Shutterstock photo

Those heading to the post office to mail cards, letters, or packages will have plenty of company if they go next week, when the U.S. Postal Service expects to have its busiest days of the year.

The Postal Service typically sees a huge surge in business around the holidays and foresees this year being no different. It is projecting it will deliver 15.5 billion cards, letters and packages between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, an increase of more than 5 percent from the 14.7 billion delivered during the same period last year.

The USPS attributes the jump to increased advertising being sent by mail and more packages being ordered and sent. The growth in popularity of online shopping in recent years has contributed to a surge in package mailings.

The bulk of those mailings, 12.7 billion, will take place between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve, the USPS predicts. 

The days of highest demand are expected to fall next week. The busiest mailing day for cards, letters and packages is expected to be Monday, Dec. 15, while the busiest day for mailing just cards and letters is predicted to be Wednesday, Dec. 17, and the busiest package-mailing day is slated to be Thursday, Dec. 18.

The holiday season is big business for the USPS, which is hurting financially.

Just last month it reported a net loss of $5.5 billion for the 2014 fiscal year. It was the eighth straight year in which the service suffered a loss and a USPS press release said legislation is needed “to repair the Postal Service’s broken business model.” The service has suffered in recent years for many reasons, including a plummeting demand for postage stamps as more consumers pay their bills online.

Customers flock to post offices around the holidays, though. Typically, the Postal Service processes 523 million pieces of mail a day, but that figure jumps to 553 million a day during the holiday season. This year, postal officials expect USPS to process about 640 million pieces of mail on Monday alone, up from 607 million on the busiest day of 2013.

The USPS also estimates 470 million packages will be delivered during the holiday season, up 12 percent from 420 million last year.

Many will head into post offices to send their holiday gifts and cards, but USPS expects about 3 million customers to instead use the “Click-n-Ship” option that lets them print out shipping labels from their home computers.

Since last week, the Postal Service’s national operations center has been staffed 24/7 to monitor and coordinate mail transportation worldwide and accommodate the spike in demand, according to the USPS.

Post offices will be open Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, but most will close early at noon on those two days. Post offices will be closed and there will be no mail delivery Christmas Day or New Year’s Day.

The Postal Service’s two biggest competitors — FedEx and UPS — also are bracing for busy days in the coming weeks.

FedEx expects to ship 22.6 million packages on its busiest day, Monday, Dec. 15.

UPS, meanwhile, predicts its busiest shipping day of the holiday season won’t be until Dec. 22. The company expects to deliver more than 34 million packages that day, double what it delivers on a normal day and up from the 31 million delivered on its busiest day last year.