General Question

lilikoi's avatar

Is it illegal to flip a USPS Priority Mail flat rate box inside out and mail it non-flat-rate Priority Mail?

Asked by lilikoi (10105points) September 14th, 2010

I think it is common knowledge now that it is illegal to use – even reuse – a USPS Priority Mail Flat Rate Box for shipping methods other than Priority Mail.

In fact, the USPS now prints the following on the inside of their boxes:

“Thank you for using Priority Mail service.”
“Priority Mail postage required.”

No one on the internet seems to have discussed whether or not it is legal to flip these boxes inside out and ship them Priority Mail at the non flat rate.

The sentences printed in the boxes simply say that the box must be shipped Priority Mail, but mentions nothing about the rate.

The reason why these boxes must be mailed Priority Mail is, according to others on the internet, to offset the material costs. Again, no one ever differentiates between flat rate and not when presenting this justification. Instead, they basically say the only thing that matters is that it goes Priority Mail.

It seems probable that the USPS intended to allow their flat rate boxes to be used at the non-flat Priority Mail rate when flipped as language requiring otherwise is conspicuously missing from the print on the inside of these boxes.

If they wanted the flat-rate boxes to be used solely at this rate, wouldn’t they have said so on the inside of the box, since they already went through the trouble of printing ‘must be sent priority mail’ on the inside?

Yes, I realize USPS makes non-flat-rate boxes, but that doesn’t cure my curiosity here. If you only have the flat rate ones at home, or if your post office is out of one or the other, knowing the answer to this question might be helpful.

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15 Answers

WestRiverrat's avatar

I always flip boxes inside out and reuse them. Even the Fedex and UPS boxes. They don’t like it because they can’t sell me a new box, but I don’t care.

Once it is flipped inside out, I don’t think the USPS cares how you use it.

anartist's avatar

No more than it is to scribble out the postage prepaid stuff on an envelope and use that

wgallios's avatar

I would assume as long as your paying your necessary postage (and are not committing any type of mail fraud) then I don’t think there would be anything illegal going on.

Silence04's avatar

a box is a box…

lilikoi's avatar

@WestRiverrat @Silence04

A box is not a box to the USPS.

If you flip a USPS Priority Mail box inside out and try to send it Parcel Post they will either make you pay extra up front to send it Priority Mail or end up charging the recipient the difference for Priority Mail shipping because they will NOT ship a Priority Mail marked box Parcel Post.


Scribbling out the ‘you MUST send this Priority Mail’ print on the box, it would still be pretty obvious that the box is a Priority Mail box, specifically a Flat Rate box as the dimensions are standard.


The whole point of doing this would be to save the difference between the Priority Mail rate and Priority Mail Flat Rate so even though you’re using the same box, it’s possible for the rates to be different if they allow this. The question is what rate are you supposed to pay if you flip the flat rate box.

I’m going to call them and ask.

lilikoi's avatar


I called USPS and they said that you would be charged the flat rate if you flipped the box inside out, and that it is not possible to get the non flat rate for a Flat Rate box. They should print that on the inside of the box!!

Also, if you are reusing a Priority Mail box that has obviously been mailed before and try to send it Parcel Post or something else, they will force you to pay and accept Priority Mail. I can only assume that this would then also be the case for reused flat rate boxes that you are trying to send non flat rate.

BarnacleBill's avatar

What about wrapping the box in a brown paper grocery bag, and mailing it that way?

Ben_Dover's avatar

Depending on the weight of the item you intend to ship, it would be better to wrap the box in brown paper (free, paper sacks at the supermarket) and ship 1st class.

christos99's avatar

i don’t think it’s illegal, more like frowned upon

lljc00's avatar

I just tried to reuse a small flat-rate box that I had lying around the house, and the package just came back to me. I had wrapped it in a brown paper grocery bag so it didnt “look” like their box. They attached a strip of paper that said “This packaging is the property of the U.S. Postal service and is provided solely for use in sending Priority Mail. Misuse may be a violation of federal law. This packaging is not for resale. EP14F JULY 2007 U.S. POSTAL SERVICE.” And they stuck a yellow sticky with a stamped “Returned for _________ additional postage. When remailing cross out this notice or place stamps over it. The original postage was $2.87 (which included $.80 for a delivery confirmation) and this stamp had ”$2.08” for a total of $4.95. Grr..

AshlynM's avatar

Just get an empty box so you don’t have to worry about the hassle.

Don917's avatar

Wrapping the box in brown paper is no different than flipping a box inside out. Postal employees can easily spot it and given the current financial condition of the USPS they are more than glad to add a nice little POSTAGE DUE sticker to your package.

JaneraSolomon's avatar

I have had packages opened and returned to me by the USPS when I reused a USPS box that way, which then requires all new postage. However I’ve figured out a better way: Now I reuse FedEx boxes for US Mail and US Mail boxes for FedEx and they can’t complain about that at all.

Strauss's avatar

I think @lljc00‘s post has the correct answer to the OP:

This packaging is the property of the U.S. Postal service and is provided solely for use in sending Priority Mail. Misuse may be a violation of federal law. This packaging is not for resale

Anna737's avatar

Not illegal, but potentially frowned upon. Recycled boxes are so easy to come by, look around your house first and just use that as a last resort option. If you don’t make a constant practice of it nobody will even care. However, please recycle!

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