The May 12 postal rate increase will hit your wallet but you'll still get a break shipping larger flat-rate boxes to APO and FPO addresses.
Mailing a letter will cost 42 cents, up a penny. The regular priority mail flat-rate box will cost $9.80, up 85 cents. But the larger flat-rate boxes, which have been available for about a month, will not be affected.
The $2 military discount on these larger boxes makes them an even better deal. They have about 50 percent more space than the older version and are available free at the post office, by phone or online.
This is the first time the U.S. Postal Service has offered a discount on boxes going to APO/FPO addresses, so take advantage of it. The new boxes normally cost $12.95 to mail (up to 70 pounds), but they cost $10.95 to send to an APO/FPO address. The new box measures 12 inches by 12 inches by 5½ inches.
The regular flat-rate box that will cost $9.80 to mail as of May 12 carries no discount when shipped to APO/FPO addresses.
A reader in San Diego is puzzled that her local post office has no information about the new, larger flat-rate priority mail boxes.
"I am with The Salvation Army and have sent many care packages to our troops from our church. ... It would be a great help to be able to save on the packages," Rosalie Doom wrote.
There is no shortage of the new boxes, Postal Service spokeswoman Melissa Dodge said. But there is some confusion because of the "America Supports You" logo on some of the new larger boxes, signifying the Postal Service's involvement in the Defense Department campaign that links Americans with groups supporting the troops and their families.
Postal customers, including Doom, are asking specifically for the "America Supports You" boxes. That logo, which is on some of the flat-rate boxes at post offices near military installations, is not required for the discount, Dodge said.
If employees at your local post office do not know about the box with the "America Supports You" logo, simply ask for the large flat-rate box.
The boxes also are available at overseas military post offices, but the discount applies only on boxes going to APO/FPO addresses, not coming from them, Dodge said.
Buying prepaid phone cards
A sailor in Iraq had an unfortunate, but all too common, experience with a prepaid phone card that he received in a care package in December.
When then-Chief Warrant Officer 3 T.R. Forsythe tried to use the card in February, he found it had expired. When he called Walgreens, where the card was purchased, he learned that the phone card had been bought in December 2005 and was good for 12 months. Forsythe, now a Chief Warrant Officer 4, said a Walgreens customer service supervisor tried unsuccessfully to reactivate it.
Phone cards purchased at Walgreens stores after June 2007 are good for two years, spokeswoman Carol Hively said.
Hively asked for more details about Forsythe's situation and said, "We'll see what we can do for him."
Plenty of cards advertise rates of a few cents a minute, but that applies only to calls made within the U.S.
The cost generally skyrockets if a service member uses those cards to call from Iraq or Afghanistan to the U.S.
The military exchange prepaid phone cards have been popular and are a good deal for most people.
The Army and Air Force Exchange prepaid 550-minute card charges no extra fees and offers 143 minutes of calls from the Iraq or Afghanistan theaters to the U.S., for 19 cents a minute. (The card would provide 550 minutes if used in the U.S., at a much lower per-minute rate.)
Even people without military exchange shopping privileges can buy the cards at http://www.aafes.com">http://www.aafes.com through the "Help Our Troops call Home" campaign. More than 249,000 cards have been sent since the campaign started in 2004.
And these cards never expire.