On 17th January 1947, the complicated web of numerous different airmail rates for various destinations was replaced by a simplified arrangement, in which the countries of the world were grouped into zones. Although there have been changes in the number of zones, and in which destinations were placed in each zone, this approach is in essence still in use – see this page for a full listing from 1947 to date.
The major revisions that took place were as follows.
There were three zones for countries outside Europe designated A, B, and C (although not named as such until 1949). The groupings were basically as follows:
- Zone A: North Africa and the Middle East
- Zone B: The Americas, most of Africa, the Indian subcontinent
- Zone C: East/Southeast Asia and Australasia/Oceania
(also included much of Latin America and the West Indies up to 30th April 1948)
Mail to Europe was not part of this system, and with a minor exception (see below), from mid-1948 to early 1991 it was sent "all-up". This meant that it was sent by air if this was quicker (as it normally was) at surface mail rates, carriage by air being the preferred method of despatch.
An air newspaper rate to Europe was introduced on 3rd October 1966 – it was referred to as "all-up", although the surface printed papers rate was still cheaper.
On 7th January 1991(*) the three-zone division of world destinations outside Europe was reduced to two. Zones A and B were combined to form a new Zone 1 (the rates had been equalised a few months before), and Zone C was renamed Zone 2.
Also in 1991, the surface/airmail distinction was reintroduced for European letters, with airmail postage to Europe becoming (slightly) more expensive than the equivalent worldwide surface rates, and the special newspaper rate replaced by general airmail printed papers and small packet rates.
(*) This date is taken from the leaflet issued to the public. The relevant Post Office Scheme gave a start date of 21st January, but this marked the start of a period of a few months where whoever was responsible for placing the Overseas Letter Post Schemes in the London Gazette made a series of errors that had to be corrected!
The two zones outside Europe were themselves combined into a single "Rest of World" zone. The lower rates (or for some classes of mail, all rates) had been similar for the two zones for some years.
The single "Rest of World" zone was split up again into a World Zone 1 and a World Zone 2 (similar but not identical to the former Zones 1 and 2). World Zone 1 covered "all countries not defined as being in Europe or World Zone 2 ... North America, South America, Africa, the Middle East, the Far East and South East Asia". World Zone 2 is a short list of territories, mostly in Australasia.
From this point, the rates for the various classes of airmail became identical above 100g, starting a process of combining the services into one as for inland mail.
The combined airmail services were rebranded "International Standard".
In 2019, an emergency UPU congress agreed to allow the USA to set terminal dues/prices themselves from 1st July 2020, so that they could increase how much they charged other countries for delivery. It averted their threat to leave the UPU. As a result, the US Postal Service increased the fees charged for "last mile" delivery of international mail by more than 100%.
This factor, combined with the increased cost of securing air freight due to the reduction in flights globally due to the Covid-19 outbreak, forced Royal Mail to increase the rates for parcels (but not letters) to the USA. This was done by defining the USA (only) as a new Zone 3.
Following a short period of approximately two months with special rates for "Confirmed" mail to certain countries in Europe, the European destinations were split into three zones, with different rates for most services.
Letters and Cards 1947-2012
Printed Matter 1947-2012
- Printed Papers 1948-1991
- Printed Papers 1991-2008
- Printed Papers 2008-2012
- Commercial Papers 1948-1966
- Newspapers (World) 1952-1993
- Newspapers (Europe) 1966-1991
Small Packets, Samples etc 1947-2012
- Small Packets 1948-1991
- Small Packets 1991-2008
- Small Packets 2008-2012
- Samples 1948-1971
- Phonopost 1966-1971
Combined Airmail Services from 2012
- Airmail / International Standard Europe 2012-2022
- International Standard Europe Zone 1 2022-date
- International Standard Europe Zone 2 2022-date
- International Standard Europe Zone 3 2022-date
- Airmail / International Standard World Zone 1 2012-date
- Airmail / International Standard World Zone 2 2012-date
- Airmail / International Standard World Zone 3 2020-date
Special Handling 1947-2003
Priority Services 1993-2014
- Intl. Recorded/Intl. Registered 1993-2002
- International Signed For 2002-2014
- Airsure 2002-2014
International Confirmed 2014-date
- Europe 2014-2022
- European Union
- Europe Zone 1 2022-date
- Europe Zone 2 2022-date
- Europe Zone 3 2022-date
- World Zone 1 2014-date
- World Zone 2 2014-date
- World Zone 3 2020-date