent the pricier Priority Mail box and the less expensive First-Class box to our friend, Haley Harrison with First Coast News in Jacksonville. We sent the same to our buddy, Chris Ingalls with KING 5 in Seattle.

Four trackers, four packages — all dropped at the same time at Tampa’s main post office. How long would it take and where would our packages go?

Credit: 10 Tampa Bay
We mailed four packages at the same time from Tampa, Florida, to put the USPS to the test. How long will they take to get to Jacksonville and Seattle?

With our tracking devices, we could see our packages move from the main post office to another USPS facility.

Tampa’s package support annex has new high-tech robots and a high-speed single induction package sorter, which can process 3,000 parcels an hour.

Ahead of the expected increased holiday demand, USPS says it added those and made other changes to handle demand, including adding additional space across more than 40 annexes. USPS is also currently hiring for more than 40,000 seasonal positions to help process and deliver the mail.

This holiday season will put them to the ultimate test amid the big rush. The postal service projects regular First-Class packages should be delivered within five days and Priority Mail packages should arrive within one to three days.

“Hello from Jacksonville!” Harrison exclaimed as she recorded opening her boxes. She received both boxes at the exact same time. They arrived in Jacksonville in 40 hours.

Our tracker showed them making a straight shot across the state. She sent them back to us and it was, once again, the same. Both packages arrived on the same day, same time and in fewer than two days. Priority cost us $16.25 and the First-Class box $5.85, so that is something to consider as you mail this holiday. 

Do your research: What is in your budget and what’s your timeline?

Across the country at our affiliate KING 5, Ingalls got the Priority box first. It arrived in a day and a half. The regular First-Class box wasn’t far behind, arriving in two-and-a-half days.

Our tracker showed movement to facilities in Tampa, then a straight shot taking off from Tampa International Airport and landing at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. The packages made a few quick stops between Tacoma and Seattle.

All four packages made it to their destinations and all four faster than promised. But what about those who don’t get their packages and don’t have our GPS trackers? We know there are issues. Did we just get lucky? We asked USPS spokesperson David Walton.

We asked, “On my receipt, I have that tracking number, and I can see where it was last, why can't you just go into the facility, find it and get it on its way?”

Walton responded, “Well, it’s not as easy as that. I mean you know these facilities are quite large.”

He says customers who have problems can call consumer affairs and there are researchers, including here in Tampa, who will track down your missing mail. He says call 1-800-ASK-USPS.

“They do extensive research, and a lot of times they are able to find these packages and get them to the rightful owner,” he said.

That is the goal of the Postal Service this holiday season to deliver to America, and they promise they will do that. On your end, it’s important to plan ahead and remember, as we saw, all of the places your mail will go along the way.

“People don’t realize what a piece of mail or a package goes through to reach its destination,” Walton said. “I think it’s wonderful that you did this experiment.”

Between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31 of last year, the Postal Service processed more than 997 million First Class and Priority Mail packages. This holiday season, it expects to deliver up to 950 million packages. It'll process and deliver more than 12 billion pieces of mail, with letters and cards in the mix.

There are shipping deadlines to keep in mind to get your packages to their destinations by Dec. 25 — Christmas Day.

The Postal Service recommends the following mailing and shipping deadlines for expected delivery by Dec. 25 to domestic addresses and APO/FPO/DPO (Air/Army Post Office/Fleet Post Office/Diplomatic Post Office) addresses:

  • Nov. 6 — APO/FPO/DPO (all ZIP Codes) USPS Retail Ground service
  • Dec. 9 — APO/FPO/DPO (all ZIP Codes) Priority Mail and First-Class Mail
  • Dec. 15 — USPS Retail Ground service
  • Dec. 16 — APO/FPO/DPO (except ZIP Code 093) USPS Priority Mail Express Military service
  • Dec. 17 — First-Class Mail service (including greeting cards)
  • Dec. 17 — First-class packages (up to 15.99 ounces)
  • Dec. 18 — Priority Mail service
  • Dec. 23 — Priority Mail Express service

Alaska

  • Dec. 18 — Alaska to/from Continental U.S.– First-Class Mail
  • Dec. 18 — Alaska to/from Continental U.S.– Priority Mail
  • Dec. 21 — Alaska to/from Continental U.S.– Priority Mail Express

Hawaii

  • Dec. 17 — Hawaii to/from mainland--Priority Mail and First-Class Mail
  • Dec. 21 — Hawaii to/from mainland--Priority Mail Express