Using Trucking Spot Rates To Find Higher-Paying Loads

Published on
May 9, 2023
Contributed by

Staying competitive is always challenging in an industry that’s constantly evolving. In trucking, finding the best freight, keeping drivers moving, and maximizing profits are tough when the threat of recession looms and trucking rates continue to decline.As a fleet owner, dispatcher, or operations manager in the trucking industry, you know keeping up with the latest trends is essential. One key indicator that has a significant impact on your bottom line is spot rates. But what exactly are trucking spot rates, and how can you use them to your advantage? Let’s dive in.

What are trucking spot rates?

For trucking businesses looking to thrive in a competitive industry, staying informed about spot rate trucking trends and strategies is key. Trucking rates are strongly influenced by market dynamics. The balance of supply and demand has a significant impact on the prevailing rates for trucking services. When there is high demand for trucks and limited capacity available, the market favors carriers, who can then charge higher spot rates. Conversely, when there is low demand and excess capacity, the market leans toward shippers, and carriers will lower their prices to secure loads.

So, what is a spot rate in trucking?

A trucking spot rate refers to the current market price for a one-time freight shipment, also known as a spot market transaction. In an inflationary market, spot rates are typically higher than contract rates, where shippers and carriers negotiate a set price for a long-term commitment. Smaller shippers are more likely to use spot rates as their shipping volumes are less consistent and take up less space. Carriers and brokers use the spot market as a benchmark for pricing their services, as it provides real-time data on market conditions and competitive pricing. Some carriers may also use spot market pricing to fill excess capacity in their truckloads. In general, the trucking spot rate provides flexibility for carriers, allowing them to adjust their pricing and capacity in response to changing market conditions.

How are trucking spot rates determined?

Spot rates in the trucking industry fluctuate regularly, though they are generally determined by supply and demand, which can be influenced by various factors like:

  • Freight volume
  • Seasonality
  • Fuel prices
  • Equipment availability
  • Geographical location
  • Weather conditions

Since spot rates are based on market conditions, they can change often. Ultimately, carriers and brokers have the discretion to set spot rates based on their assessment of industry trends and their own cost structures. However, competition also plays a role, as carriers and brokers must balance their pricing to remain competitive and attract business.

How to take advantage of a spot rate market

By monitoring spot rates and demand trends, carriers can adjust pricing and capacity allocation to maximize profitability. Since spot rates and contract rates aren’t always in sync, carriers may need to move in a different direction as the market changes. Most companies maintain a combination of spot rate and contract customers to carry them through fluctuations in the market.

Focus on profitability when spot rates are high

When trucking spot rates are high, carriers can take advantage of the favorable market conditions by booking more one-off loads at higher prices. In a high spot rate market, you may face challenges like increased competition for higher-paying loads and demand for higher wages, but you’ll also have more business opportunities. Here are tips to get the most out of this market while also preparing for a future decline in spot rates:

  • Focus on high-paying loads to increase revenue
  • Expand your fleet and recruit additional drivers
  • Prioritize customer service
  • Invest in technology
  • Negotiate new contracts

The high spot rate market is a great time to seek out new shipper contracts. High demand and lower carrier capacity give you more leverage to negotiate favorable rates. By being strategic and agile when trucking spot rates are high, you can capitalize on the high demand for transportation services and position yourself for long-term success.

Focus on strategy when spot rates are low

Unfortunately, when spot rates are low, it can be harder to cover costs, and you may have to reduce capacity. While low rates present challenges in the short term, it might be the right time to plan strategically and be proactive with tactics like:

  • Diversify your customer base
  • Optimize operations
  • Take steps to reduce operating costs
  • Consider expanding into other markets
  • Network and develop relationships with shippers
  • Invest in technology

In a low spot rate market, shippers may have more options to choose from and may not be as willing to commit to long-term rates, so you may have less leverage to negotiate contract rates.Overall, you’ll need to be more adaptable when trucking spot rates are low. By focusing on strategies like these during lean times, you’ll be able to remain profitable and competitive, even in challenging market conditions.

The benefits of spot freight rates

For carriers, the spot market can provide access to new business and potential long-term customers. By providing high-quality services at competitive rates, carriers can build relationships with shippers and establish themselves as reliable partners. The spot market can provide a way to optimize capacity utilization, increase revenue, and become much more efficient. Using spot market shipments to fill partially empty trailers, carriers can earn more, even without committing to long-term contracts. By filling trucks to capacity, they can also benefit from higher revenue, greater efficiency, lower fuel costs, and a positive impact on the environment.Recent research clearly shows how inefficient the trucking industry is. In 2022, shippers across the country were surveyed, and 45% reported using partially empty truckloads. That’s a lot of wasted space, extra fuel, and redundant drive time. Overall, spot rate shipments can help carriers improve efficiency, profitability, and overall business performance.

Stay competitive in changing markets

In today's fast-paced and competitive industry, successful businesses need to keep their drivers moving, their trucks full, and their customers happy. Being able to use spot rates to your advantage can help. Whether you're a seasoned professional or just getting started in the world of trucking, understanding how spot rates work and knowing how to leverage them in changing markets will help you navigate the challenges and opportunities of this exciting and dynamic industry.

Maximize your success with Flock Freight's industry expertise

Flock Freight is reducing inefficiencies in the supply chain by pooling freight into shared truckloads (STL) for a more sustainable shipping solution. Our patented technology locates optimal shipments in compatible locations to fill partially empty trailers. That means less waiting, fewer fees, and up to 20% higher income per truckload. Whether we’re in a high or low spot rate market, our technology, with the power of STL, can help you develop strong, long-term customer relationships.Want to learn more? Sign up to get the latest market insights from Flock delivered straight to your inbox.