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When To Use Less-Than Truckload (LTL) Shipping

05.22.2018 | By AJ Todd | 7 min. read

Less-than truckload shipping can be a great choice for businesses under the right circumstances, but knowing when to use LTL shipping versus the other options available can make all the difference. And when you’re in a crunch, it’s easy to just go with whatever option seems like it would be the most convenient at the time, or whichever your carrier tells you to choose.

After reading this post, you’ll be able to eliminate the guesswork and know for certain when you should use less-than truckload shipping. But first, it’s important for you to understand what exactly less-than truckload means.

What Is Less-Than Truckload Shipping?

Less-than truckload, or LTL shipping is a type of ground freight transportation. It refers to shipments that do not take up an entire truck, or “less than a truckload.”

When a company uses LTL shipping, they will only use and pay for the space in the truck they need. The remaining space in the truck will be filled by freight from other businesses that is being sent to the same area. Each shipper with product sharing space in the truck will pay for their portion of trailer space.

This makes LTL shipping a more budget-friendly option, as it helps keeps costs down by allowing you to only pay for the space in a truck you actually use, rather than paying for the whole thing even if you don’t fill the entire space.

Though you will save on shipping costs, traditional LTL shipments will take longer to reach their destination because they make several stops to unload and reload the goods at service terminals. But, unlike these traditional LTL companies, Flock Freight® uses a hubless LTL shipping model when volume allows so that your shipments are never unpacked until they reach their final destination. So, not only is the Flock Freight LTL shipping service low cost, it also is efficient unlike other traditional methods of LTL shipping.

Less-than truckload shipments are also usually transported by smaller trailers than a full-size 48- or 53-foot semi, often on tandem “pup” trailers, however shipping methods and vehicle sizes will vary depending on the situation. The shipments are usually shrink-wrapped in pallets, allowing for them to be safely and quickly loaded and unloaded.

LTL shipments are generally less than 4,000 pounds and may only take up a tiny portion of the truck. Though they can be rather small, they will still be too big or heavy for a small parcel carrier. Sometimes a shipment can take up the majority of the space in a truck and still be considered LTL as long as another company is able to fill the remaining space.

This brings us to less-than truckload shipping counterpart — Full truckload shipping.

What Is Full Truckload Shipping?

The meaning of Full Truckload (FTL) shipping is actually twofold: A full truckload shipment can either be when you have enough product to fill an entire truck or meet the truck’s weight limitations, or you have a partial load, but want to have a dedicated truck for your order. FTL shipping is more expensive, but might make sense for your company if you have a full truckload worth of goods.

It will usually be fairly easy to figure out if your shipment requires FTL shipping, but the general rules of thumb are for shipments of more than 10 pallets worth of product, or more than 15,000 pounds.

What About Small Parcel Shipping?

Small parcel shipping, or small package shipments, are reserved for those shipments that weigh under 150 pounds. These would be the items you see on a UPS or FedEx truck or a neighborhood delivery. These deliveries are considered small packages, which is a different service than LTL shipping.

This can be an option for some small businesses who only need to move a few items at a time, however the problem is that there will be many different small packages from multiple shippers on the same truck. With all of the deliveries being located near each other, this opens your product up to more risk of damage and errors in delivery.

When To Use Less-Than Truckload Shipping

Choosing between less-than truckload and full truckload may seem easy on the surface — you either fill the truck or you don’t, right? But actually, things aren’t that simple, and there are a number of factors that will influence which freight shipping method will be best for your needs.

While FTL shipping may work for some companies in certain situations, in general, most businesses — small businesses in particular — can greatly benefit from using less-than truckload shipping.

There are several factors to consider when choosing which shipping method will be the most appropriate for your needs. You should be able to steer yourself to the most efficient method based on your individual circumstances. Generally, if you are a small business and have a small shipment, LTL shipping is an easy choice. Not only can LTL shipping get your goods to the drop-off location on time, but it is also a much more budget-friendly option than FTL.

There are further considerations to keep in mind when it comes to the pricing of your shipment, such as how much space your freight takes up in the truck, how much your shipment weighs, its freight class, and its pickup and delivery destinations, also known as its “lane.”

LTL shipping also offers companies more in terms of services. For instance, you may have special needs for sensitive items. You will also be able to track the progress of your shipment much more easily. This helps you maintain visibility on your product and ensure it reaches its destination on time. A little peace of mind can go a long way!

When factoring in your shipment’s weight, the general dividing line is around 4,000 pounds. Those shipments that come in under that mark are usually shipped via LTL, but those that weigh more than 4,000 pounds will often require a full truckload to be shipped out.

Another deciding factor we have yet to bring up is the dimensions of your freight. This is important because how your freight fits into the truck will determine the cost. Keep in mind your shipment’s length, width, and height when you are attaining your freight classification. If your product or parcel is an odd shape, there may be special services required, or it may take up more space than you thought because of how it fits into the truck.

Overall, the best practices of LTL shipping are fairly easy to understand. You should choose LTL shipping if your shipment is small and you are on a budget.

When To Use a Combination of LTL and FTL Shipping

There are other situations where you can actually blend an LTL shipment into FTL.

Typically, your decision on whether to use LTL or FTL will be based on an individual shipment. For example, if you have a few different pallets each going to different destinations, LTL will be your best option. But advancements in freight consolidation are now making it possible to somewhat mold LTL into FTL for non-recurring, long-haul shipments.

Sometimes, it may be best for a company to order a full truck to ship a lot of product to a single destination. Long-term FTL shipping may not make sense if the destinations of delivery will evolve, which would make shipping more expensive. In these instances, the shipper can use freight consolidation through FTL shipping to get their products sent along the same route to the various distribution centers along the way.

Once things reach this point, you can typically transition from consolidated FTL to LTL shipping, which allows shippers to operate in local markets. You will have to do your homework here to make sure you’re doing what makes sense for your budget and needs, but as the needs of your company change, it may be a good option for added flexibility. This is another reason why using third-party logistics can save you some real headache when it comes to choosing your shipping method.

There are indeed pros and cons to each shipping method, but hopefully by using this guide you will be able to better determine when to use less-than truckload shipping or full truckload shipping.

Discover the ultimate shipping method with Flock Freight.