How Can I Set Up a Vacation Autoresponder in Apple Mac Email?

Is there a vacation autoreply feature or capability in Apple Mail? I’m running Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite, so whatever version of Mac Mail that is, that’s what I have too. I’m off to Singapore for a few weeks and will have very spotty Internet access, so want to make sure people who email me know what’s going on…

A number of email systems — including Google’s Gmail — have a built-in vacation autoreply feature but rather surprisingly Apple Mail, at least Apple Mail 8.1 and previous, do not have this capability. It’s actually not hard to implement, so it’s hard to say why the Mac team didn’t include the feature, but the good news is that because the program includes a powerful and rich rule-based filtering capability, it’s quite straightforward to set up one of your own. As long as you don’t mind getting your hands just a wee bit dirty.

To start, you’ll need to get into a sort of “if-then” mindset. You know, “if condition then action”. That’s how all the rules are set up, so it becomes a question of how to create a conditional that will get the real people who email you, but not have you blindly responding to all the spammers and other mail that shows up.

To start, though, I always encourage people to check the online help, though in this case, “vacation” is clearly not what the development team had in mind when building Apple Mail:


no match for vacation in apple mail help query

Oh well. Plan B it is!

Go to “Preferences…” under the “Mail” menu and click on “Rules”. I have a ton of rules, so yours might look slightly different:


all the email filtering rules, apple mail preferences

Whether you already have rules or not, a click on ‘Add Rule’ lets you add another one.

Click on “Add Rule”.


add a new mail filtering rule to mac mail

Note that I’ve given it a mnemonic name. Helpful for knowing which one to disable when you return from Singapore!

As you can see, it’s broken into two major areas: the conditional rules to test against, then the action or actions to take once it’s matched.

The defaults are useless for our situation, so click on “Any recipient” to see the full – exhaustive! – list of options:


all the conditional tests you can do in an apple mail filter rule

That’s a lot of options, isn’t it?

For a vacation or holiday autoreply filter, I suggest “Sender is in my contacts” and “Message is addressed to my full name” to cover both those people you already correspond with and those that send you email and have a clue who you are (which leaves out most spammers).

On the action side, there are a lot of things you can do once a trigger is matched:


possible list of all actions in apple mac mail matched email filter rule

“Reply to Message” is a good choice, right? That’s what you want.

Choose that as an action and a little “Reply message text…” button shows up. Click it and you’ll have a rudimentary composition window, wherein which you can write the message recipients should get:


text of message, autoreply autoresponder rule

Looks good? Click on “OK”.

Here’s the full set of rules and actions I’ve chosen for my own Apple Mail vacation autoresponder:


easy vacation autoreply autoresponder for apple mail mac email

Notice that I set the background color of those messages that receive the autoresponse to yellow so that when I go through them later, I’ll be able to differentiate which emails got a vacation reply and which didn’t. If you don’t care, skip the second action.

That’s all there is to it. Vacation reply set and ready to work. Click on “OK”…


apply rules to existing email?

It’s very nice of Apple Mail to offer to apply the vacation reply rule to all of my existing mail, but yikes, that could be a disaster! Definitely click “Don’t Apply” here to avoid that occurring.

And you’re done. Enjoy Singapore!



Dave Taylor
About Dave Taylor
Dave Taylor has been involved with the Internet since 1980 and is internationally known as an expert on both business and technology issues. Holder of an MSEd and MBA, author of twenty books and founder of four startups, he also runs a strategic marketing company and consults with firms seeking the best approach to working with weblogs and social networks. Dave is an award-winning speaker and frequent guest on radio and podcast programs.

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