Less-than-load (LTL) freight is used by businesses whose shipping needs are insufficient to fill a freight carrier’s truck but too large for parcel delivery. The primary advantage of LTL shipping is typically lower total shipping costs. Shippers also enjoy greater shipping efficiency, flexibility, and the environmental benefits that come from transporting items on trucks that carry freight from multiple sources.
FreightPros is a leading freight broker that works with several freight carriers to provide shippers with multiple competitive LTL shipping quotes. FreightPros consistently earns top ratings for delivering affordable and accurate quotes as well as exceptional customer service. Visit FreightPros to get free LTL freight quotes today.
How LTL Freight Shipping Works
With LTL freight, total shipment weight can vary from 100 to 20,000 pounds. Many carriers limit shipment weight to 10,000 pounds. An LTL shipment can range from one to six pallets, crates, oversized parcels, or other shipping units. When you use LTL freight shipping, your items ship along with items from other companies.
Shipping fees are based on a variety of parameters, including the amount of space used in the truck, class of products being shipped, where you ship from vs where you need your products shipped, and required “deliver by” date. To start shipping via LTL freight, you contact a freight shipping company to discuss your specific needs, and most shippers offer free quotes.
Most carriers consider a shipment up to six units an LTL freight shipment. A larger shipment of seven to 14 units is generally considered a partial- to full-truckload shipment and is priced at different rates than LTL freight.
Who LTL Freight Is Right For
Many types of companies choose LTL freight carriers for their shipping. If you’re a new business and plan to ship products within the common LTL weight parameters to the same destination—in pallets, crates or containers like those above—then LTL shipping might be right for you. Also, if you want to ship bulky items over 150 pounds that parcel carriers don’t want to handle, LTL freight is something to check out.
If your business is currently shipping smaller parcels individually to the same destination and your company is growing to the point where parcel shipping seems both overwhelming and inefficient, it may be time to consider LTL freight. Using an LTL freight carrier is often cheaper than shipping parcels one by one. Contact a freight broker directly to see if you can save money on your shipping via LTL freight, as costs vary widely by shipment type.
Another plus to shipping LTL freight is that the entire order is packed into one unit that’s typically moved via forklift while en route to your customer. This can help reduce breakage compared to shipping several smaller boxes that get tossed around by parcel carrier employees along the way.
LTL Shipping Can Be More Complicated Yet More Cost-efficient
At first, preparing an LTL freight shipment can take more work than shipping several smaller boxes. If you ship small parcels daily, the thought of interrupting your workflow to handle a large shipment might seem daunting but, often, the savings can be worth the effort. Once you know how to ship via LTL carriers, and you verify that it truly is more cost-efficient for your business, you’ll be quick to include LTL freight options in your shipping toolbox.
What LTL Freight Costs
Unfortunately, exact LTL costs are not something you can look up online. Rates for LTL freight not only differ by provider but they vary based on many other factors too.
The main five factors that influence LTL freight costs include:
- Total weight of your shipment
- Total physical size of your shipment
- The distance your shipment is traveling
- Delivery speed requested
- The freight class, based on the goods being shipped and/or shipment size
Understanding what you’ll pay for LTL shipping is a bit complicated. To help reduce what you’ll pay for LTL shipping, we’ll walk you through the five factors that influence LTL freight costs the most.
1. Total Shipment Weight Impacts LTL Freight Costs
The total shipment weight is the combined weight of all items in your shipment items, all packed and ready to go. For a single-piece shipment, you need to provide your freight carrier with the final weight of the packed unit, be it a pallet, crate, or a combination of other containers. For multipiece shipments, add the weights of all units together, as in the example below.
2. Total Size of Shipment Impacts LTL Shipping Costs
The total space—length by width by height—that your shipment will occupy in a truck also impacts total costs. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the more space your shipment takes up in the truck, the more you’ll pay. For single-piece shipments, measure length, width, and height of the packed freight. To calculate shipment size for multipiece shipments, measure the width, height, then add the lengths together to get the total size of the shipment.
It’s important to be accurate when measuring the total weight and size of your LTL freight shipment. If you get these measurements wrong, you will likely pay more for shipping than you were originally quoted. Luckily, most LTL freight shippers will do this math for you when you request a quote.
3. Total Distance Shipment Travels Impacts LTL Freight Costs
Total distance traveled is pretty self-explanatory, but there is one interesting fact you should know. Freight travels via commercial routes called shipping lanes, carrier lanes, or freight lanes—all names for the same thing. These are routes that LTL freight carriers use regularly. Depending on where you’re shipping from and to, lanes to closer destinations can be more expensive than lanes to farther destinations.
For example, if you’re in Houston, don’t be surprised if the same shipment costs less to ship to New York City (1,628 miles) than to Los Angeles (1,546 miles). The only way to know how much you’ll pay for shipping is to contact a freight carrier or freight broker directly to get a quote.
4. Required Delivery Speed Impacts LTL Shipping Costs
Delivery speed is another factor that affects your LTL freight costs. The faster you want your shipment to arrive, the more you’ll pay.
Carriers have different names for these service types, but they typically fall under three categories:
- Standard freight: This is the ground transit time for LTL freight. When you get a freight quote, be aware that standard shipping times aren’t guaranteed, and they can vary as much as two to three days among carriers.
- Expedited or express freight: Faster delivery service is available for an additional cost with most LTL freight carriers.
- Guaranteed freight: This service adds another cost to your LTL shipment, but is the only way to be certain freight will arrive on a specific day.
Costs for these specialized delivery services vary by carrier. Again, the best way to get a hard number for what you’ll pay is to contact a specific freight carrier directly. Even better, perhaps, you can get multiple quotes through a freight broker, such as FreightPros, who’ll help you get quotes from multiple carriers.
5. Freight Class Impacts LTL Freight Costs
Understanding freight class is where LTL shipping gets a bit complicated. The National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA) created and maintains the freight class system, wherein it has established class codes for thousands of items under a total of 18 different freight classes.
The 18 freight classes were created based on four main characteristics, including density, stowability, handling, and liability. Freight class is determined by either the goods being shipped (goods-based classing) or by shipment weight and size (density-based classing). Freight carriers use National Motor Freight Classification (NMFC) codes when establishing LTL shipping rates.
The complexities involved with how freight classes are assigned can be daunting, but here’s what you need to know:
- Freight class categories: Freight classes range from 50 (the least expensive) to 500 (the most expensive).
- Low-cost freight classes: Items that are dense and difficult to damage are assigned a lower freight class.
- High-cost freight classes: Items that are less dense and more prone to breakage—or are more dangerous to ship, such as some chemicals—are assigned a higher freight class.
As you can imagine, classifying and coding every single thing that can ship is open to a lot of interpretation. Plus it’s not always clear when to use a goods-based or density-based class.
Most freight carrier and broker websites include calculators that can help you determine your freight class. When you get a quote, carrier reps and freight brokers will help assign the correct class to whatever it is you’re shipping. Freight brokers, such as FreightPros, are particularly helpful in lowering your freight class so you get the lowest possible LTL shipping rate.
Special Services That Can Also Impact LTL Freight Costs
While the five factors listed above are the most common items that impact LTL freight costs, they are not the only factors that influence what you’ll pay for LTL shipping. Other charges called assessorial fees can affect LTL freight pricing.
Accessorial fees include:
- Liftgate pickup or delivery: If there’s no dock or forklift at the pickup or delivery locations, a liftgate is required to load and unload shipments to and from the truck. Many carriers charge extra for this service.
- Inside pickup or delivery: Locations that don’t have a truck-accessible delivery area are often assessed with a shipping upcharge.
- Residential delivery: Deliveries to homes generally cost more than to commercial addresses.
- Oversized handling: If your freight is larger than a standard packed pallet, that is, larger than 40 inches x 48 inches x 72 inches, be sure to provide accurate measurements to avoid a surprise upcharge.
- Reweighing or reclassification: If shipments are inspected during transit and the weight or freight class on the paperwork doesn’t match what’s being shipped, you will likely incur an upcharge for your LTL freight.
Before you request an LTL freight quote, make sure you consider both what you’re shipping as well as the physical location where your items will be delivered. A little homework ahead of time can prevent you from experiencing unexpected freight upcharges.
Ways to Minimize Your LTL Freight Costs
The LTL freight carrier business is competitive, with many players vying for your shipment. That’s good news for you as more competition typically drives prices down. However, sometimes you have to know what to ask for to get the best deal.
Here are three ways to get the best rate on your LTL shipments:
- Use a freight broker: Freight brokers tap into a nationwide network of carriers to find you the best rate for your particular shipment. It’s free to compare quotes from several brokers to find the best deal.
- Ship using freight of all kinds (FAK) rates: For shipments made up of multiple goods that fall under both high and low NMFC codes, you can request a FAK rate. This is an average fee that prevents you from paying the higher fees usually assessed on high freight class items.
- Ship using negotiated rates: You can negotiate lower rates based on your shipping frequency and volume, provided you’re using a single carrier or freight broker for all of your LTL shipping needs.
The reason you want to use LTL freight is to avoid the higher costs involved with high-volume parcel shipping and paying full-truck freight rates for partial loads. The tips above help you keep your LTL shipping rates down.
Primary LTL Freight Provider Options
If you feel your business may benefit from LTL shipping, you have three different types of shipping options you’ll want to explore before making a final broker or carrier decision. Each LTL freight shipping provider option has its advantages for different types of situations.
LTL Freight Shipping Provider Options
Freight Brokers & Exchanges
Small businesses that ship freight occasionally
Independent Nationwide & Regional Freight Carriers
Larger companies that ship freight regularly in some volume
UPS & FedEx Freight Services
Companies that ship both parcel packages and freight in volume
Freight Brokers & Exchanges
A freight broker is an industry pro that constantly navigates the world of freight carriers, classes, and lanes to get you the very best rates for whatever you’re shipping. A freight exchange is an online do-it-yourself version of a freight broker. Both let you compare rates among many carriers, but a freight broker offers a full suite of services while an exchange leaves freight management up to you.
A benefit of using a freight broker is the access you get to qualified and vetted carriers. For example, with FreightPros, you enter in your shipment details and get fast quotes from more than 70 carriers. You also get ongoing support and consultation throughout the entire shipping process.
Most freight brokers and online exchanges have easy-to-use websites that let you do everything needed to set up your LTL freight shipment. These services include:
- Get rates from several carriers before making a shipping decision.
- Compare delivery times among carriers
- Get instant freight quotes for your specific shipment, including service add-ons like liftgate and inside delivery
- Prepare and print shipment paperwork, called a bill of lading (BOL)
- Schedule shipment pickup
- Track the progress of your LTL freight shipment
Top freight brokers include CH Robinson, Landstar System, Redhawk Global, and FreightPros. DAT Solutions is a popular freight exchange in the United States.
Shipping Independent Nationwide & Regional Freight Carriers
You also can ship LTL freight by working directly with independent carriers like Old Dominion Freight Line, Saia Motor Freight Line, or ABF Freight. Many deliver nationwide, while others, called regional carriers, focus on shipping lanes within just a few states.
“Do your research prior to committing to an LTL carrier and see what the best fit is for the needs of your customer and your business. 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
If you ship freight often, you can ship exclusively with one carrier and negotiate lower rates based on overall volume. This can work if you ship repeat orders to the same locations or within a limited geographic region. Regional carriers specialize in smaller areas, and many offer very competitive rates with faster delivery times.
UPS & FedEx Freight Services
Both UPS and FedEx have huge freight networks and offer many levels of freight service. Both companies’ freight and parcel divisions operate separately but they do consider total volume, parcel plus freight, for your discount rates. You can access their complete freight tools on the UPS and FedEx websites, respectively.
If you have a small parcel account and ship in enough volume to have an account rep, you can often negotiate lower LTL freight rates. Depending on your account volume and other factors, you might be able to get some good rates on LTL and keep it all in the family.
How to Pack Your LTL Freight Shipments
After you decide to ship an order via LTL freight, you need to prepare the order for shipping. LTL freight is generally shipped as a large, single unit. The most common ways LTL freight is packed is on either pallets, crates, or large corrugated shipping containers.
How to Pack LTL Freight Pallet Shipments
Pallets are the most commonly used packing method for LTL shipments. Whether you’re shipping one item, like a piece of machinery, a few heavy boxed items, or a large stack of smaller boxes, a pallet makes your shipment easy to handle throughout transit. To ship most items via pallet, you need only four things: a pallet, pallet wrap, a clear envelope, and delivery address labels.
Use a Standard Size Pallet
Pallets are typically 40 inches x 48 inches and come in both wood and plastic. You can purchase pallets online or locally through freight suppliers. Many companies frequently receive stock in palletized shipments and save those pallets for future shipping needs.
Wrap Your Pallet With Plastic Film
Once your items to be shipped are placed on your pallet, wrap the entire pallet in stretchy plastic film. This holds the shipment together and on the pallet. You can find rolls of plastic film—typically sold in 5-inch, 18-inch, and 20-inch rolls—online or at your local big-box store. A sturdy 80-gauge or stronger wrap is recommended for LTL freight shipping. Here’s a video that shows you how to wrap a pallet correctly.
Attach Shipping Paperwork Using a Clear Plastic Envelope
An adhesive, zip-close envelope protects and displays your shipment BOL and other required paperwork, such as a packing list or invoice. You can find these envelopes at any office supplies store or on online sites like Amazon.
Add Delivery Address Labels to Your Pallet
All shippers don’t require these, but it’s always a good idea to affix a destination address label to all four sides of your pallet. This can help prevent issues should the shipping paperwork label become damaged in the shipping process.
You can print an adhesive label or use paper and tape it to a box underneath the pallet wrap. When required, your freight provider will issue these to print on paper or labels when you book your LTL freight shipment.
If you plan to handle pallets regularly, you may want to purchase a pallet jack (below left) to move them easily within your shipping area, warehouse, or shop. If this is a one-time thing, your truck driver will have one and will load your shipment for you. If shipping pallets is a major part of your business, you might want to invest in a fork truck (center) or forklift (right) to maximize your efficiency.
Stack Items on Your Pallets Carefully
If your boxes are different sizes, you must be careful with your stacking. Otherwise, goods could be damaged in the shipping process. The general rule is to place heavy items on the bottom, larger boxes to the outside, and fill in with smaller boxes. Here’s a video that illustrates why stacking your boxes on your pallet properly is so important.
If you ship heavyweight unboxed items like machinery parts, you can use pallet straps to keep items in place. You can protect them in transit further with a thick layer of pallet wrap.
Keep your stacked pallets at no more than 72 inches in height. This is a general requirement for most shipping companies. If your shipment is traveling via air freight, pallets typically need to be less than 48 inches tall. Always confirm shipment sizes with your carrier or broker when using a special service like air freight.
How to Pack LTL Freight Crate Shipments
Fully enclosed crates are used often to ship things like motorcycles, machinery, and breakable items via LTL freight. Since goods are fully encased in sturdy wood or plastic, items are well protected. The downside is that items can shift inside these crates, so make sure large goods are secured with strapping and smaller or delicate items are well padded with plenty of protective material. Sturdy crates capable of carrying several hundred pounds vary in cost but typically range from $125 to $300 each, and the sturdiest crates are reusable.
Corrugated Shipping Containers
Enclosed corrugated containers offer some of the benefits of a crate but at a lower cost. Heavy-duty containers appropriate for LTL shipping average around $22 to $24 each on sites like Uline.
A corrugated container is essentially a reinforced oversized shipping box. You can pack loose items or small boxes within a container without the pallet stacking issues. As with crate shipping, you need to ensure items are padded or protected properly within to avoid damage during transit.
Some corrugated containers come with skids attached to the bottom so that you can move them with a pallet jack and forklift. Others are just giant boxes and can be placed on a pallet. With the latter, once filled, you’ll want to wrap the container and pallet with pallet wrap, both for protection and to secure it to the pallet for transit.
Alternative Volume Shipping Options to Consider
Sometimes a shipment teeters on the edge of being large enough to ship via LTL freight. In cases like this, discounted multiparcel shipping rates from UPS or FedEx can be cheaper than LTL freight.
Here are a few popular volume shipping options that might be better than LTL in some circumstances:
- UPS Hundredweight Service: Available with most UPS business accounts, this type of shipping applies discount pricing to multiparcel shipments totaling 150 pounds or more
- UPS Ground with Freight Pricing: To ship via this service, you’ll need a UPS contract agreement to receive discounts lower than Hundredweight for large volume multi-parcel shippers
- FedEx Multiweight: Requires a FedEx contract agreement to receive discounts on multi-parcel shipments totaling 200 pounds or more
These volume rates only apply to orders that ship to the same location as a single shipment. Aside from price, there are other benefits to using multiparcel options over LTL freight.
Top benefits of using multiparcel options instead of LTL freight:
- No extra charges for inside delivery
- No time spent packing and wrapping a pallet
- Up to three delivery attempts, like normal UPS and FedEx shipments
- Part of your daily pickup service if you have one
- They’re tracked just like any other UPS or FedEx package
- They fall under normal published Ground or Standard delivery times
If your shipment qualifies for LTL freight, you’ll typically save money going that route. Yet, if any of the benefits above are important to you—or if your shipment is not quite large enough to qualify for LTL freight—then UPS Hundredweight, UPS Ground for Freight, and FedEx Multiweight are worth exploring.
Top Tips for Ensuring You Get the Best Shipping Rates
There is a lot you can do to minimize your LTL shipping costs. The better you understand what’s involved with LTL freight, the better you’ll become at choosing the right shipping options for your business.
Here are the top tips for saving money on shipping:
- Pack carefully: Determine the best way to pack your specific products for LTL freight and have those materials on-hand so that you can pack and ship an order without delay.
- Weigh accurately: If you don’t have a large freight scale, weigh the individual items that will make up your shipment accurately. Don’t forget to add the weight of your pallet (estimate 40 pounds), crate (varies), or corrugated container (varies).
- Use freight brokers: Use a freight broker to price and book LTL freight shipments unless you can negotiate lower rates with specific carriers.
- Classify your freight correctly: Take time to understand the NMFC classifications for your specific goods. Using the right classification, for the right reason, can save you money.
- Negotiate rates: Ask regional carriers about negotiated rates if you ship in volume within their service areas.
- Get quotes from multiple sources: If you’re on the fence about whether to use LTL freight or multiparcel shipping, get quotes for both services. Sometimes, LTL isn’t the ideal or cheapest option.
Packing, pricing, and preparing LTL freight shipments can take some time. Yet, once you have packing procedures in place and a shipping partner you trust, LTL freight can fit into your workflow, extend your sales reach, and lower your overall shipping costs.
Shipping orders via LTL freight often offers real savings over shipping several smaller parcels with UPS, USPS, or FedEx. For some items, like heavy machinery parts, LTL freight is your only option. Now that you know the fundamentals of LTL shipping, you have the knowledge you need to get started with LTL freight.
If you want to get a competitive price on your LTL shipping but don’t want to contact multiple carriers, then you’ll want to work with a freight broker who provides LTL freight quotes from multiple carriers. This ensures you never overpay for freight shipping. FreightPros is a popular freight broker who consistently delivers affordable and accurate freight quotes. Visit FreightPros today.