The ins and outs of pallet freight plus tips for lowering shipping costs
Table of contents
- Cubic Meter volume (CBM)
- Volumetric or dimensional weight
- Chargeable weight
- Freight classification
- Common examples of freight classes
- Pallet pricing
- HS Codes
- The advantages of using shared truckload for pallet freight
When shipping large items or several goods to the same location, you can save on costs by utilizing pallet freight. By consolidating your goods onto a pallet, you also minimize the risk of damage to single packages in transit. A tightly bound, stretch-wrapped unit of packages offers strength and extra protection, and the mobility of palletized goods provides the carrier with convenience for transportation and storage.
To understand how to transport your goods and, subsequently, your pallet-freight shipping cost, you must look at your product(s) from the perspective of the shipper. There are several keys to calculating pallet freight rates, and the better you understand these factors, the better you’ll be able to package your product for the best possible rate.
Cubic Meter volume (CBM)
If you’re shipping internationally or domestically, you should be aware of the CBM (or Cubic Meter volume) of your pallet freight.
You can calculate the CBM by multiplying the width by the height by the length of your shipment. If your shipment has different-size items or boxes, just measure each package and then add up the total. If you’re using pallet shipping, you can measure the entire pallet for CBM.
If you’re using irregular or cylindrical packages, check with your carrier to determine if you should “square” the package (the diameter is considered the width and height) so you know if you should multiply the radius of the package by Pi and then again by two. Then, multiply that number by the length of the package. This will give you the volume (or CBM).volum
Volumetric or dimensional weight
Carriers may charge shipments that are large or bulky but relatively light for their size based on dimensional weight rather than actual weight. This creates a theoretical number that accounts for disproportionate sizes and weights, such as a pallet of Ping-Pong balls. Even though Ping-Pong balls are very light, they still take up the same volume on an airplane as a pallet of dumbbells.
The chargeable weight is simply the greater sum between the dimensional weight and the actual weight. While ocean liners are less concerned about actual weight than they are volume, airline carriers are more sensitive to actual weight, and, thus, base their rates on dimensional weight.
Within the United States, less-than truckload (LTL) shipping accounts for most freight transportation. Understanding your domestic pallet-freight shipping cost starts with understanding the freight class of your item(s). The National Motor Freight Classification (NMFC), published by the National Motor Traffic Association, sets the standard for shipping any range of commodities in the United States. Figuring out the freight class of your goods provides you with a common, standardized code that helps carriers classify and price your shipment.
The NMFC outlines 18 freight classes based on four factors.
Density is the primary factor in determining your freight class. The industry measures density in pounds per cubic foot. Shippers need to know the density of each individual package or an entire pallet of items. To figure out the density of your shipment:
- Multiply the height, width, and length of the freight. This will give you the total cubic inches. If you have separate packages to categorize without combining them under the same shipment, measure each unit and then add the cubic inches to the total.
- Next, divide the total cubic inches by 1,728 (the number of cubic inches in a foot).
- Divide the weight (in pounds) by the total cubic feet for the density in pounds per cubic foot.
The density gives the shipper a clear picture of the size of the shipment. When comparing prices and creating your shipping strategy, you can save money by creatively manipulating the size and weight of your goods, especially when boxing and stacking your pallets.
To optimize truck space, carriers want to know how well your package or pallet stows alongside other shipments. A stretched-wrapped pallet is a straightforward approach to storing goods on a ship, airplane, or truck, especially if the carrier can stack it. Unusual dimensions or hazardous materials are cause for extra care and increase the freight class (and cost) as a result.
How easily does your freight load and unload? Pallets are very easy to maneuver unless they aren’t stacked or bound properly. The dimension, weight, fragility, and packaging of your item affects its freight class. The easier it is to move, the lower the cost.
Are you shipping perishable produce, flat screen TV’s, or an antique piano? Freight class takes into account:
- The value of the shipment
- The probability that someone will steal it
- Its inherent risk of damage
- Its potential to harm other freight during the transit
As you can imagine, the larger the liability, the higher the freight class number and the greater the cost.
Calculating the freight class of your product based on these four factors is very important and should lead the way to developing a shipping strategy. Adjusting weight, dimensions, and packaging can allow you to fall into a more advantageous freight class. Utilizing pallets is a great way to increase stow-ability, handling, and even liability ratings. Research common pallet and box sizes, and try to use the smallest size possible.
Not understanding your freight class is a missed opportunity for cost savings. Using the wrong freight class can lead to a mountain of problems, such as additional costs, carrier re-billing, shipment delays, invoice discrepancies, claim complications, and more.
Common examples of freight classes:
|Class Name||Notes, Examples||Weight Range/ft3|
|Class 50 – Clean freight||Gravel, sheetrock, common building bricks, flour, cornmeal. Durable goods on a standard shrink-wrapped 4X4 pallet||50+ pounds|
|Class 55||Bricks, cement, mortar, hardwood flooring||35-50 pounds|
|Class 60||Machinery in crates, crayons in boxes||30-35 pounds|
|Class 65||Car accessories and car parts, bottled beverages, books in boxes||22.5-30 pounds|
|Class 70||Luggage racks, food items, automobile engines||15 to 22.5 pounds|
|Class 77.5||Tires, bathroom fixtures||13.5 to 15 pounds|
|Class 85||Crated machinery, cast iron stoves||12-13.5 pounds|
|Class 92.5||Computers, monitors, refrigerators||10.5-12 pounds|
|Class 100||Boat covers, car covers, canvas, wine cases, caskets||9-10.5 pounds|
|Class 110||Cabinets, framed artwork, table saw||8-9 pounds|
|Class 125||Small household appliances||7-8 pounds|
|Class 150||Auto sheet metal parts, bookcases||6-7 pounds|
|Class 175||Clothing, couches stuffed furniture||5-6 pounds|
|Class 200||Auto sheet metal parts, aircraft parts, aluminum table, packaged mattresses||4-5 pounds|
|Class 250||Bamboo furniture, mattress and box spring, plasma TV||3-4 pounds|
|Class 300||Wood cabinets, tables, chairs set up, model boats, stuffed animals||2-3 pounds|
|Class 400||Bags of potato chips, deer antlers||1-2 pounds|
|Class 500 – Low density or high value||Bags of gold dust, Ping-Pong balls||Less than 1 pound|
Many carriers offer a standardized price for pallets of goods — regardless of commodity — which makes it easier to calculate your shipping costs. Carriers base the pallet pricing rate on the dimensions and weight of the entire palletized shipment, 48” long x 40” wide x 48” tall and less than 1,650 pounds. If your shipment exceeds this standard size, your price will increase accordingly.
The Pallet Pricing rate is advantageous for your business because it saves money, along with other benefits for everyone involved in the transportation process. For one, “pallet” is a common and straightforward term that everyone in the industry understands. By using generalized terms such as this one, you can ensure carriers easily understand what they are getting and conceptualize the load, allowing them to make the appropriate accommodations quickly and accurately.
Additionally, using the simplified rate helps guarantee more accurate freight invoices from your carrier, reducing confusion about the size and weight of individual items that are subject to audit by the shipper. With pallets, the carrier can more easily calculate your shipment’s total cubic space, rather than using several different freight classes based on the NMFC model, which can be confusing and time-consuming.
Because exact weight is less of a factor, a slight size increase won’t generally result in a higher cost. Pallet pricing easily incorporates weight adjustments because most LTL carriers simply rate each pallet within a given range.
This method, when available, is a convenient way to compare rates among carriers, giving you a clear understanding of the cost on a per-pallet basis.
When shipping overseas, you must factor into freight cost international tariffs and duties. Fortunately, there is a unified way to categorize products and anticipate the appropriate tariff.
Similar to the NMFC, the international community has a universal system that most trading companies around the globe use. Since 1988, HS Codes (which refer to the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System or, simply, the Harmonized System) have presented a standardized classification of the tariff and duty structure of over 205 participating countries. The World Customs Organization (WCO) currently maintains the system. The unified classification of HS Codes makes it easy to interpret each nation’s tariffs and duties.
The Harmonized System categorizes approximately 5,000 commodity groups in simple six-digit codes, breaking them down further into Sections, Chapters, and Headings. The system presents this in an eight- to ten-digit HS Code, such as 0901.21.0050.
The first two numbers in the HS Code refer to the Chapter, one of 96 distinct categories. In the above example, “09” refers to the Chapter for coffee, tea, maté, and spices.
The next two numbers refer to a category within a particular Chapter. In the example, “01” is the Heading for coffee.
The last two digits that the international Harmonized Code recognizes get more specific, describing subcategories of products. For instance, caffeinated coffee beans fall under “0901.21”, but decaffeinated coffee fall under “0901.22”. Interestingly, instant coffee is in a completely different Heading: Heading 21 for “miscellaneous edible preparations.”
You may notice the HS Code in the above example continues with “0050”. Countries use an extra two to four digits for nation-specific classification. For instance, “0050” in the example means “non-organic coffee” in the United States. Because these last few digits are unique, non-organic caffeinated coffee in a different country would have the same first six numbers, but different digits thereafter.
Harmonized System Sections are the broadest type of classification, and Chapters (as well as Headings and Sub-Headings) are placed in one of 21 HS Code Sections. The WCO dictates these sections, which every member country recognizes.
The HS Code Sections are:
- Section 1: Animal and Animal Products (Chapters 1-5)
- Section 2: Vegetable Products (Chapters 6-14)
- Section 3: Animal or Vegetable Fats and Oils (Chapter 15)
- Section 4: Prepared Foodstuffs (Chapters 16-24)
- Section 5: Mineral Products (Chapters 25-27)
- Section 6: Chemicals and Allied Industries (Chapters 28-38)
- Section 7: Plastics and Rubbers (Chapters 39-40)
- Section 8: Raw Hides, Skins, Leather, and Furs (Chapters 41-43)
- Section 9: Wood and Wood Products (Chapters 44-46)
- Section 10: Pulp of Wood or of Other Fibrous Material (Chapters 47-49)
- Section 11: Textiles (Chapters 50-63)
- Section 12: Footwear and Headgear (Chapters 64-67)
- Section 13: Stone and Glass (Chapters 68-70)
- Section 14: Natural or Cultured Pearls (Chapter 71)
- Section 15: Base Metals (Chapters 72-83)
- Section 16: Machinery and Electrical (Chapters 84-85)
- Section 17: Transportation (Chapters 86-89)
- Section 18: Precision Instruments (Chapters 90-92)
- Section 19: Arms and Ammunition (Chapters 93)
- Section 20: Miscellaneous Manufactured Articles (Chapters 94-96)
- Section 21: Works of Art (Chapter 97)
Use pallet freight to your advantage with shared truckload
Besides getting creative with packaging and strategizing freight processes based on the above information, shippers — especially those at the enterprise level — can experience additional savings on pallet shipping with shared truckload service.
For context, the constraints of the LTL and truckload (TL) shipping modes limit the savings shippers can receive from a standard request for proposal (RFP). RFPs for shipments that weigh more than the 5,000-pound LTL threshold and fall below the TL size cutoff of 24-26 pallets are uncommon. Because LTL and TL carriers don’t optimize transportation processes for shipments that measure 10-44 linear feet and under 36,000 pounds, traditional RFPs don’t provide shippers with the lowest rate for freight in this gray-area range.
Before we dive into the details of Instant Prebate, here’s a little about shared truckload: Shared truckload service enables several shippers to share deck space on one, multi-stop full truckload. Freight travels directly from its pickup location to its destination without passing through hubs or terminals. Find more details about shared truckload service here.
Now, here’s how Instant Prebate works:
- Shippers lock in contracted TL shipping rates based on lanes.
- Shippers tender a load to Flock Freight 24 hours before pickup, telling us the dimensions and weight of the freight.
- If the shipment is less than a full truck, Flock Freight gives the shipper an Instant Prebate off the contracted TL rate that’s based on the load’s percentage of trailer utilization. We also move the shipment via shared truckload service if possible — without any extra work on your end.
With Instant Prebate, Flock Freight provides automatic cost savings of up to 50% on contracted TL freight. Learn more about Instant Prebate here.
When you understand the massive tasks of coordinating and delivering products either domestically or internationally, you see why RFP pricing for pallet freight fluctuates based on controllable factors. With a little knowledge and effort, you can save your company a considerable amount in shipping costs.