Everything You Need to Know About LTL Freight Shipping

LTL shipping is a method used by many businesses, and it provides several benefits. In this article, you’ll learn the basics about LTL freight shipping, the differences between LTL and full-load, the pluses, and more.

What is LTL Freight Shipping?

LTL shipping, or less-than-truckload shipping, gives businesses a way to ship small freight loads. Shipments usually range between 150 pounds and 15,000 pounds. Trucking companies combine partial shipments to fill a 48- or 53-foot trailer. Cargo is then transferred from truck to truck using a hub system. This gives businesses an efficient way to get shipments to their final destination.


Carriers most often use van trailers to transport goods. Trucks traveling along the interstate sometimes ship freight with two tandem trailers. This makes it easier to coordinate pickup and drop-off of shipments at different hubs.

What are the Differences Between Less-Than-Truckload Shipping and Full-Load Shipping?

Companies have historically used full-load (FTL) shipping to transport goods. FTL carriers fill an entire container with products from a single customer. Businesses can also use FTL shipping to carry a partial load on a dedicated truck. There are a couple of main differences between less-than-truckload and full-truckload carriers:


  • FTL shipping deals with cargo weighing more than 150,000 pounds
  • FTL carriers often charge more than LTL services
  • FTL shipping transports goods more quickly than LTL
  • FTL shipments do not change trucks during transit

There are several reasons that a business might choose to ship a full truckload. FTL shipping is often best for customers who are transporting 10 or more pallets. It may also be the right choice for time-sensitive shipments. Though LTL shipping is cheaper than FTL services, it can take longer to receive packages. The hub system that LTL trucks use tends to slow down shipments.


Many customers choose FTL shipping when transporting high-risk packages, regardless of cost or time constraints. Transferring shipments at hubs may increase the risk of damage during LTL shipping. FTL packages stay on the same truck for the duration of their journey and are less susceptible to improper handling. Customers who do choose to ship delicate items via LTL services should be careful when packing and loading items to minimize the risk of damage.

What are the Benefits of Using LTL Shipments?

These days, LTL shipping makes up the vast majority of B2B transportation across North America. It offers a cost-effective way to get small loads from Point A to Point B. There are a number of reasons that businesses choose LTL carriers to transport shipments:

Shipment Costs are Reduced

LTL shipping methods are considerably cheaper than FTL options. Customers share not only a truck but also overall shipping expenses. Each business takes up a portion of a container and splits a percentage of the cost. The LTL hub system also helps customers to save on final costs. Experienced carriers can match smaller LTL shipments with larger, regularly scheduled shipments to save on operating costs.

Most Carriers Offer Additional Service Options

Customers often have a wider variety of services available at their fingertips with LTL carriers than with FTL services. LTL carriers may offer liftgates, freeze protection, and complimentary notifications. Many LTL carriers also provide non-commercial pickup and drop-off options. This can include both inside delivery and residential services. Extras may be billed at a flat rate or included in the final bill as a weight-based surcharge.

Packages are Easier to Track

LTL shipments are often easier to track than FTL. Carriers may offer tracking through the bill of lading number, PRO number, PO number, shipment reference code, or pickup date. Many LTL services provide real-time tracking updates. The hub system makes it easy to keep tabs on individual packages. This system helps to improve accountability amongst LTL carriers to prevent late or missing shipments. 

The Customer Has More Control

LTL shipping methods offer customers flexibility. Businesses can decide when, where, and how they want a package shipped. The customer is responsible for preparing each shipment. This allows companies to package shipments to their liking. Businesses that are shipping fragile items can spend as much time and effort as necessary to ensure their goods are securely packaged. This reduces the risk of damage during transit. Businesses that are interested in LTL shipping may want to consider implementing a streamlined packaging process to protect goods.

Businesses Can Reduce Their Carbon Footprint

Nowadays, many corporations are making an effort to go green. Not only do eco-friendly practices help to protect the environment, but they may also lead to tax breaks. LTL shipping produces fewer carbon emissions than FTL shipping. A reduced number of partially filled trucks leads to fewer vehicles on the road overall. Some companies are also making the switch to an environmentally friendly electric truck fleet.

How Do LTL Shipping Companies Calculate Rates?

Estimating the cost of an LTL shipment can be relatively complex. LTL freight shipping companies base their pricing scales on multiple factors.

Range

The route an LTL shipment takes plays a significant role in pricing. A longer distance typically means higher price, though this isn't always the case. Destination zip codes (also known as "lanes") can affect how expensive a shipment is. Sending a package to a busy hub, for example, is often cheaper than routing it to a more remote location.

Weight

The heavier a package is, the more it will cost to send. LTL services are most often used for shipments weighing between 150 and 150,000 pounds. Once a load reaches a weight of more than 150,000 pounds, it's best to send using FTL shipping services.

Size

How a customer packs their shipment may affect the overall cost. Large or bulky packages take up more room in a truck. This forces a customer to pay a higher percentage of the expenses for a shared container.

Freight Class

The dimensions and weight of a shipment all help to determine freight class. There are eleven different freight classes as defined by the National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA). Shipping packages that fall under class 60 are the least expensive LTL option, while packages falling above class 400 are the costliest. Some LTL shipping companies may offer loyal customers discounts by charging shipments at a lower freight class.

Fuel Surcharges

Part of a customer’s shipping bill covers the cost of fuel used during transit. Charges are based on national averages that are updated weekly. As fuel charges rise, so does the cost of LTL shipping. Electric trucks pose a possible solution to this problem since they reduce the need for fuel consumption.

Additional Fees

Any extra services that a customer needs will often affect pricing. Special requests such as liftgates or inside delivery may require an additional fee. Expedited services also cost extra. Customers who are transporting dangerous items such as perishables, firearms, chemicals, or other hazardous materials should check to make sure there are no special handling fees. LTL shipping companies may charge a flat rate for extra services, or they may bill based on the size of a shipment.

Is LTL the Right Choice for You?

There are plenty of reasons to consider LTL transport, from lower costs to improved flexibility. LTL trucks are often a good choice for cargo that's too large to be transported through the postal system but too small to justify FTL shipping. LTL is often the ideal choice for small businesses that don't have the money or the need for a dedicated truck. Larger corporations can also benefit from sending smaller shipments using LTL freight carriers.