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What Is Partial Truckload Shipping (PTL)?

05.10.2021 | By AJ Todd | 5 min. read

When shipping less-than truckload, you have options. Here are your FAQs about partial truckload — answered.

One of the most essential industries in the world is the freight-shipping industry. Transporting goods from point A to point B is a multi-step process with endless complexities. The supply chain includes several modes of moving goods. In addition to the six basic modes of shipping — road, maritime, air, rail, intermodal, and pipeline — there are several modes of shipping within each of those categories. 

When it comes to road (ground) shipping, sometimes shippers or suppliers don’t need a full truck to carry a product. Whether it’s because the goods don’t take up a lot of space or the purchase order is smaller than a full truck, a whole truck just might not be necessary. This is a common occurrence — semitrucks are massive! 

There are a few different ways to move freight that doesn’t top off a whole truck: truckload (TL), less-than truckload (LTL), partial truckload (PTL), volume LTL (VLTL), and shared truckload (STL).

Quick truckload definitions

Understanding the differences between truckload, less-than truckload, partial truckload, volume LTL, and shared truckload is an important step in choosing the right ground mode of shipping. Here are some quick terms to get us started:  

  • Truckload: A shipment that fills a full truck. Truckload shipments are generally more than 10 pallets or more than 15,000 pounds. They fill one truck to capacity and move directly from point A to point B. Note: These are sometimes also referred to as “full truckload.”
  • Less-than truckload: LTL shipments are usually one to six pallets or less than 4,000 pounds. LTL uses many different trucks and distribution facilities to handle a shipment.
  • Partial truckload: Partials weigh less than TL freight but more than LTL freight. For a shipment to qualify as a partial load, it must contain five to 14 pallets and weigh between 5,000 and 40,000 pounds.
  • Volume LTL: Volume LTL shipments usually range from five to 14 pallets and weigh more than 4,000 pounds.
  • Shared truckload: Shared truckload is ideal for midsize shipments of four to 22 pallets that measure eight to 44 linear feet and less than 36,000 pounds. Like the PTL and VLTL modes, shared truckload is an option for freight that doesn’t fill an entire truck.

Partial shipping: a breakdown

At the most basic level, partial shipments are those that don’t completely fill a truck, but are too large to be considered “LTL.” You can ship freight of this size via the consolidator network — as long as the freight fits within the requirements mentioned in the previous section. A partial shipment fills only part of a truck, so your cargo shares space with goods of other shippers. 

Even as one of the less popular modes of shipping, partials have several advantages.

Benefits of partial shipping

    • No freight class required: Usually, each shipment is assigned a freight class based on product type (e.g. glass is more expensive to transport than cardboard). Carriers will use that freight class to determine how much to charge for the shipment. No freight class means no extra charges based on the class of your freight.
    • Less handling = less damage: Compared to LTL and VLTL, partial loads are rarely stopped and remain on a single truck for the majority of transit. This means there are fewer opportunities for freight damage, and your order remains safer than it would with traditional LTL.
    • Usually more cost-efficient (usually): Partial shippers pay only for the space their freight takes up in the truck. Unlike LTL and VLTL, partial truckload leads to fewer fees — like freight class fees — overall. Partial shipping rates are negotiated with the carrier and are less than a full truckload shipment. 
    • Faster transit times than LTL and VLTL: Since your shipment mostly stays on one truck, the order status is less volatile, making on-time delivery time easier to attain. 

Generally speaking, shipments that are less durable and more time-sensitive would make great candidates for partial shipping.

Disadvantages of partial shipping

  • Less capacity than TL, LTL, VLTL, and STL: Because of the specificity of the size requirements, not all carriers provide partial shipping.
  • Volatile shipping charges: Partial truckload rates are established by the market and are determined by mileage, specific lane, weight, and space required. This means that shipping costs can vary with each load, rising with the market if capacity (the number of trucks available to carry products) is tight. 
  • Complexity: Details of a partial shipment, as noted above, can be very complex. 

As the market changes, so does the price of partial shipping costs. Partial shipping can also be underutilized, plus not every carrier does partial shipping, which makes it an option that isn’t always readily available. 

The best of both worlds: a combination of partial and shared truckload

If loads meet the requirements for partial shipping, it can be an excellent option. While cost should be part of the deciding factor when you’re considering PTL, you should take into consideration timeliness, simplicity, and environmental impact as well. 

With Flock Freight®, replacing partial shipping with shared truckload service leads to optimal outcomes within supply chains. Shared truckload is always on time, always environmentally friendly, and always cost-efficient. Shared truckload combines multiple shippers’ freight onto one truck and maximizes trailer space by grouping partial shipments into one multi-stop truckload. Flock Freight is the only company that can guarantee shared truckload service at point of sale while also providing real-time tracking updates.


Ship partials faster with Flock Freight's shared truckload solution, FlockDirect.