April 21, 2020

Everything You Need to Know About Less-Than-Truckload (LTL) Freight

If you’re involved in the logistics or shipping industries, you’ve probably heard of terms like “less-than-truckload.” So what is LTL freight? It’s far from an old concept, but there are a ton of great benefits to using LTL freight shipping for your own business. However, this all comes down to the volume and weight of your business’ shipments. In this in-depth guide, we’ll be looking at the benefits and best practices for LTL, LTL meaning and definition, and the differences between LTL and FTL freight.
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What is LTL freight?

Less than truckload shipping, also known as LTL shipping, is simply the act of transporting freight that is fairly small. Less than truckload transportation is the opposite of full truckload shipping (FTL), which involves transporting heavy or substantial freight. (We'll get more into the differences and advantages of both shipping options later in this guide.)

Parcel carriers will usually deal with smaller packages and freight that can easily be broken down into small units, usually units that are under 150 pounds. For full truckload shipping, a semi-trailer will need to be packed with product or freight in order to make the use of the semi-trailer economically sensible. Usually, such a truck would be used for freight that weighs between 150 and 15,000 pounds. Because of this, many carriers opt for LTL shipping, which usually involves smaller or cheaper transportation means. When shipping via LTL, the shipper involved will usually pay for the portion of a regular truck trailer their freight will be taking up space in.

There are a wide range of things that can factor into LTL shipping rates and whether or not this shipping option is economically a good idea. These factors include:

  1. Location. As with most transporting and shipping rates, the further the distance between the warehouse and the destination, the higher the LTL shipping rate will be.
  2. Type. If one's shipment requires unique handling or special equipment, higher costs will be involved. This is usually the case for brands that manufacture or sell perishables, fragile items, and potentially hazardous items.
  3. Dimensions. The dimensions of the freight, as well as the weight of the packages, will be used to determine the "freight class" of the freight. This will impact the LTL delivery rate.
  4. Mode. If your shipments need to be expedited, there will almost always be an additional fee for LTL shipping.

LTL shipping should be your transportation option of choice if you run a business that produces freight that is under 15,000 and does not require a full-sized trailer. If you want to really save money and stretch out savings in different sectors of your business, LTL shipping could be an excellent option.

Special LTL shipping services

You can customize your LTL shipping experience in a variety of ways. These include:

  • Limited access. This shipping service is necessary for deliveries that are going to locations with very limited carrier access-- such as construction sites, rural areas, strip malls, or camping areas. This way, your transportation partner will be able to properly prepare everything necessary to ensure the delivery goes through without issue.
  • Expedited. If your freight needs to arrive quickly, you can request an expedited quote from your transportation partner.
  • Indoor pickup or delivery. If the carrier must enter a building in order to get the freight and load or complete the delivery inside of a building, you will have to make note of this and possibly pay a larger fee.
  • Liftgate. Use this shipping service is your freight is more than 100 pounds and the destination your freight will arrive at does not have a functional dock for the freight to be moved straight from the truck. This way, you'll receive a truck that has a pre-installed liftgate.

How does LTL shipping work?

LTL shipping works on what one could consider a hub and spoke model. In this model, local terminals would be considered the "spokes" and the larger centralized terminals would be the "hubs" a.k.a distribution centers.

If you're unsure whether or not you should ship via LTL or parcel, it comes down to weight in most cases. To put it simply, if you're shipping freight over 150 pounds but not quite enough to warrant FTL, you should consider LTL. If you're shipping very small or lightweight freight in a relatively small volume, parcel could be a better choice.

What is the difference between LTL and FTL freight shipping?

FTL shipping is a shipping option that requires the full truckload of a semi-truck. Typically, FTL shipments are anywhere from 150 pounds to thousands of pounds. This way of shipping is only economical if you actually have a significant weight or volume of freight to transport. LTL, on the other hand, is a better option for those who have around 150 pounds of freight to transport.

FTL carriers can put between two and six shippers' shipments on a trailer. Since each shipment would be considered less than a truckload, those shipments would be LTL. A shipping method is only considered LTL if the shipper is paying for the entire volume of the truck.

There are also freight businesses that don’t specialize in load capacity of trucks but focus on consolidating large volume shipments from around two to twelve pallets and call themselves LTL carriers.

LTL is usually shipped through a common carrier who handles freight at a level that is above parcel shipping, as well as under what would be considered a “truck load.” LTL carriers are also much more likely to accept palette-free or “loose” freight than FTL.

Is LTL better than FTL freight?

Not exactly. It all depends on the size and weight of the freight you want to ship. If you have a lighter freight to ship, LTL is a more economical option. If you have heavy and large shipments to transport, FTL is a better investment.

The benefits of LTL freight

As we mentioned previously, LTL is the ideal choice for shipping if your freight is too small to be worth LTL or too large for simply parcel delivery. In addition to this, there are a ton of excellent benefits to shipping via LTL. These include:

  • Extra support. Damaged products are no laughing matter. Luckily, LTL shippers can provide all the necessary information needed to work with insurance claims or send out replacement products to buyers. Just as well, many LTL shippers take advantage of quality assurance technology, such as the data logger from Logmore, so you can keep an eye on how your freight is doing during transportation. This is especially helpful if you are transporting perishable goods or pharmaceuticals.
  • No need to pay for unused cargo space. If you've been paying to run partially filled delivery trucks, you're essentially paying for nothing. Through LTL shipping, you can combine your shipment with other deliveries and essentially rent only a portion of the truck that is filled with your freight. This is a great way to save money without having to worry about adjusting your logistics.
  • Improved shipping rates. We've said it over and over, but the biggest benefit to LTL is how much you can save on shipping rates. In most cases, low rates are reserved for big shippers. But when companies use LTL freight through a consolidator, even the tiniest startups can get a great shipping quote for their freight.
  • Lower warehouse costs. Through LTL shipping, you can send out more shipments. There is no longer the need to pile up as many products as possible at one time to get the most out of FTL. This effectively reduces your warehouse needs and creates extra savings every month for your business.
  • Environmentally friendly. Sharing truck space with other shippers will drastically lower your business' negative impact on the environment and help keep the planet healthy.
  • Faster delivery times. In most scenarios, LTL shipping is much faster when it comes to getting your products in the hands of your customers. Via LTL freight, shippers don't need to wait for their customers to place a certain amount of orders in order to fill up an entire truck. Choosing LTL shipping means you are choosing to rent only a portion of a truck, so you can essentially send as many shipments as you want, when you want.
  • Professional expertise and experience. Unfortunately, many smaller businesses don't have the means to afford in-house shippers. When small companies utilize LTL shipping, they're essentially able to take advantage of the logistics pros that are working within LTL shipping companies, which can help improve a small business' practices.
  • Get better security. LTL shipping businesses care about security. Once you've given your products over to them, a professional LTL shipper will ensure that your freight will be safe from point A to point B.
  • Know where you shipment is. Through LTL tracking technology, such as Logmore's products, you can keep track of your deliveries in almost real-time. LTL shippers usually have great tracking systems, but you can implement your own is necessary. Logmore's technology is also great for keeping track of temperature, humidity, and bumps.
  • Give your customers a more diverse set of delivery choices. If you want to get your customers a variety of options, such as expedited shipping of liftgate access, LTL shipping is simply the best possible choice to meet your needs and the needs of your customers.
  • Get involved with newer shipping technology. Most LTL shippers take advantage of new shipping technology and your company may be able to benefit from such advances without having to spend a ton of extra money.

Best practices for LTL freight shipping

There are some things to keep in mind when preparing LTL shipments, most notably dimensions, documentation, labeling, and packaging.

When it comes to dimensions, make sure you are rounding up to the next inch or even a couple of inches when you are measuring the length, height, and width of a single shipment’s freight. You’ll need accurate dimensions in order for your carrier to make the most use of their truck capacity-- and also to ensure you can avoid excess fees.

You will need to complete a “bill of lading” in order to complete the shipping transaction. This document is essentially a receipt for the products that are being shipped. Keep in mind that this document should be as accurate and detailed as possible.

Your packaging and labeling should also be in good standing. Make sure to load your products onto pallets in order to condense the space they will take up in the truck. Just as well, heavier items need to be set on the bottom of pallets. Make sure your labeling is entirely visible from the outside of the pallet.

You should also take advantage of LTL shipment tracking. If your particular carrier does not offer any kind of shipping technology for visibility, you should look into providing and implementing your own tracking technology. Logmore is an excellent choice for shippers who need to track the temperature, humidity, location, and truck conditions of their freight.

Quality and condition monitoring for LTL freight

Quality and condition monitoring are just as important in LTL as it is in FTL. Unfortunately, finding the right integrated monitoring systems for tracking LTL freight may be challenging.

Logmore is a platform for condition monitoring and data logging. We provide a simple three-step process for LTL shipment tracking— measure, scan, and analyze. Simply scan the QR code on our data logger with your phone to upload saved measurements to our cloud. Keep track of the temperature and condition of your packages to prevent unnecessary waste from occurring with perishables such as food and pharmaceuticals. Logmore makes it easy to track humidity, shocks, ambient light, tilt, and location. Quality assurance and customer satisfaction are our top goals, and we want to help you improve your shipping practices.