LTL vs. FTL Shipping

Published on
Mar 28, 2023
Contributed by

When it comes to shipping modes, two major acronyms you’ll encounter are LTL (less than truckload) and FTL (full truckload). Deciding which mode to use depends on a variety of factors, from the size of your shipment to when it needs to be delivered. In this blog, we’ll explore the differences between LTL vs. FTL and break down their advantages and disadvantages so that you can confidently choose the mode that works best for you.

LTL vs. FTL: What’s the difference?

Understanding the differences between LTL vs. FTL shipping will help you pick the best option for your shipment. The main differences between LTL vs. FTL come to size, price, time, and handling. Let’s dive deeper.

LTL Shipping

LTL shipping is a shipping mode where trucking companies consolidate multiple shipments to maximize the trailer’s space. LTL freight does not require the entire capacity of the truckload trailer, meaning it weighs less than 7,500 pounds and less than 12 feet of trailer space. Since you are only paying for the space your shipment will take up, not the entire truck, LTL shipping costs can be significantly lower than FTL. This means LTL shipments have less wasted space and are more economical. One disadvantage of LTL shipping is that shipments experience increased handling, which may result in damage or loss. LTL shipments typically require multiple stops and transfers before reaching the final destination. Because of this, pickup times occur in a broader window and the estimated delivery date may differ greatly from the actual delivery date. Additionally, LTL shipments incur more accessorial fees for freight class, weight, and pickup and drop-off destination codes. Since LTL carriers are trying to be efficient, shippers may also be charged for anything that causes a delay or disruption. You should choose LTL shipping if you:

  • have smaller shipments that won’t fill an entire truck (e.g. between one to six pallets or less than 10 linear feet)
  • need or can have flexibility on dates or pickup locations
  • are shipping freight that is not time-sensitive, delicate, or high-risk

FTL Shipping

FTL shipping, commonly referred to as truckload (TL), is a shipping mode that utilizes the entire space or weight of a truck’s trailer and goes directly from the pickup location to the destination. When a shipper chooses FTL shipping, they reserve and pay for the full capacity of the truck whether or not they completely fill it.Typically, FTL shipments experience faster delivery times since they are picked up and delivered on the same truck. Because of this shipments aren’t being excessively handled or transferred and the risk of damage or missing items is significantly reduced. Unlike LTL, transit and pickup and delivery times are more fixed, allowing you to precisely plan your shipment instead of coordinating shipping plans with others. Even if you completely fill the entire truck with your shipment, FTL is still often more expensive than LTL since you pay the full trailer price regardless of the size of your freight.You should choose FTL if you:

  • have a shipment over 40 feet long
  • have a shipment that is delicate, expensive, or high-risk and needs minimal handling
  • have time-sensitive shipments and need firm delivery and pick-up dates

LTL vs. FTL rates

While FTL has several advantages over LTL, it typically comes with higher rates. On the other hand, LTL may seem more cost-effective initially, but it can be plagued with surprise fees such as accessorial fees, linear-foot caps, late fees, and damage fees. However, there is a shipping option that provides the benefits of FTL while also offering the cost savings of LTL — without the hidden costs.

STL Shipping

Shared truckload (STL) shipping is a shipping mode that enables several shippers to share trailer space in one multi-stop full truckload. With STL, shipments that are traveling on a similar route move on the same truck. STL freight travels directly from its pickup location to its destination—without passing through hubs or terminals—and isn’t handled during transit. Plus, you don’t have to meet any freight class requirements or a weight minimum. Basically, when you ship STL, you get the advantages of FTL shipping without needing to fill or pay for an entire truck. This means less damage, faster delivery times, no accessorial fees, increased security, and overall cheaper rates. Additionally, STL is more environmentally-friendly than FTL and LTL. The optimized, shared truck space eliminates wasted fuel and unnecessary trips. STL’s streamlined travel reduces greenhouse gas emissions by up to 40%. Its hubless transportation removes carbon-intensive and energy-consuming LTL terminals and the reduction in damaged goods means less of a need to remanufacture and reship.STL can have limitations when it comes to additional services such as refrigerated transportation or specialized handling for certain products. Shippers who choose STL must be flexible with the transportation of their products since the carrier determines the route, delivery schedule, and other details. You should choose STL if you:

  • have shipments in the 10-44 linear feet range that are too big for LTL but too small to fill a full truckload
  • want FTL service and benefits without the high rates

Comparing LTL, STL, and FTL Shipping

To determine the best shipping mode for your freight, it’s important to consider the following:

  • What type of freight are you shipping?
  • What is your timeline and flexibility?
  • What is your budget?
  • What is the size and weight of your shipment?

To help you make the most informed decision, here’s a brief comparison table that summarizes the differences between LTL, FTL, and STL.

STL comparison table

So, which is best? The short answer for just about every shipment: STL. The long answer: Though STL is the clear winner — especially for mid-sized freight — it ultimately depends on your unique shipping needs. If you're seeking a shipping solution that provides the most value for your budget, STL is the best option.

Unlock the Potential of Cost-Effective Shipping with Flock Freight

No matter what shipping mode you choose, shipping with Flock Freight will maximize your cost savings and advantages of each shipping mode mentioned above. But if you want to cut costs by up to 20% compared to TL, ship 99.8% damage-free, deliver on-time 30% more often than LTL, and slash carbon emissions, shipping STL with Flock Freight is by far the best shipping option.Flock’s patented technology saves shippers time — and money — with consistent and fair pricing, reliable delivery, and proactive communication. Book a demo to learn how you can save more by shipping with Flock.