It’s a common sight on U.S. highways: long-haul trucks moving freight shipments from one location to another. While the average person just wants to pass the slower-moving trucks to keep their road trip on schedule, businesses have more pressing concerns when it comes to freight shipping.
As a shipper, you need to coordinate deliveries perfectly so they make it to your customers intact and on time. A big part of understanding freight shipping is knowing whether to use LTL or FTL. But what do the terms mean, and what’s the difference? Let’s dive in.
Less than truckload (LTL) shipping is a transportation method where multiple shipments from different businesses are consolidated into a single truck for delivery. Because these smaller shipments share the available space, each business saves money on transportation costs.
LTL shipping is usually used for palletized or crated shipments between 150 and 15,000 pounds, especially if the goods are large, dense, bulky, or oddly shaped. As a result, it often requires special equipment such as pallet jacks, liftgates, and forklifts.
If you’re looking for the most cost-effective way to ship freight, LTL is probably the method for you! Since you don’t have to pay for an entire truck—including any unused space—you save money on shipping costs. Of course, the total cost depends on a variety of factors, including distance, special handling requirements, and value-adding services like residential delivery.
One of the most important factors in determining the cost of LTL shipping is freight class. Developed by the National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA), freight class is a measure of how difficult something is to ship. It’s assigned based on four factors:
The main difference between LTL and FTL shipping is shipment weight and trailer space. While LTL is designed for smaller shipments that don’t occupy an entire truck, FTL (full truckload) shipping is the go-to choice when a shipper has enough goods to fill an entire truck—generally over 15,000 pounds. Because FTL shipping gives one business exclusive use of a truck for their cargo, the transportation requires fewer stops and handling points.
Parcel shipments are under 150 pounds and don’t require special equipment to load, unload, or carry. Because they can easily be handled by carriers, parcel shipping is often used for direct-to-consumer (DTC) ecommerce, where customers place orders online and have packages shipped directly to them. While LTL can be used to deliver bulky products, like products, to a customer’s home, it comes with extra challenges and costs.
For a more detailed breakdown of the differences between LTL and parcel shipping, check out this article.
LTL logistics saves money, keeps products safe from damage, and even helps the environment.
LTL logistics does have a significant downside: because trucks make so many different stops, transit times are slower than FTL shipments. However, if a super-quick delivery time isn’t your primary concern, LTL shipping should work well for you.
LTL freight combines partial loads from different shippers, resulting in full trucks that make multiple stops. It uses a system of terminals where goods are consolidated and transferred from truck to truck. The LTL shipping process can be broken down into four main stages: freight pickup, freight consolidation, transit, and final delivery.
To wrap up, let’s review three distinguishing features of LTL logistics: shared transportation costs, freight class determination, and freight carriers.
One of the defining features of LTL logistics is shared transportation costs. Since multiple shippers’ goods are consolidated into a single truck, each shipper only pays for the space their shipment occupies. This collaborative approach saves money for individual organizations, making LTL the most economical choice for shipments between 150 and 15,000 pounds.
Freight class determination helps determine shipping rates and ensures that pricing is fair and transparent. As mentioned earlier, shipments are assigned a freight class based on various factors.
In LTL logistics, carriers often use a hub and spoke system to keep things running efficiently. A hub is a central location where goods are consolidated, sorted, and redistributed. Hubs serve as a major connection point for shipments moving in and out of different regions, and they’re strategically located to minimize travel distances and maximize connectivity. Spokes are the routes, or legs, that extend from the hub to various destinations.
This hub and spoke system maximizes the flexibility and scalability of LTL logistics, making it possible to efficiently handle a large volume of shipments with different destinations.
Freight carriers play a key role in the transportation process of LTL shipments. These carriers operate the trucks that consolidate and transport the combined shipments, managing the loading, unloading, and transit of goods. Choosing which freight carriers to work with is an important decision, because you’re trusting them to deliver your goods safely and on time.
Choosing an LTL freight carrier is an important decision, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. With the right shipping software, you can easily connect with reliable carriers, compare transit times, and access discounted rates.
EasyPost Enterprise shipping software is a fully-customizable solution for enterprise-level businesses. With sub-second shipment processing and an industry-leading 99.99% uptime, the system guarantees that you can keep up with an ever-growing order volume. You’ll be able to connect with large, local, regional, international, and LTL carriers—everything you could possibly need to meet your organization’s logistics goals.
Connect with an enterprise shipping specialist to learn how EasyPost Enterprise can streamline your LTL logistics.