936-327-8873

A Look Inside Escapees Mail-Forwarding Service for RVers

The Escapees RV Club operates the oldest and largest private mail forwarding service in the country, with more than 12,500 subscribers. 

Since 1985, the Escapees Mail Forwarding Service—a commercial mail-receiving agent officially licensed by the U.S. Postal Service—has enabled full-time and part-time RVers to receive their mail and packages most everywhere they travel , whenever they want, and always with the club’s friendly, personal attention.

To its subscribers, the Escapees Mail Forwarding Service may seem somewhat of a “black box”: mail addressed to them gets collected and eventually forwarded to their location. Simple, right? 

It may seem that way (and it should), but when you consider the roughly 25,000 mail pieces that the Mail Forwarding Service handles every business day, you begin to appreciate that achieving fast and efficient service requires the experience and coordination of a professional symphony orchestra, with each part of the process playing a crucial role while working together to create a harmonious result.

Here, then, is an inside look at the complex journey your mail takes through the Escapees Mail Forwarding Service.

 

First - Receiving and Sorting Mail

At about 9:30 every weekday morning, except for federal holidays, a semi-trailer loaded with the day’s incoming mail from the U.S. Postal Service’s North Houston Processing Facility arrives at the mail service dock. The Mail Forwarding Service team rolls off the truck two to six large metal containers, called APCs, full of incoming mail, and wheels them into the main sorting room.

The first step in the sorting process is “breaking” the mail by class and size. During this step, trays and other containers of mail are unloaded from the APCs. First Class mail arrives already separated from bulk mail, but the First Class trays still contain many sizes and shapes of envelopes. The team manually separates flats (large envelopes) and other non-machinable items from the letter-size mail.

Next, an operator loads the trays of letter-size mail onto a commercial high-speed mail sorting machine. This machine processes hundreds of pieces per minute, optically reading the street address and barcode on each mail piece and sorting the pieces into individual bins, one for each Rainbow Drive street address. The machine diverts envelopes that it can’t read accurately to a separate bin, from which a staff member will read and sort each envelope manually.

Flats and other non-machinable First Class mail pieces are sorted manually into hundreds of wall cubbies in the sorting room—one cubby for each Rainbow Drive street address.

The Mail Forwarding Service team members then load the sorted mail from the machine and the cubbies onto small wheeled carts and roll the carts into the mailrooms. Here, there are rows upon rows of hanging file folders, each one corresponding to a particular PMB number. A team member hand-sorts each mail piece into the correct mailbox folder.

Scanning Lets You See Your Mail ASAP

One of the most valuable and often overlooked Mail Forwarding Service options is mail scanning. 

Although the scanning service incurs a small additional monthly fee, members who use it get the benefit of seeing each First Class envelope online the same day it arrives, and then being able to request and view a scan of the envelope contents if they wish. This service enables subscribers to see important mail days or even weeks before it’s forwarded to them, while also reducing the volume of mail that has to be forwarded (and the associated postage cost). 

The scanning service also enables each subscriber to request immediate forwarding of particularly time-sensitive mail, and to know if they need to provide special instructions when they eventually have their mail forwarded. For example, if I see in my scans that I’ve received a check or a new credit card in my mail, I’ll always request that my next batch of forwarded mail be sent by Priority Mail or another trackable service.

After the First Class mail is sorted each day, team members pull the new mail for scanning service subscribers from the individual mailbox folders and take it to the scanning station. Each envelope is then scanned the same day, and the subscriber receives an email notifying them that they have new scans to review.

The member logs into their secure My Mail Service (MMS) portal on the Escapees member website, from which they can view their scanned envelopes. For each envelope, they can request that the contents be scanned, or that the envelope be returned to their mailbox folder for eventual forwarding, or that the envelope be destroyed. If the member requests a scan of the contents, after viewing the scan online they can direct that the mail piece be either destroyed or saved for later forwarding.

What if a scanning service subscriber accidentally requests destruction of an envelope containing something valuable, like a check? (Yes, it has happened!) Not to worry—the Mail Forwarding Service has you covered. As a precaution, any unopened mail ordered to be destroyed is opened first to make sure there’s nothing like a check or important paperwork inside. If the staff has any doubts, they will call the subscriber to advise them and confirm the instructions before shredding and recycling the envelope.

How Are Packages Handled For RVers?

Inbound packages delivered by UPS and FedEx, as well as any USPS packages that are too large to fit into the mailbox folders, are all routed to the Mail Forwarding Service’s package desk. Here, team members log each package into the service’s package tracking system. The system then prints a barcoded label that’s applied to the package and sends an email notification with the package information to the subscriber.

Smaller packages get stored in overflow tubs directly below the subscriber’s hanging mailbox folder, where team members looking for or pulling mail for a subscriber can easily find them.  Larger boxes are stored separately in a dedicated package room and a notice is placed into the recipient’s mailbox folder so that the package is sure to be included in the subscriber’s next shipment of forwarded mail.

What About Florida and South Dakota Mail Customers?

Although many Escapees members use their Rainbow Drive address as their legal domicile, the Mail Forwarding Service also makes it easy for members to domicile in the RV-friendly states of Florida and South Dakota by providing an alternate mailing address in those states. When subscribers receive mail at either of these addresses, staff there box up the mail several times per week and send it to the main mail center in Livingston, where it’s processed along with mail that’s addressed directly to subscribers at Rainbow Drive.

The club does not charge members an extra fee to get or maintain a domicile address in Florida or South Dakota. However, there is a small fee for each mail piece received at those addresses and forwarded on to Texas. 

For this reason, as well as the several days of additional processing time involved, the club strongly encourages members using the Florida or South Dakota addresses to have only state-specific mail delivered there, and to give all other senders their Rainbow Drive address as their mailing address. Most state and local governmental offices in both states allow residents to provide separate residential (in-state) and mailing (potentially out of state) addresses, making this process even easier.

Handling Exceptions to Typical Mail

It’s not unusual for some inbound mail to be missing a subscriber’s PMB number or other address information. If this “no-code” mail was sent First Class, an Escapees Mail Forwarding Service manager manually researches the addressee’s name to locate the correct address information so that the mail piece can be sorted properly. This process can take some time, so it usually delays arrival of the mail piece in the subscriber’s mailbox folder by as much as several days.

Non-First Class “no-code” mail (which is generally unsolicited junk mail) is discarded and recycled. Similarly, non-First Class mail addressed to a member at the corporate addresses of 100 or 101 Rainbow Drive—which are never used for Mail Forwarding Service subscribers—is returned to the sender as undeliverable.

Although the Escapees Mail Forwarding Service can receive almost any kind of mail, including Certified and Registered Mail, there are a few limited categories of items that it cannot accept. These include packages containing perishables (such as fruit), items that must be refrigerated on receipt, hazardous materials, liquids, alcohol, ammunition and firearms. These types of packages will automatically be returned to the sender.

Personalized Assistance from the Member Services Team

Mail Forwarding Service subscribers can find out what is in their mailbox folder with a simple call to Escapees Member Services. Just provide your PMB number, and one of the club’s highly trained front-line staff members will look in your mailbox folder and answer your question. 

Each Member Services team member is equipped with a long-range wireless headset that allows them to walk back into the vast mailroom, far from their desk, so they can review your mail with you live while you’re on the phone. These helpful folks can locate a particular piece of mail that you’re looking for, open a specific item and read it to you, or have the item scanned for you for a small fee, even if you don’t subscribe to the scanning service.

In addition to reviewing your mail with you, the Member Services team can also take your mail forwarding instructions over the phone and help you with just about any question or request you might have regarding the Escapees Mail Forwarding Service.

Customizing What Mail You Receive

Just like the rest of the Escapees Mail Forwarding Service, the actual forwarding process can be customized to each subscriber’s needs. Each subscriber selects from one of three different sorting and forwarding service levels:

  • Category A subscribers receive all First Class mail and all other mail with their PMB number in the address. This is the least expensive subscription, but it may also result in more “junk mail” being forwarded at the subscriber’s expense.
  • Category B subscribers receive only the types of mail they select: First Class mail, bulk mail from nonprofits, newsletters, advertisements, catalogs, magazines, newspapers, and/or travel guides & directories. All other mail is discarded and recycled. This category allows the subscriber to avoid forwarding of personalized “junk mail”, thus reducing their postage costs.
  • Category C subscribers get completely customized mail sorting. As with Category B, the Mail Forwarding Service will forward only the types of mail that the subscriber specifies, but in addition the subscriber can request any special sorting they wish–for example, forwarding specific magazine titles but not others, or catalogs from certain companies but not others. Category C is the most expensive subscription because it offers the most personalized service.

Most new Mail Forwarding Service subscribers start out with the Category A service level, and then determine if they want to upgrade to a higher service level once they see how much and what types of mail they are receiving after changing their mailing address. Another reason that subscribers might decide to upgrade is to take advantage of the mail scanning service, which is available only to Category B and C subscribers.

Forwarding Your Mail - Postage Costs

Mail Forwarding Service subscribers pay the actual cost (without any markup) of shipping each package of forwarded mail. Each subscriber has a prepaid postage account for this purpose. 

This account is funded when the subscriber initially sets up their Mail Forwarding Service subscription, and when the balance falls below $25.00, subscribers receive an email reminding them to add funds. They can do this online in the MMS portal or with a call to Member Services. But the easiest, “set it and forget it” way is to simply set up an auto-funding amount to be charged to your credit card anytime your balance falls below the minimum. That way, your postage account always has the funds needed to pay for your mail forwarding.

Getting Your Mail On The Road

Again, each Escapees Mail Forwarding Service subscriber has complete control over when, where and how their mail is forwarded to wherever they happen to be. 

If the subscriber expects to be at a specific location for some time—say, for an entire season—they can set up a regular schedule to have their mail forwarded once a week, bi-weekly, once a month, or even daily if they wish. Alternatively, a subscriber can make a one-time-only forwarding request at any time, either for immediate forwarding or for forwarding on a specific date in the future. This method works best for subscribers who change locations frequently.

Subscribers can submit both recurring and one-time forwarding instructions online through the MMS portal, by email, or with a call to Member Services at 936-327-8873. The instructions include the subscriber’s private mailbox number, when to forward the mail, where to send it, and optionally what service the staff should use to send the package. Requests for immediate forwarding go out the next business day.

 

At the end of each business day, the Escapees Mail Forwarding Service computer system produces a list of forwarding requests and instructions for mail to be forwarded the following day. 

The next day, team members wheel carts to the mailbox folders of each subscriber whose mail is being forwarded. They sort the contents of each mailbox folder according to the subscriber’s service category and special instructions, if any, discarding for recycling any mail that won’t be forwarded. When they have retrieved a full cart of mail, they take the cart to the packaging and shipping desk.

Here, the shipping team measures and weighs each subscriber’s batch of mail to determine the most economical service to use for forwarding (unless the subscriber has specified a particular shipping method). For very lightweight shipments, that’s often just plain First Class Mail, while Priority Mail is usually both less expensive and faster for heavier shipments.

As the shipping team processes the day’s forwarding orders, bins of outgoing mail and packages accumulate near the shipping dock, sorted by the carrier (the Postal Service, UPS or FedEx) that will transport them. Late in the afternoon, each carrier picks up the outgoing mail and packages and starts them on their way to the subscribers. 

Meanwhile, the Escapees Mail Forwarding Service computer system has sent an electronic shipping manifest to each carrier with details of all the packages in that shipment, other than First Class Mail without tracking. The system also sends an email to each subscriber, letting them know that their forwarded mail is on its way to them along with the shipping service used, tracking number, and the remaining balance in their postage account after the shipment.

You Can't Beat 35 Years of Experience

Having completed your insider’s look at the Escapees Mail Forwarding Service, you can now understand why I compared it to a professional symphony orchestra. 

Just as those musicians spent many decades honing both their individual skills and their ability to seamlessly work together, so has the Mail Forwarding Service gained invaluable experience over its 35 years of operation—real-world experience that has enabled the Service to develop reliable, safe, efficient and fault-resistant systems and processes that together ensure that subscribers’ mail reaches them when and where they want, without them having to give it much thought at all.

Author

David Goldstein SKP #126793

David Goldstein and his wife, Cheryl, sold their house and most of their belongings and hit the road as full-time RVers in June 2016. Living in their 40’ fifth wheel, they have so far traveled throughout Alaska and western Canada as well as much of the United States. They are Escapees Lifetime Members and organized and hosted three Convergences for the club as volunteers before joining the club’s national staff as Hangouts Directors in early 2019.

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