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how to determine a freight shipping estimate

How to Reduce Freight Cost

22 December 2020


Freight Guides, Shippers

Everything you need to know about freight-shipping quotes

Table of Contents

Using a freight-shipping calculator is sort of like doing laundry at a public laundromat; once you put a load in, it’s hard to guess what things will look like on the other side. There are a lot of factors that can influence your shipping estimate, and, like a forgotten red sock mixed in with the whites, sometimes it’s the smallest details that can have the biggest impact.

Maybe you have a general idea of what the price range will look like depending on the density, value, and freight class of your items. But factoring in accessorials, potential fees, and surcharges is where things can get dicey. What if we told you there’s an easier way to get a transparent freight estimate?

Sign up to use the Flock Freight® platform and get your freight-shipping quote upfront — without hidden fees.

Using the Flock Platform is by far the simplest way to get a transparent quote. We eliminate hidden fees and don’t charge extra for special services (such as delivery appointments). Plus, our shared truckload (STL) service significantly cuts costs for shipping gray-area loads that fall somewhere between less-than truckload (LTL) and truckload (TL) freight. Still not convinced? After reading this guide, you’ll be prepared to estimate shipping costs on your own and see the value of Flock Freight’s STL service for yourself. Here is everything you need to know in order to calculate shipping rates.

freight packaging 

How to get a freight-shipping estimate

Whether you use a shipping cost calculator or communicate with an account representative, you should know with 100% accuracy your freight details before requesting a quote. Figuring this out beforehand will save you time and headaches later on, and avoid the need to request multiple quotes. (Inputting all this data into a freight-shipping calculator is time-intensive!)

Besides, you don’t want to get 90% of the way through the process just to realize you’re missing a key detail that will affect the freight cost. Invest the time in identifying all the information your carrier needs to provide you with an accurate quote. Since the quoting process involves a lot of detail, we made a checklist for you!

Gather the following information before requesting a freight quote:

  • Pickup date
  • Origin zip code
  • Origin facility details (residential, liftgate pickup, inside pickup, limited access, appointment needed, etc.)
  • Destination zip code
  • Destination facility details (residential, liftgate delivery, inside delivery, limited access, appointment needed,        etc.)
  • Number of pallets
  • Freight dimensions (in inches, including packaging)
    • Bonus points: Linear footage
  • Freight weight (per pallet or total weight, including packaging)
  • Freight class
  • Short description of contents
  • Special services (temperature sensitive, food grade, hazardous materials, tailgate, unloading services, etc.)
  • Value of the freight and insurance requirements

Once you’ve gathered these details, use your carrier’s online freight-shipping calculator or contact the company directly for a shipping quote. If you’re looking for the best deal, use a third-party logistics (3PL) provider — like Flock Freight — that has access to a myriad of carrier options, ensuring you get the best price for the service you need.

Flock Freight taps into the TL network to move LTL freight, giving shippers unique access to a network usually inaccessible to them with over 11,000 trusted TL carriers across the United States. We thoroughly vet our carrier partners for proof of insurance, safety ratings, and contract authority before onboarding. We’re also the only logistics provider that guarantees STL service. More on that later — let’s get into quote calculations.

freight shipping 

Every factor that affects freight costs

There’s no exact formula for calculating shipping costs, but identifying the elements that drive your shipping costs up or down is fairly easy. Be all the wiser and know how these factors influence your quote, as well as how to avoid unnecessary charges. 

Dimensions (including packaging)

Standard, palletized dimensions = lower shipping costs.

Abnormal packaging dimensions = higher shipping costs, except when booking shared truckload service.

If you can package your freight on pallets or skids, you shouldn’t have too much to worry about here. However, if freight is long or otherwise difficult to package or load, you can expect to pay more on shipping costs. This is because, the more difficult freight is to load, the higher its freight class will be, which makes it more expensive to ship. Palletized freight is easy for carriers to handle, minimizes package fragility, and optimizes trailer space, making it the cheapest shipping option and a go-to packaging type for shippers.

Depending on your business, shipping bulky, hard-to-load freight may be unavoidable. In this case, shipping with LTL service will be a huge pain. The already difficult-to-load cargo faces higher potential for damage, given the excessive handling of LTL’s standard hub-and-spoke network. Bulky LTL shipments require more care and time, and may experience delays which drive up costs. A better alternative — without paying for a full truck — is to ship bulky freight with STL service, which is neither as expensive nor as dangerous for freight as LTL shipping.

With STL service, Flock Freight simplifies moving bulky shipments by pooling them in a load-to-ride shared truckload with packages from other shippers that are moving in the same direction. “Load to ride” means freight remains on the truck until it reaches its destination. This way, shared truckload shipments skip trans-loading at hubs and terminals and shippers only pay for the space they need. Lastly, because bulky freight doesn’t offload until it reaches its destination, the risk of damage drops to 0.001%.

We recommend investing the time in accurately measuring your freight’s dimensions (including packaging) in order to avoid potential fees down the road, regardless of freight shape. If the freight ends up taking up more space on the trailer than anticipated, your shipment can tack on major fees. To take accurate dimensions, measure the length, width, and height of your shipment (in inches), including pallets, skids, and other packaging. If your shipment contains multiple pallets, be sure to measure them individually to ensure complete accuracy.

Packaging — like skids and pallets — comes in a variety of sizes, so don’t forget to double-check the dimensions when measuring your freight. And, as always, make sure to package your freight properly. It’ll save you time and money in the long run, as well as the headache of filing freight claims.  

Weight (including packaging)

Overweight = higher shipping costs.

Everyone knows how expensive it can be to send a heavy package by mail via USPS or FedEx. However, unlike in parcel shipping, heavy package weight doesn’t necessarily correlate to high costs in freight shipping. More often, the lighter the freight is, the more expensive it is to ship. Light freight typically has a low density, which sometimes indicates that it takes up lots of room in the trailer.

Although heavy freight may not translate to high shipping costs, overweight loads certainly do. The price of shipping overweight loads (typically weighing over 46,000 pounds) ranges from $2.30-$10+ per mile. While you may not be able to avoid shipping an overweight or oversized load, it’s important to use a specialty broker to find the best option for your shipment.

Another factor that can drive costs up is miscalculating the weight of your shipment. Carriers must know the weight of the entire load to give an accurate quote, so be sure to weigh your shipments individually if the packaging is not uniform. Failure to report accurate weight can result in additional fees, a reweigh, and a potential reclassing fee.

getting a shipping estimate 


High density = lower shipping costs.

Low density = higher shipping costs.

Here’s the general rule of thumb for density: The higher the shipment’s density, the less it costs to ship. Our comprehensive guide to determining freight class walks you through calculating freight density. Here’s a short overview:

  1. Measure the length, width, and height (including packaging and pallets) of your package.
  2. Multiply the length, width, and height to determine the package’s cubic inches. If you have multiple packages of different shapes, be sure to repeat steps one and two for each of them.
  3. If your packages are uniform, simply multiply the cubic inches by the number of packages for your shipment’s total cubic inches. Or, if your packages vary in size, add them all together.
  4. Divide the shipment’s total cubic inches by 1,738. (Where did this number come from?! Just trust us: 1,738 is the number of cubic inches in a cubic foot.) Total cubic inches divided by 1,738 = your freight’s total cubic feet. Round to the nearest cubic foot.
  5. Now that you have your freight’s total cubic feet, you can calculate the density. The last step is to take your freight’s total weight and divide it by the total cubic feet. Total weight divided by total cubic feet = Density!

Our freight class codes chart below shows how expensive freight is to ship based on its density. Freight density of 12 pounds or higher per cubic foot is cheaper to ship, whereas freight density of 8 pounds or less per cubic foot is more expensive to ship.


Freight class

Class 85 and below = lower shipping costs.

Class 125 and above = higher shipping costs.

Freight class determination is both important and complicated, but, luckily, we have a thorough guide on determining freight class on your own. Factors such as what you’re shipping, how dense it is, the value of the items, special loading equipment or precautions needed, and how an item fits inside the trailer with other freight will determine freight class. Dense, easy-to-move shipments generally have lower classifications (typically 50–85). Less dense, fragile, or otherwise difficult-to-move products usually have higher classifications (typically 125–500). The lower the classification, the less it costs to ship, and vice versa.  

Linear feet

Over 12 linear feet = higher shipping costs, except when you book shared truckload service.

Knowing the linear footage of your freight will help you get the most accurate freight-shipping quote, as well as identify upfront whether shipping LTL, TL, or STL is the most cost-effective method. “Linear feet” refers to the amount of space freight takes up in a trailer. If you’ve never calculated linear feet before, we have a helpful guide that will walk you through the process. Here’s a quick overview:

  1. Divide the total number of pallets by two.
  2. Take this number and multiply it by the pallet length in inches.
  3. Divide this number by 12, and you’ll have the shipment’s linear feet!

This brings us to the linear foot rule, which is a major pain point of LTL shipping. LTL carriers typically have their own unique linear foot rules, but the industry standard states that, for a shipment to travel with cheaper LTL service, the freight must be less than 12 linear feet and under 750 cubic feet. The label for shipments exceeding these specifications is “volume LTL” (VLTL), and these shipments skyrocket in price since they’re undesirable loads to carriers.

Luckily, shared truckload service provides the most value for shippers moving freight with linear footage that falls in this gray area. With STL shipping, you can move freight that exceeds the linear foot rule without paying exorbitant VLTL prices or paying for an entire truckload. Instead, you only pay for the space you need as your shipment moves in a pooled truckload.  

shipping terminal 

Origin and destination

Short distance = lower shipping costs.

Long distance = higher shipping costs.

Just as it costs more money to fly from Houston to Anchorage than from San Diego to San Francisco, you can expect to pay higher shipping costs to move freight longer distances. However, long-haul versus short-haul shipping lane desirability plays a factor in pricing as well.

Short-haul shipping lanes typically move LTL and partial freight no more than 250 miles from origin to destination, making them desirable for truckers who prefer staying close to home. Long-haul shipping lanes typically move TL freight across state lines and can run multiple days, meaning truckers stand to earn more per load. Still, long hauls may actually end up costing the shipper less per mile than short hauls due to negotiated rates for the distance.

Another factor in pricing is supply and demand, or whether the freight is located in, or delivering to, an area with an abundance or scarcity of loads. An abundance of loads near the freight’s origin or destination will help lower shipping costs, because this reduces probable deadhead for the carrier. (“Deadhead” is a term for the wasted miles and fuel a trucker expends after delivering one load and traveling to pick up another.)

If freight is moving to a delivery location where there is a scarcity of loads, then shipping costs may be higher because it’s undesirable to the carrier. For instance, this map shows the primary shipping lanes for STL service, where you can get our most competitive rates due to high load volume.  

Fuel prices

Low fuel prices = lower shipping costs.

High fuel prices = higher shipping costs.

Every Monday, the U.S. Department of Energy sets the cost for diesel fuel across the nation. The average price determines fuel surcharges for that week. When diesel prices are up, you can expect fuel surcharges to be up as well. Typically, carriers will avoid forecasting by charging a flat rate that evens out the peaks and valleys of fuel cost variability.

freight shipping capacity 


High capacity = lower shipping costs.

Low capacity = higher shipping costs.

“Capacity” is a term that refers to the number of empty trucks available to move freight at any given moment. When there are lots of truck drivers who need to fill their empty trucks with freight, this is an indication of high capacity and lower rates for shippers. On the other hand, when there’s more freight than there are truck drivers available to move it, capacity is low and shipping rates will be higher.

Since the onset of coronavirus, carriers haven’t been able to keep up with the sheer volume of freight coming their way, which means they’ve been rejecting loads at levels unseen since 2018. For this reason and more, the freight market currently favors carriers. When truckers are able to be more selective when choosing freight, prices inherently go up. However, as with all ebbs and flows of the market, demand will eventually flip the other way, where there are more carriers than there are loads to move. When this happens, it will be in carriers’ best interests to partner with a logistics provider, like Flock Freight, that can connect them with multi-stop shared truckloads and will maximize revenue potential.  

Special services

No special services = lower shipping costs.

More special services = higher shipping costs.

Typically, shipping temperature-sensitive freight costs more than shipping non-perishable goods; likewise, shipping dangerous goods or hazardous materials costs even more than the other commodities. But what costs the most is not specifying which special services your freight needs during the quoting process.

The upfront cost of any special service requirements is far less than the fee a carrier charges when special services accumulate during transit (we’ll talk about accessorials next), so it’s in shippers’ best interests to include special services from the start. Additionally, failure to note special services risks damage, loss, and destruction of your goods because you haven’t made the carrier aware of any specific shipping needs. Although special services raise the bottom line of your shipping estimate, ignoring them can be far costlier.

The most common freight special services include heating, tailgate, appointment pickup, and special handling of dangerous goods. Luckily, with shared truckload shipping, you can request special services, like pickup and delivery appointments, for no extra cost.  


No accessorials = lower shipping costs.

Added accessorials = higher shipping costs, except when you book shared truckload service.

At the end of the day, a quote is only as accurate as the shipment details provided, and it cannot account for added services. Shippers start to see costs sneak up when accessorial fees — shipping charges for unanticipated services that a carrier provides during shipment — start to accumulate. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, but this is especially true when it comes to preventable LTL accessorials related to inaccurately reporting your freight’s unique needs. We dive deeper into common shipping charges and accessorial fees in this blog post, but here’s an overview of typical accessorials:

  • Liftgate
  • Redelivery
  • Layovers and wait time
  • Bill of Lading changes
  • Cash-on-delivery
  • Reclassification and reweigh
  • Advance notification
  • Limited access
  • Driver load and unload
  • Residential
  • Inside delivery
  • Metro pickup and delivery
  • Oversized and overlength fees
  • Hazardous materials
  • After-hour deliveries
  • Truck Ordered Not Used (TONU)
  • Diversion miles
  • Additional stops
  • Storage
  • Detention

While some of these accessorials are out of a shipper’s control, others are completely avoidable. For instance, overlooking a detail as simple as whether or not the shipping destination has a loading dock can cause fees, delays, and unnecessary trans-loading of freight, depending on if the delivery truck has a liftgate.

Although the best practice is to be absolutely sure of these details before booking, you can avoid these headaches altogether by booking STL service. With shared truckload shipping, we eliminate added LTL accessorial fees entirely. How’s that for an upfront quote?

calculating shipping estimate 

Liability and insurance

Waived insurance = lower shipping costs.

Added insurance = higher shipping costs, except when you book shared truckload service.

To understand how liability and insurance affect your shipping quote, let’s clarify the difference between them.

When Congress passed the 1980 Motor Carrier Act, it mandated that all freight-shipping carriers in the United States must have liability coverage. Each carrier’s Limitation of Liability determines the maximum dollar amount the carrier is responsible for in case of freight damage or loss. The liability limits vary from carrier to carrier, and the liability covers a standard dollar amount per pound of freight. Because liability limits are standard per pound of freight, the carrier’s liability coverage may not cover your entire shipment’s value. Ultimately, liability coverage protects the carrier from extensive payouts, not the shipper or their goods.

Freight insurance is added security for shippers to protect up to the full manufacturer’s value of a shipment. (Check out this blog to learn how much freight insurance costs.) You can expect to pay $0.25-$0.75 per $100 of your Commercial Invoice Value on freight insurance. Or, you can book STL service for up to $100,000 of damage insurance at no extra cost!  

Carriers, negotiated shipping rates, and discounted rates

Each carrier charges a minimum rate for their services, depending on the carrier. However, if you have contracted rates with a specific company, be sure to check in with your business representative every so often to see if you can negotiate this rate. Negotiation can depend on factors such as recent performance or increases in shipment volume.

Overall, as a shipper, developing a positive working relationship with your carrier has a lot of upsides. If this amounts to some form of a discount, then the benefits of a positive relationship could actually save you money. Still, you will never find a logistics provider that is willing to give you instant money off of contracted truckload (TL) rates other than Flock Freight.

Enter: our Instant Prebate program. With Instant Prebate, we lock in contracted TL rates with a shipper, and, if they need to move a load that is 8-44 linear feet and less than 36,000 pounds, we provide an automatic discount on the contracted TL rate and move the shipment via shared truckload service. Shippers can save up to 40% on contracted TL rates, making Instant Prebate the easiest way to get discounted shipping rates for freight that doesn’t fill an entire truck. See the graphic below for cost savings based on linear feet usage!

table demonstrating shipping cost savings  

Shipping service

TL = higher shipping costs.

LTL = lower shipping costs.

STL = low shipping costs with the highest value.

Truckload service tends to come with the highest shipping price simply because you are paying for the exclusive use of an entire truck. It also comes with perks such as low damage rates and quick delivery times. Still, shippers stand to waste money on TL service if they don’t fill the trailer entirely.

During LTL shipping, your freight shares space on a truck with freight from other companies, lowering shipping costs overall. Tariffs (affected by your shipment’s freight class) determine LTL pricing, as well as linear footage and accessorial fees. Unlike TL shipping, the freight does not go directly to its destination — instead, shipments travel through the damage-prone hub-and-spoke system and make stops at multiple terminals on the way to their destinations. This translates to longer, unpredictable shipping times and a higher possibility of damage.

The fact is, LTL and TL shipping simply can’t compete with STL service. Here’s why:

LTL service has historically been a viable option for shippers without the freight volume to fill an entire truck or that need to cut down on shipping costs overall. But with STL service, even low-volume shippers can send their goods “Exclusive-use” style while sharing trailer space with freight from other shippers. Shared truckload shipping skips the hub-and-spoke model altogether, thereby eliminating trans-loading and dropping the risk of freight damage to 0.001%. Although standard LTL shipping may offer the lowest costs, shipping via shared truckload provides the highest value by slashing delivery times, giving shippers full control over pickup and delivery dates, and ensuring the freight arrives at its destination in one piece.

TL service moves loads regardless of whether or not shipments fill the entire truck, and only a fraction of TL trailers travel completely full. Not only are shippers paying to move empty space, they’re growing their carbon footprint by increasing the number of trucks on the road. With STL service, shippers reduce their respective carbon footprints by sharing truck space with other companies.

Additionally, our Instant Prebate program gives shippers savings of up to 40% on contracted TL rates when they send us a load that qualifies for pooled, STL service. This way, shippers pay only for the space they need in a trailer, while reducing fuel emissions by up to 40%. Because it reduces the trucking industry’s carbon footprint by design, shared truckload shipping is the most environmentally responsible method to move freight.

freight containers 

How to get the lowest freight-shipping quote

There are lots of factors at play when it comes to determining shipping rates, which explains why freight quote calculations are so nebulous. Although it may seem like many of the factors are out of shippers’ control, there are a few surefire ways to lower shipping costs.

Here are the top four ways to get the lowest freight-shipping quote:

  1. Be accurate. Accurately measure the dimensions, linear footage, and weight of your freight to avoid potential reclassing fees, a re-quote, or BOL changes.
  2. Specify your shipment’s needs. Include details like “refrigeration,” “liftgate,” “appointment needed,” and “unloading services.” If you need these extra services later, you will end up paying more than if you paid for the services upfront.
  3. Partner with a 3PL for access to thousands of carrier options for your freight.
  4. Ship your freight via STL service.

The easiest way to make lower shipping costs a reality? Partnering with Flock Freight and booking your shipments through the Flock Platform.

Whether you are consolidating freight, LTL, VLTL, or TL, Flock Freight is the only logistics provider that guarantees shared truckload service for your freight.

When you choose STL service, our pooling algorithms match your freight with compatible shipments from other customers. When it’s time to ship, your freight moves along an optimized route in a pooled, shared truckload with other shipments moving in the same direction. Every shared truckload is load to ride, meaning freight remains on the truck until it reaches its destination. Plus, we arrange shared truckloads in last-in, first-out (LIFO) order, since freight doesn’t cross-dock or offload on its way to delivery. Because STL shipping removes hubs, terminals, and handling from the equation, the carbon footprint of each load plummets and damage claims drop to 0.001%.

Are you ready to save money on freight-shipping rates, strengthen your supply chain, and reduce your company’s carbon emissions? Get in touch with a Flock Freight representative and give STL shipping a try.