USPS International Surface Airlift Program, What Is It?

In January 2014, the United States Postal Service will increase 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 relatively steep stamp increase since last year.

A 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 that provides economical international delivery of international mails 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 superficial or standard type mail for delivery.

To be eligible for the USPS ISAL program a mailpiece must modify the First Class International Mail properties outlined in the USPS International Mail Manual. The USPS ISAL program is not available in every country in the world. However the ISAL program serves approximately 127 countries worldwide and has average transit times ranging from 7 to 14 days.

Benefits of the USPS International Surface Airlift (ISAL)

  • Ideal for less urgent material weighing <2 kilograms
  • Shipped from the United States by Air and then enters the standard mail stream class in the destination country.
  • Avaerage delivery times 7-14 days worldwide
  • Discounted postage rates

How a Mailer can participate in the USPS ISAL program

The Mailer will contact a Local Qualified Wholesaler and speak with an International Mail consultant to help guide them through service. What is a Pos Qualified Wholesaler (PQW)? A Pos Qualified Wholesaler is a company that has been thoroughly inspected by the USPS to meet their strict preparation guidelines. PQW’s will carefully review their operations and procedures to ensure they meet all USPS security and preparedness guidelines. If you are unfamiliar with a PQW in your area, then contact your USPS Global Account Manger for recommendations in your area. Please make sure when choosing a PQW that they have locations in multiple locations throughout the United States to ensure your mail is processed regardless of 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 of the ISCs does your company use? This is very important to maximize postal savings. PQW receives heavier discounts for dropping mail at an ISC location compared to dropping at a local Bulk Mail Center. So you want to make sure they go to your ISC mail and they have multiple locations across the United States going to different ISC locations.

2) How often do you drop off mail at USPS ISC? If your mailer does not have a significant amount of ISAL they can opt to enter your mail into the ISC only a few times per week. This can result in longer delivery times and upset customers.

3) How much weight did your PQW lose per week on the ISC? If your mailer does not have the significant amount of ISAL they offer in the USPS, it is likely that your mail will receive slower ISC treatment.

4) What percentage of your mail is sent to Direct Sacks? This is critical, please make sure your mailer achieves at least 95% of that put in Direct Sacks. What is a Direct Sack? A Direct Sack has at least 3 pounds of mail reserved in a particular country. If they do not meet this requirement, the USPS will need to handle your mail and create a direct sack from other mail they receive. Direct Sacks requires minimal USPS handling and is shipped on the next available flight. So mailing to a company that only creates 70% direct sacks can mean that 30% of your mail is delivered slower than others.

5) What will your PQW do with mail that falls out of the ISAL program? Since the USPS ISAL program does not serve every country in the world, it is important to know what happens to mail that falls out of service. I recommend using a PQW that will ship to all NON-ISAL countries via International Priority Airmail. Many PQWs will only return countries that are NOT INCLUDED in the mailer as undeliverable.

To qualify for the highest discount level, please ensure that your PQW deposits their mail in one of the following ISAL receiving cities in New York, Miami, Chicago, San Francisco, or Los Angeles. If your PQW deposits their mail in any other city, you’re potentially leaving some stamp savings on the table. In addition, if your PQW places mail in another city, you will experience longer transit times then necessary. All ISAL mail regardless of city placement must go to one of ISAL’s receiving cities for International lift.

Which Mailer 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 receive 7 to 14 days delivery.

3) Do you ship small packages that are less than $ 400 worth

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

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