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USPS International Surface Airlift Program, What Is It?

In January 2014, the United States Postal Service will be increasing their First Class International postage rates by 11% for Flat size mailers. For companies in the Publishing, Catalog and Directory industries, they will face a pretty steep increase in postage from last year.

One great way to mitigate these increases, is to use the USPS International Surface Airlift program (ISAL). The USPS ISAL program is a bulk mailing system which provides economical international delivery of international mail and packages. USPS ISAL shipments are flown from specific gateway cities in the United States and upon arrival in the destination country are treated as surface or standard class mail for delivery.

To qualify for the USPS ISAL program a mailpiece must exhinit the characteristics of First Class Mail International as outlined in the International Mail Manual of the USPS. The USPS ISAL program is not available to every country in the world. However the ISAL program serves approximately 127 countries worldwide and has average transit times between 7 to 14 days.

Benefits of USPS International Surface Airlift (ISAL)

  • Perfect for less urgent material weighing < 2 kilos
  • Dispatched from United States via Air and then entered into standard class mail stream in destination country.
  • Transit times avaerage 7-14 days globally
  • Discounted postage rates

How can a Mailer participate in the USPS ISAL program

Mailer’s would contact a Postal Qualified Wholesaler locally and speak with an International Mail consultant to help guide them through the service. What is a Postal Qualified Wholesaler (PQW)? A Postal Qualified Wholesaler is a company that has been thoroughly vetted by the USPS to meet their strict preparation guidelines. PQW’s will have their operations and procedures thoroughly examined to insure that they meet all USPS security and preparation guidelines. If you are not familiar with a PQW in your area, then contact your USPS Global Account Manger for recommendations in your area. Please make sure when selecting a PQW that they have locations in multiple locations throughout the United States to insure your mail is processed regardless of the conditions in your area.

Be sure to ask your PQW the following questions?

1) Do you drop your mail at the International Sorting Center (ISC)? If so, which ISC’s does your company utilise? This is extremely important to maximize postal savings. PQW’s receive heavier discounts for dropping mail at an ISC location vs dropping at a local Bulk Mail Center. So you want to make sure that they are entering your mail at the ISC and that they have several locations throughout the United States entering at various ISC locations.

2) How often do you drop mail at the USPS ISC? If your mailer does not have significant volumes of ISAL they may opt to enter your mail at the ISC only a couple of times per week. This could result in lengthier delivery times and upset customers.

3) How much weight does your PQW drop each week at the ISC? If your mailer does not have significant volumes of ISAL that they are tendering to the USPS, then most likely your mail will receive slower treatment at the ISC.

4) What percentage of your mail is sent in Direct Sacks? This is critical, please make sure that your mailer is achieving at least 95% being placed in Direct Sacks. What is a Direct Sack? A Direct Sack has at least 3 pounds of mail destined to a particular country. If they do not meet this requirement, then the USPS will have to handle your mail and create a direct sack from the other mail they are receiving. Direct Sacks require minimal handling by the USPS and is sent out on the next available flight. So mailing with a company that creates only 70% direct sacks could mean that 30% of your mail is delivered slower than the rest.

5) What will your PQW do with mail that falls outside the ISAL program? Since the USPS ISAL program does not service every country in the world, it is important to know what will happen with mail that falls outside the service. I would recommend using a PQW that will send all NON-ISAL countries via International Priority Airmail. There are many PQW’s that will simply return the NON-ISAL countries to the mailer as being undeliverable.

In order to qualify for the highest level of discounts, please make sure that your PQW is depositing their mail at one of the following ISAL acceptance cities in New York, Miami, Chicago, San Francisco, or Los Angeles. If your PQW is depositing their mail in any other city, you are potentially leaving some postage savings on the table. In addition, if your PQW is depositing mail in another city, you will experience longer transit times then required. All ISAL mail regardless of the depositing city must make its way to one of the ISAL acceptance cities for uplift Internationally.

Which Mailer’s should use the USPS International Surface Airlift Program?

1) If you have more than 50 pounds of mail Internationally.

2) If your mailing is less urgent and can accommodate a 7 to 14 day delivery.

3) Are you mailing small packages less than $400 in value

4) If your mail consists of printed matter material that is not a check, invoice, or statement.

If the above criteria fits your current business profile, then I would contact your Global Account Manager at the United States Postal Service or a PQW to start saving thousands in postage.


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