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Volume less than truckload freight shipping: What is it and how does it work?

05.10.2021 | By AJ Todd | 6 min. read

Volume less than truckload shipping can seem complex. Let’s break it down.

If you’ve ever bought something online, chances are you’ve thought about freight shipping services and how complex trucking and logistics processes are within the United States. When it comes to ground shipping domestically, there are many modes of ground shipping, including: small-package shipments (think FedEx and UPS), less than truckload shipments, and full truckload shipments. The mode is chosen based on the shipping needs of a supplier. 

This article will explore volume less than truckload shipping, or VLTL. VLTL, like LTL, is a mode of shipping used for the transportation of freight that doesn’t require the use of an entire truck. Shippers with freight of this size can also use the partial shipping mode.

Quick truckload definitions

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

  • Volume LTL: Volume LTL shipments usually range from five to 14 pallets and are more than 4,000 pounds. They do not fill an entire trailer but are larger than traditional LTL shipments.
  • Partial truckload (PTL): 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.
  • Truckload (TL): A shipment that fills a full truck. Truckload freight is generally more than 10 pallets or more than 15,000 pounds. Carriers fill one truck to capacity and move directly from point A to point B. Note: “Truckload” is sometimes also referred to as “full truckload.” 
  • Shared truckload (STL): 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. It competes with the PTL and VLTL modes for freight that don’t fill an entire truck.
  • Less than truckload (LTL): LTL shipments are usually one to six pallets or less than 4,000 pounds. LTL uses many different trucks and distribution facilities to handle the shipment, usually removing and reloading products up to seven times.

How volume LTL shipping works

When someone is shipping freight using the less-than truckload method, they are typically moving a group of individual pallets of product. These pallets move through a system called the “hub-and-spoke model,” a shipping process that increases efficiencies for the whole supply chain, but often loads and unloads the product countless times across the country before delivery.

Ready for an example of how VLTL shipping works?

Let’s say you have a shipment of seven pallets that need to move from Boston, Massachusetts, to Los Angeles, California. With volume LTL freight shipping, here is what the process could potentially look like: 

  1. An LTL freight carrier in a local Boston terminal will pick up the freight according to a pickup appointment (arranged in a transportation management system, or TMS) and then drop the pallets at a centralized warehouse called a “hub,” where the products will unload and wait for their next pickup. 
  2. A different long-haul driver will pick up the freight and bring it to another central hub, let’s say in Chicago. (This stop is usually somewhere between the pickup point and final destination.) 
  3. From there, another driver might pick up the pallets and transport them the remainder of the way to a central distribution center in California. 
  4. Finally, a local driver will pick up that shipment and deliver the product to its final destination. 

Sounds complicated, right? VLTL freight shipments are full of nuance and complex details. The hub-and-spoke model allows for overall efficiencies, but makes the journey of those seven pallets seem like quite the trek!

Other factors of VLTL freight

The complexities of VLTL freight don’t end there. Much like TL, VLTL has important factors that are worth paying attention to.

Freight class

Freight classes are designed to standardize pricing for shipments across all parties in shipping. Defined by the National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA) and made available through the NMFC, or National Motor Freight Classification, freight class gives consumers a uniform pricing structure when transporting freight.

For LTL carriers, freight class determines tariffs that they must pay to transport goods — and, therefore, factors into the overall cost of the shipment. These freight class charges can substantially increase the cost of doing business for shippers.

Accessorial fees

The costs don’t end there. In VLTL shipping, the addition of accessorial fees increases the price of the shipment. These fees are applied based on “a la carte” services that might be needed in addition to cost per mile. These additional fees — ranging from residential delivery to liftgate to fuel surcharge — are typically not added to a freight quote until after the shipment is complete. These additional fees make it difficult to predict the full cost the carrier will charge until all is said and done.

So what are the pros and cons of volume LTL?

Benefits of volume LTL

  • It’s slightly more cost-effective. VLTL freight rates are lower than TL ones — but not by much.

Disadvantages of volume LTL

  • Fees, fees, fees! Accessorial fees mean that things like expedited delivery, handling hazardous materials, and shipping perishable materials cost more. Carriers may also have to rely on third-party hubs, increasing overall shipping costs. And freight class charges can mean increased fees as well. With all the fees associated with volume LTL, it becomes impossible to estimate the final cost of a shipment. 
  • More handling = more damage. Because of the hub-and-spoke LTL system, VLTL freight stops at multiple terminals. This means there is greater risk that cargo could be mishandled or damaged.
  • Don’t forget about slow shipping times. All of the stops that a carrier makes on a VLTL shipment make transit times much slower.

A better alternative to VLTL: shared truckload

Volume LTL can be overly complicated — and overly expensive. A simpler process without all the extra fuss is shared truckload. Shared truckload combines multiple shippers’ freight onto one truck. Instead of moving shipments through the damage-prone hub-and-spoke system, shared truckload maximizes truck space by grouping shipments into one multi-stop truckload. This means no freight class fees, no accessorial fees, and no extra stops. Shared truckload is always on time and faster than VLTL.

Flock Freight® offers a shared truckload solution: FlockDirect™️. If you’re ready to see VLTL in your rearview mirror, get started with FlockDirect now. 

Experience the difference of shared truckload as soon as your next shipment.