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Successfully Redeeming IRCs

from KJ6GKF on April 10, 2018
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As 2017 comes to a close, many of us scramble to redeem our International Reply Coupons (IRCs) before they expire at the end of the month. Although exchanging these coupons for airmail stamps seems to be a simple task, it has been rumored to be near impossible within our US Postal System. This year was the first time I ever undertook the grueling task, but found a method to the madness through trial and error. Hopefully my efforts (and failures) assist you in your IRC redemption.

The Problem:

I had a stack of 49 IRCs to exchange. They may be redeemed from foreign senders, valued at “the current maximum First-Class Mail International 1-ounce, letter-size price, per coupon, irrespective of the country where they were purchased”*. Today, that is worth $1.15 per IRC, so letting nearly fifty of them expire was out of the question—even if it meant spending hours at the post office.

Knowing of other hams’ struggles with USPS denying IRCs, I went to my closest branch in Scotts Valley, CA, several hours before it closed. Unfortunately, I did not realize that I had already made a grave mistake by choosing this location (mistake #1). To put it lightly, the clerks’ lack of motivation rivals that of the DMV. Here, I was astounded to have been mocked and lied to by Brad (my dad always says that anyone can work for the government, but they really scraped the bottom of the barrel with this one).

When I approached Brad, explaining that I had come to exchange my coupons (mistake #2), he looked at me as if I were speaking a different language. He scoffed, fanning himself with my coupons, and told me he had never heard of such a thing as IRCs. Since I insisted on their existence, he took my bundle of coupons and went to the back to refer them to his supervisor (mistake #3). Upon returning, he claimed that they didn’t exchange IRCs and hadn’t for “a long time” (which was a lie because I know a ham who traded his IRCs at this branch the previous year). After I informed him of an entire section of the USPS website dedicated to the exchange of IRCs, he simply told me that the Scotts Valley branch had run out of airmail stamps and that I should try the Downtown Santa Cruz branch. I don’t know how a post office runs out of stamps, but I was tired of Brad’s shenanigans and drove to the next town over.

Recounting my mistakes, I had a new game plan for the next post office.

How to succeed:

1) Prepare to wait for 20~40 minutes (perhaps an hour at peak).

2) When called to the counter, politely ask whether they have 50 airmail stamps (vary your order to match your IRC count).

This is vital to your success. The post office clerks are used to selling stamps, so they will ring up your order without a fuss.

3) Upon payment, bring out your IRCs.

Since there is already a transaction in process, they are less likely to turn you away.

4)Only hand one IRC as reference.

At the first branch, Brad took ALL of my IRCs. Had he dropped or misplaced them, I would have lost everything. Don’t chance it—keep your IRCs until it’s time to pay.

5) Speak directly to a supervisor.

At the Santa Cruz branch, Tifani is a seasoned manager who has experience exchanging IRCs and will ensure that you get your stamps. Ask whether your branch has anyone familiar with IRCs (most of the time, supervisors are the only ones with experience). If no one is available, they should refer you to someone who does (perhaps at another branch).

6) Know the USPS’ process of exchanging IRCs:

a) IRCs are viewed as credit — they are scanned at the beginning of the transaction and take off the price of one stamp per coupon.

b) IRCs are programmed into every USPS teller’s machine.

Although I do not remember the exact terminology, it is along the lines of “international coupon” and is located on the upper-middle left side of their computer screen (I don’t know if this information will help you if you encounter a Brad, but hopefully it will help your teller locate the computer discount code).

c) Each IRC nulls the purchase of a stamp.

Your teller must remove the amount of stamps equal to your IRC count before the transaction can be completed (it is tedious, so I would ask for a supervisor). Each IRC is tallied at the end of the day and accounts for “missing postage,” which are stamps that had not been paid for in dollars.

d) Clerks must stamp and void each IRC.

BONUS) Apple Pay does not work at this time. Bring multiple forms of payment.

Although this second visit was a success, there are things I could have done to make the process go smoother.

What I would fix for next time:

1) Make a purchase.

This IRC process takes up a lot of time (and brain power) from your postal service person - make it worth their while by buying a few stamps and giving their branch a little money.

2) Purchase in sheets of ten.

Keep in mind that airmail stamps come in sheets of ten, so keeping your exchange to round numbers will make the clerk’s life easier (and your experience less exhausting).

3) Do it before December.

Don’t be like me and wait until the last month before your IRCs expire.

4) Check expiration dates.

Some have very short lifespans and expire on December 31. Post offices will NOT redeem expired coupons.

5) Redeem little by little.

Since your clerk must stamp each IRC, give them a break - don't be like me and bombard them with nearly 50 sheets!

6) IRCs are not obsolete - YET.

47 out of my 49 IRCs expire this year. However, the last two expire in 2021. Although these coupons are being phased out, expect to receive them throughout the coming years.

Good luck trading those coupons! 73,



Member Comments:
Add A Comment
Successfully Redeeming IRCs Reply
by N4KZ on April 10, 2018 Mail this to a friend!
I've been DXing since my high school days in the late 1960s. Over the years, I have sent and received many DX cards direct in the mail. Years ago, I received quite a few IRCs. Redeeming them at many post offices was tantamount to receiving a severe flogging. I was always glad when the experience was over. Fortunately, very few DX stations send me IRCs anymore. Many have converted to sending green stamps (U.S. $1 bills). There's something ironic about receiving U.S currency in the mail from someone overseas, but hey, it works and I love it. No standing In long lines at the P.O. and having to tell disinterested clerks which section to look up in their USPS manuals. In turn, I too began using green stamps with excellent return rates and promptness. Who can argue with a 10-day direct turn around to and from Reunion Island? With a green stamp or two. Ditto with Monk Apollo in Mount Athos. I will likely never buy another IRC. I do recall getting one in the mail sometime in the past 5 years. It ended up in my trash and I shouldered the expense of returning my card to the DX station. I was in no mood for another federal flogging.
RE: Successfully Redeeming IRCs Reply
by K0UA on April 10, 2018 Mail this to a friend!
Step 7: Avoid all of this hassle and join LOTW, you often have confirmation of DX stations in minutes or hours. And best of all, absolutely no cost on either end. This highly technological hobby can avoid 19th century problems like paper mail rather easily if 19th century hams would join the 21st century. Rant mode off. :)
RE: Successfully Redeeming IRCs Reply
by NI0C on April 10, 2018 Mail this to a friend!
The last time I tried to purchase a few IRC's was at least ten years ago. The postal clerks were clueless about them even back then. I've never used them since. I always had good luck using mint foreign stamps, brand new dollar bills, and lately, OQRS and PayPal to obtain needed QSL's. Not all stations use LoTW, so exchanging QSL cards will always be necessary for serious DX'ers.
RE: Successfully Redeeming IRCs Reply
by KG4RUL on April 10, 2018 Mail this to a friend!
"Not all stations use LoTW, so exchanging QSL cards will always be necessary for serious DX'ers."

Key point here!
Successfully Redeeming IRCs Reply
by K5UJ on April 11, 2018 Mail this to a friend!
I guess the folks madly in love with eQSLs also love their mp3 album art and took all their vinyl LPs and tossed them into a dumpster. And that audio quality you get with today's digital dumb phone? So much better than the old twisted pair. Ya sure.
Successfully Redeeming IRCs Reply
by W8QZ on April 11, 2018 Mail this to a friend!
I have willingly signed up for LOTW. It's the DX stations out that that have not, that are the challenge - and from them, old-fashioned paper QSLs are still the way. I assume that for many of those, the funds from OQRS are partially funding the operating (and I'm OK with that).
RE: Successfully Redeeming IRCs Reply
by K0UA on April 11, 2018 Mail this to a friend!
Most of the DXpeditons are now uploading to LOTW, although at a 6 months to a year later. Many will upload when they get back if you donate. I personally don't understand the reluctance of joining LOTW from some DX stations. But people are people and some people see things differently. I was late to joining LOTW because of the absolute LIE that joining was difficult and tedious. Those people that say that are doing the Amateur community a great disservice. All amateurs should join LOTW as an LOTW confirmation is the final courtesy to a QSO. If you want a paper card you can still request one as before.
RE: Successfully Redeeming IRCs Reply
by N4KZ on April 11, 2018 Mail this to a friend!
I, too, use LoTW. I was a beta tester in the early days and stuck with it. Very glad I did. It's saved me tons of time and money in qualifying for Honor Roll. Ditto in recently applying for 5BWAZ.
Successfully Redeeming IRCs Reply
by N1ZZZ on April 12, 2018 Mail this to a friend!
Also make sure they aren't giving you domestic 1st class stamps instead of international ones. One clerk got confused one time and started handing me the wrong ones.

I like IRC's, even in the 21st century. When that station sends me a paper card for one of my DXpedition contacts, I always have stamps to mail it back with and it covers the whole postage, unlike a single greenstamp.

73 Jeremy N1ZZZ, /MM, VQ9ZZ, ZD8JA
Successfully Redeeming IRCs Reply
by K2GT on April 12, 2018 Mail this to a friend!
Timely, as I just redeemed one yesterday. I redeemed one about a year ago and took mental notes as they tried to figure out how to do it. Yesterday, I asked the clerk who asked the clerk next to her who looked at me and said "Any chance you can teach us how to do it?" I told her to hit the Exchange button, then the International Coupon button, follow the instructions, and within a few minutes I was on my way. Too bad I never checked expirations. Most of mine expired Dec 31.
Successfully Redeeming IRCs Reply
by W4AMP on April 12, 2018 Mail this to a friend!
+1 for the heads up on Tifani at Santa Cruz.
Successfully Redeeming IRCs Reply
by PE1HZG on April 13, 2018 Mail this to a friend!
Keep in mind that while the post office is required to exchange them, national post organisations are not required to sell them. In PA0 they stopped selling them 15 years ago.

(but then, classic post offices have disappeared, post is handled by book stores and the like)
RE: Successfully Redeeming IRCs Reply
by ZL3NB on April 14, 2018 Mail this to a friend!
First I really thought that at the end of 2017 the International Postal Union would of put a end to IRC's but no so presume they are still of use by many.

I never had issues with them in New Zealand till about 4 years at our local post shop but the matter was cleared up rather quickly once New Zealand was advised by me who in return contacted the manager of our local shop.

The fact is according to New Zealand Post and any other country who is part of the International Postal Union Treaty must abide by their regulations and take IRC's.

There are many ZL's who will say NZPO do not accept them but that's false. Either they are too lazy or not bothered to remind their local post shop of the regulations.

73 Bill ZL3NB
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