There’s more to getting a freight quote than entering your shipment’s size and weight into a freight carrier’s website. An accurate freight quote depends on many variables. If you get these wrong, your final charge could be far more than your original quote. Believe me, I’ve seen more than one billing surprise in my 16-plus years of shipping freight for my small business.
Don’t like billing surprises? A fulfillment partner can help you avoid high freight charges altogether, plus handle your inventory storage and daily shipping needs. See how outsourcing some or all of your fulfillment can streamline your entire operation with a free assessment from Fulfillment Companies.
Now let’s look at ways to handle freight quotes and shipping yourself:
In the first part of this guide, we look at freight shipper options so you can choose the best fit for your needs. Then we discuss what your shipper needs to know to start the freight quote process. We also explore factors that add costs, and show you how to cover all the bases to get the best possible freight quote.
By the end of this guide, you’ll have all the information you need to find the right shipping partner, get the lowest possible freight quote, and prevent costly billing surprises.
We lay it all out below, step-by-step:
- Step One: Decide Where to Get a Freight Quote
- Step Two: Gather All of Your Shipment Details:
- Step Three: Book Your Shipment
Once you have your information together for your freight quote, find reviews and recommendations for top-rated freight brokers in our article here.
Step One: Decide Where to Get a Freight Quote
The right shipping partner makes quoting and shipping freight easy, and we have a guide that features several top-rated freight brokers and online exchanges to get you started. Once you’re finished with this article, check out our top freight partner picks.
You have several options when it comes to shipping freight. You can go straight to a freight line or find a freight broker or online exchange website that lets you compare quotes from different carriers. But how do you know that you’re getting the best deal? And, even more importantly, how do you know your freight is in good hands?
I’ve worked with all types freight solutions, and here’s my take on how they break down. We’ll discuss each option in more detail below.
|Freight Provider:||Best For:||Service Cost:|
|Freight Broker||The best freight prices and service for occasional or regular shippers shipping to various locations.||$0 to get a quote
Brokers add a percentage to carriers’ wholesale rates. Even then, they’re usually provide the best rates because of their carrier relationships.
|Online Freight Exchange||One-time or experienced repeat shippers who want total control over their shipping options.||$0 to get a quote
Exchanges are like online DIY brokers and also add a percentage to shippers’ wholesale rates.
|Independent Nationwide or Regional Carriers||Repeat shippers with freight travelling on specific nationwide lanes or within a specific region.||$0 to get a quote
Working directly, a small shipper usually gets higher rates. But volume shippers can contract for discounts.
|Freight Expeditors||Exporting or importing freight shipments||$0 to get a quote
Like brokers, expeditors add fees to carriers’ wholesale freight costs. They also charge separate fees for import/export services.
If you’re new to shipping freight, I recommend using a good freight broker. Freight brokers are experienced shipping professionals who tap into many carriers to find you the best rate for your freight shipments. If you’re a frequent shipper, most freight brokers have excellent websites that let you manage your account, get freight quotes, book carriers, and track freight shipments yourself. But if you’re an infrequent shipper, they’re happy to assist with one-time quotes, too. See our comparison of top-rated freight brokers here.
I used freight brokers almost exclusively because their experience and service saved my business money and time, especially when it came to my shipment class. They know the ins-and-outs of NMFC codes, the reliability of the carriers they use, and can find the best price and service to fit your shipping needs.
Most good brokers actively track shipments and offer fast follow-up and resolution if issues arise. Most good freight brokers also offer independent freight insurance at reasonable prices.
“A broker will typically allow a single point of contact to a variety of LTL options. This is usually the best fit for the occasional shipper.”
—Rafael Zimberoff, Founder, ShipRush, Seattle, Wa.
Online Freight Exchange
These are the technology-driven new kid on the block. Essentially, freight exchanges are online do-it-yourself broker services that bring carrier wholesale prices straight to you. Before freight exchanges, this freight pricing information was typically only available to freight brokers and other industry pros.
I haven’t shipped through a freight exchange but some, like UShip and FreightorGator, have excellent online reviews. Their modern websites and intuitive online tools walk you through the entire process in just minutes:
If you have a straightforward shipment that’s not time-critical, an exchange can be a great way to get competitive freight quotes yourself. But if you have special handling needs or are very new to freight shipping, issues like product class and assessorial fees can be confusing. In this case, a top-rated broker can answer all of these questions and ensure a smooth delivery.
Independent Nationwide or Regional Carriers
There are hundreds of freight carriers across the nation. These include UPS and FedEx, along with names like Central Freight, R&L Carriers, Saia, and many more. Just glance around next time you’re on the freeway, and you’re bound to see a truck from an independent carrier. Some ship nationwide while others specialize in a specific region. If you ship in volume along certain routes or within a region, you can negotiate lower rates directly with a specific carrier.
” A national name is nice but a regional carrier may be able to handle your needs more effectively.”
—Mike Wolf, Director of Operations, Delgado Stone Distributors, Brookfield, CT
In my business, I received great negotiated rates with a regional carrier for shipments from Houston to my Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Florida customers. Outside of these areas, a freight broker offered better rates and shipping options. Here’s a look at my regional carrier’s service area:
Freight expeditors are essentially freight brokers that specialize in import and export shipments. They know what’s needed to ship your freight across borders, to say, Canada, and even overseas. Some freight brokers and independent carriers offer expeditor services, too. You also can find companies that specialize solely in import/export. Through expeditors, you can get air freight and ocean freight quotes for any export shipping needs.
My company serviced several hotels and resorts throughout the Caribbean. We shipped via air and ocean freight to several islands using both our freight broker and various expeditors. Every time, they provided packing instructions and documentation guidance that made the entire export process hassle-free.
How Do They Stack Up?
So, cost-wise, how do they compare? Here’s a chart of the lowest quotes I received from a broker, an exchange, and an independent carrier. The quotes are based on:
- 285-lb shipment
- Shipping from Houston to Los Angeles
- Delivering to a residential address
- Using a liftgate on delivery
- Standard freight
- Class of 150
|Freight Provider||Freight Quote|
|Freight Broker (FreightPros)||$250.93|
|Freight Exchange (Uship)||$282.39|
Last but not least, don’t hesitate to compare quotes from different shipping providers. It costs you nothing to request several freight quotes for one or all of your shipments. This is a great negotiating tool to help keep costs low and ensure you’re getting competitive rates.
Step Two: Gather All of Your Shipment Details
Now that you know who to contact to get a freight quote, you’ll need to provide them detailed information about your shipment. The most important thing to remember here is be accurate! If you provide incorrect details on weight, size, or items shipped, you could end up paying more than you should. Read on to see the information shipping providers need to give you the best freight quote possible, including:
- What Are You Shipping?
- What is the Size & Weight of Your Packed Freight?
- Any Special Handling Needs?
- Where is Your Shipment Going?
- How Fast Does it Need to Arrive?
- What is the Value of Your Shipment?
Let’s look at each in detail:
1. What Are You Shipping?
Freight comes in many forms: pallets, crates, large multi-box loads, barrels, and much more. In fact, freight packing options are quite varied. And you can pack just about anything imaginable in these containers, too. You can ship everything from household goods, to machinery parts, to new products for resale.
To get a freight quote, you need to describe the following:
The Type of Freight You’re Shipping:
This is pretty simple to describe, and nine times out of ten, you’re likely shipping a pallet. Unsure what kind of unit is best to pack your shipped goods? Need to know how to stack and pack a pallet? We have a guide that covers everything you need to know about shipping truck freight here.
Freight shipments often use wrapped pallets (left), wood crates (center), or corrugated containers (right):
The Type of Goods You’re Shipping:
It’s important to clearly describe the goods you’re shipping when you get a freight quote. This detail has great impact on your freight price. In fact if not described correctly, you could receive an incorrect freight quote and see upcharges on your final bill once shipped.
Why is this?
Every type of good that ships via freight is identified using National Motor Freight Classification (NMFC). This is done by assigning codes, called NMFC codes, to all types of goods. The idea is that that certain goods are easier, less fragile, safer, and thus less expensive, to ship than others.
This is a tricky area to navigate since NMFC code assignments can seem arbitrary, even to experienced shippers. But it matters because these codes, together with the size and weight of your shipment, determine your freight class.
Describing how freight class works, and why, is a very long and detailed explanation. If you want to learn all about it, you can start here. But to get a freight quote, what you really need to know is this:
- Freight Classes are numbered from 50 to 500
- The lower the class, the lower your shipping rate
- Class can be based on the goods you’re shipping, as determined by the NMFC code
- Class can be based on shipment size and weight, called density-based class
- Your shipping partner can help you determine how your freight should be classed for whatever it is you’re shipping
- Freight brokers are especially helpful in negotiating lower freight classes to get you the best freight quote
So, once you’ve noted the type of shipment (pallet, crate, etc.), and type of goods (plastic glasses, rubber ducks, etc.) that you’re shipping, it’s time to move on to the next thing you need to get a freight quote:
2. The Size & Weight of Your Freight Shipment
Freight shippers need to know the total size and weight of your shipment to give you a freight quote. So for every piece of freight (pallet, crate, etc.), you need to figure out its size and weight. And if you have a multi-piece shipment, you’ll need to add it all together for your freight quote.
Measuring crates and containers is easy, and pallets are simple once they’re packed. Weighing it all is a snap, too, if you happen to have a freight scale laying around. But you certainly don’t have to have an expensive freight scale, or even have your shipment all packed up to get a freight quote. In fact, I never once used a freight scale in 16 years of shipping, and we rarely prepacked pallets for a freight quote. We just used good, old-fashioned math.
Here’s how you do it:
Figure Out the Weight of Your Freight Shipment:
If you’re shipping boxed items on a pallet, or bagged goods in a container, this is pretty easy to figure out. Just weigh your items individually and add all of the weights together. A shipping or postal scale works fine for this.
Don’t forget to add the weight of your pallet or freight container to your total!
A safe rule of thumb for pallet weight is 40 lbs, but the weight of crates and other containers can vary. Weigh crates if possible, or if you build them yourself, weigh individual pieces before assembly.
If you’re shipping a multi-piece freight shipment, simply add the weights of each packed unit together, like this:
Figure Out the Size of Your Freight Shipment:
If you’re shipping an enclosed crate, this is easy. Simply measure the length, width, and height of your crate. It gets trickier if you’re shipping a pallet and haven’t stacked it yet. If you have a pallet and the product available, you can stack it and measure the finished length, width, and height, like this:
If you don’t have a pallet yet, you can stack your product on the floor. Mark or tape off a 40” x 48” square; most pallets are close to this size. Then stack your boxes, making your layers close to the edges of your square. If you’re not sure how to stack a pallet for safe shipment, we have a good section on preparing pallets in our article here.
Once your boxes are stacked on the floor, measure the length, width, and height, and add 6” to the height to cover the height of the pallet.
For multi-piece shipments, measure the width, height, and length of each piece, then add all of the lengths together to get the total size of the shipment, like this:
The size and weight details we covered above let you determine the type of freight you’re shipping, LTL or FTL. These are priced at different rates, so it’s important to know the total size of your shipment to get the right freight quote.
- LTL — Less-than-load
A shipment of 1 to 6 pallets or similarly-sized units is considered an LTL shipment. This means it doesn’t fill the majority of the space in a freight truck. This is by far the most common type of freight shipping that small businesses use.
- FTL — Full-truck-load
A shipment on 7 or more pallets or similarly-sized units is considered an FTL shipment. This means it will fill most or all of the space in a freight truck. Mid-sized shipments are sometimes called partial truck loads.
We covered a lot of math in this section and you now know how total shipment size and weight affects your freight quote, and how to figure it out. The good news is most shippers and freight brokers will do this math for you on multi-piece shipments. You just need to give them your individual unit sizes and weights. But it’s always good to know in case you need it.
The most important thing to remember is be accurate! If measurements or weights are wrong, you could wind up paying much more than your quoted rate.
Now let’s move on to the next bit of information you need to get a freight quote.
3. Any Special Handling Needs?
As stated earlier, you can ship virtually anything imaginable, but the more demanding the load and the service, the higher the cost. Here are a few special handling charges that can add costs to your freight quote. These charges are called assessorial fees, and usually are itemized on both your freight quote and your final bill:
- Residential Delivery
Delivering to a residence is generally more costly than delivering to a business. Plus, a liftgate (see below) is usually required.
- Liftgate Service
If there is no delivery dock or forklift available at pickup or delivery, a liftgate is required to load and unload truck shipments.
- Appointment Delivery
Delivery appointments can be made to meet your pickup or your customer’s delivery needs, usually with a fee.
- Trade Show Delivery
Deliveries to trade show locations sometimes require scheduled deliveries and other destination services, such as inside delivery and signature by a specific receiver. These service add-ons usually come with additional fees.
- Refrigeration Truck
Called reefer trucks in industry lingo, refrigerated shipments, or reefer freight, enjoys climate-controlled transit end-to-end, at a cost.
- Hazardous Materials (Hazmat) Transportation
Hazmat shipments fall under their own set of transportation restrictions and additional fees.
If you’re unsure if your shipment requires a special handling, your freight broker or carrier rep can help you.
4. Where is Your Shipment Going?
To get a freight quote, you need to know the delivery zip code for your shipment. You won’t be asked for the full address until you’re ready to book the shipment. However, you’ll need to know the type of delivery location, residential or business, plus special handling needs such as a liftgate, as discussed above.
Here’s a look at the freight quote screen for Uship. They make it very easy to enter all of the shipment details we discuss in this guide, including the pickup and delivery zip codes, and any special services:
A Note About Distances and Travel Times
The distance your freight travels is a big factor in your freight quote, but surprisingly, long distances don’t necessarily equal higher costs, or even longer delivery times. Within the US, freight carriers operate via commercial routes called lanes, and some are faster and cheaper than others.
Depending on where you’re shipping from and to, lanes to closer destinations can be more expensive than lanes to farther destinations. Plus, shipments to large cities far away can be faster than those to small towns that are closer.
For example, I shipped from Houston, Tx., and my freight to New York City (1,628 mi) was always less expensive and faster than shipments going to Los Angeles (1,546 mi). So if you notice this as you get freight quotes for different destinations, don’t be surprised.
If you’re shipping freight out of the country, your best bet is to work with a freight expeditor to handle all of your cross-border export/import tasks.
Speaking of distance and travel times, let’s look at the next detail you’ll need to provide when you get a freight quote.
5. How Fast Does it Need to Arrive?
Delivery speed is another major factor that affects your freight quote. Freight carriers have different names for these delivery service types, but they typically fall under three delivery timeframes:
This is your ground transit time, and can differ by carrier as much as 2 to 3 days. When you get a freight quote you’ll see both prices and transit times, as shown in the image below. Note, these are delivery estimates, not guarantees. Standard freight deliveries can take a day or two longer than published times and not be considered late. This is the norm in the freight industry.
Faster delivery service is available at additional costs. But like standard freight, expedited or express delivery times can vary per carrier as much as 1 to 2 days. When you get a freight quote be sure to note the delivery times and go with Guaranteed Freight, below, if time-critical.
Whether you choose standard or expedited service, you can pay extra for a guaranteed delivery date, and even schedule a delivery appointment time. This is handy when shipping to residential customers who might need to make arrangements to meet the truck. It’s also worth the price for date-critical shipments, such as trade show displays or special event needs.
Delivery times can vary by days depending on the carrier, as shown below. Remember, only Guaranteed Freight with additional charges is guaranteed to arrive on a certain day:
We’ve covered the five factors that affect your freight rates, but there’s still one more piece of information that you need to provide when you get a freight quote. Let’s look at that now.
6. What is the Value of Your Shipment?
The value of your freight usually doesn’t affect freight quotes unless you wish to purchase insurance beyond the carrier’s liability insurance. That said, basic freight liability insurance may not cover your complete replacement costs in the event your freight is lost or damaged during shipment. So additional insurance can be a good idea, and some carriers require it for high-value shipments, typically around $15,000 or more.
Most carriers, freight brokers, and freight exchanges make it easy to add insurance to your shipment when you get a freight quote. You can provide the shipment value when you enter your other shipment details and they will include an insurance cost, which you can elect or decline, as shown below:
The cost to insure a freight shipment can vary based on many factors, such as the carrier, the goods being shipped, the shipping routes, packaging type, and so on. But it’s usually reasonable, and I often elected to insure our shipments. Our typical shipment value ranged from $2000 to $3000, and additional insurance averaged about $50 per shipment. Not a bad price for piece of mind if things go horribly wrong!
After giving all of the freight details above to your shipping provider, you’ll receive your quote. Depending on your provider and the service you need, you may receive just one price or several to choose from. Once you’ve settled on the price and service, review the details with your provider to make sure it’s all in order. Then, you’re ready to move on to the final step.
Step Three: Book Your Shipment
The good news is that once you’ve gotten through the quote process, the rest is pretty simple. However you received your freight quote, now you just need to book your shipment. If you use a broker, exchange, or carrier website, this usually happens with a click of your mouse. If you received a quote via email from a broker or carrier, then you just need to respond to them. After that, you will:
- Create a Bill of Lading (BOL) & Paperwork
- Schedule Your Pickup
- Meet Your Driver
Let’s explore each:
Create a Bill of Lading (BOL) & Paperwork
A Bill of Lading, or BOL, is the shipping paperwork for a freight shipment. It contains all of the key factors needed to describe, track, and deliver a freight shipment: Ship-from and deliver-to addresses, contact phone numbers, shipment contents, freight weight, class, and size, number of shipped units, service level, special services, and the freight tracking number called a PRO number.
After you book your shipment, you’ll enter your delivery address information online or provide it to your rep via email or phone. The BOL paperwork will be created with this information. Before printing, be sure to double-check that the address, class, weight, and any special charges are correct per your quote.
If the BOL is all in order, attach it to your packed freight shipment as instructed by your shipping provider. Usually, this goes in a clear plastic resealable envelope that adheres to the outside of your shipment. Learn more about packing your freight shipment here.
Schedule Your Pickup
Upon booking your freight shipment, you’ll also schedule the pickup day and time. Generally this is a window of time in the afternoon. Freight carriers typically deliver in the morning and pick up in the afternoon. Be sure to note your available pickup times so your truck driver arrives while you’re open. In my experience, they tend to run late, so if you close at 5:30, put a 4:30 cutoff for your pickup. You’ll thank me if you have somewhere to be after work.
Meet Your Driver
When your driver arrives, have your freight shipment packed and waiting in an area the driver can access with the truck. If you have a loading dock, your driver will load your freight from there. If you don’t, and don’t have access to a forklift, you should add liftgate service at pickup to your quote to be certain you can get your freight loaded.
Your driver will review your BOL and sign off on the pickup day and time prior to loading. If you have two copies, the driver will leave a signed one for you as proof of pickup. After that, your freight is on its way and you can track the progress online on your broker, carrier, or exchange website.
The Bottom Line
Getting the best freight quote isn’t hard at all if you have accurate information about your shipment and a reliable freight provider. You can get freight quotes and book your shipments through a number of sources, including:
- Freight Brokers
- Online Freight Exchanges
- Independent Carriers
- Freight Expeditors (for import/export needs)
Of these, freight brokers tend to be the best bet for price and service, especially if you’re new to shipping freight. But exchanges are an up-and-coming solution that puts more control in your hands. They’re definitely worth a look if you’re shipping straightforward freight or are experienced in the field.
If you ship in volume on certain lanes or within a local region, consider working directly with specific carriers. Their negotiated volume rates may beat broker or exchange pricing.
Whatever type of shipper you choose, remember to supply them with correct details about your shipment to ensure you get the best freight quote possible. They’ll need:
- Type of unit — pallet, crate, etc.
- Type of goods being shipped
- Unit measurement
- Number of units
- Total weight of all units
- Pickup and delivery zip codes
- Service type – Standard, Expedited, Guaranteed
- Shipment value
When booking your shipment, make sure your BOL paperwork is clear, correct and attached to your shipment properly. And when scheduling your pickup, allow plenty of time to meet your driver and get your shipment loaded and on its way.