It's not yet Halloween, but it's time to start planning for getting those packages to troops deployed or stationed overseas in time for Hanukkah and Christmas.

The first "mail by" recommendation is Nov. 7 for Retail Ground (formerly known as Standard Post). But according to the U.S. Postal Service, it's not the fastest, and it's not necessarily cheaper. It pays to compare the postage costs of various shipping methods for your particular package. 

Here are the Postal Service "mail by" recommendations for holiday mail to APO/FPO/DPO (Diplomatic Post Office) addresses:

  • USPS Retail Ground: Nov. 7.
  • Space Available Mail (SAM): Nov. 25
  • Parcel Airlift Mail (PAL):  Dec. 2
  • First-Class Mail (letters and cards) and Priority Mail: Dec. 9, except to ZIPs starting in 093 (contingency areas), where it's Dec. 2.
  • Priority Mail Express Military Service: Dec. 16, except to 093 ZIPs.  This express service is not available to those areas.

Holiday mailing deadlines for troops overseas

Sending gifts to troops overseas? Meet these holiday mailing deadlines to get your packages there in time

Postal Service officials have put together a free Military Care Kitbased on items most frequently requested by military families, with two Priority Mail Flat Rate boxes and two medium Flat Rate boxes, tape, address labels and customs forms. The Flat Rate boxes are free, and the Postal Service gives a $2 postage discount per Flat Rate box to those going to an APO/FPO/DPO address. For example, the discounted price for sending the largest Flat Rate box is $16.75.

You can stuff as many items as you can fit into these boxes, as long as the package weighs less than 70 pounds, and pay the flat rate.

Retail Ground postage costs are based on the distance and the weight. Postal officials advise comparing prices for Priority Mail and Retail Ground, because in some cases the postage costs are similar and Priority Mail gets there faster and includes free forwarding and return. 

Karen Jowers covers military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times. She can be reached at .