Full truckload (FTL) shipping and Less Than Truckload (LTL) shipping are two of the most commonly used modes within North America.
Although there are similarities between the two modes, there are many key differences. By understanding these differences, shippers can choose between full truckload and less-than-truckload shipments utilizing the size, speed, and price that makes the most sense for their freight.
What is Full Truckload (FTL)?
Full truckload, also known as FTL or TL, is a transportation mode that typically relies on a semi truck to deliver goods or products.
As the name suggests, only one shipper’s freight moves on the truck with full truckload. However, a shipper does not have to completely fill the truck — the truck is just reserved for their use.
What is Less Than Truckload (LTL)?
Less Than Truckload (LTL), like FTL, usually relies on semi trucks to deliver freight. However with LTL, a shipper must share space on the truck with freight from other shippers. In other words, the space isn’t reserved for just one shipper.
LTL is ideal for shippers with lower volume freight and more flexible fulfillment date. It can also be less expensive. So, if you are a small business owner, LTL might be more suitable for you.
Differences between Full Truckload Shipping and LTL Shipping
FTL: In full truckload shipping, the shipper has an entire truck reserved for them. The driver and capacity are dedicated to that shipper’s freight. The shipper determines the pickup date, and the arrival time is predetermined and guaranteed by the asset carrier. There are no stops along the way, barring any special circumstances or unforeseen delays.
LTL: For LTL, capacity is shared, typically between 2 to 6 different customers. The carrier is routed to multiple pickup spots to begin the journey and multiple delivery destinations to unload the goods. An LTL delivery will commonly load and unload at 6 to 10 different warehouses before it has delivered the last shipment in its route. This can result in a slower shipping mode than full truckload. Furthermore, LTL carriers do not guarantee delivery times and only provide estimated arrival dates.
2. Size and weight
FTL: Full truckload shipments have access to the entire truck. A full truckload shipment can range from 26 to 52 pallets. With truckload freight, the space a shipment takes up in the trailer has more of an impact than weight, so truckload shipments commonly range from 5,000 pounds to 45,000 pounds.
LTL: By comparison, LTL shipments are typically between 1 and 6 pallets. The weight commonly ranges from 200 to 5,000 pounds. Once the weight of an LTL shipment reaches 6,000 to 10,000 lbs, the shipment is deemed “volume LTL” and special pricing is required. LTL freight usually takes up less than 12 linear feet of the trailer. Since the typical pallet measures 40” x 48”, a shipment with 6 pallets arranged side-by-side would take up exactly 12 feet of linear space on each side of the trailer. Again, if an LTL shipment crosses this threshold of linear feet, then “volume LTL” pricing is involved, which can be 2-3x the standard LTL pricing.
FTL: Full truckload shipments are more expensive than LTL. The advantages of guaranteed delivery times and the flexibility of having an entire truck are worth more money. However, full truckload prices change constantly. The market fluctuates daily, and even hourly based on supply and demand. Large customers prefer to negotiate contracted pricing far in advance to minimize this risk, but often these efforts are thwarted. Many times, the shippers are forced into the “spot market” to cover their shipments, where prices require a negotiation directly with carriers and/or brokers to agree on updated rates.
LTL: Conversely, LTL deliveries involve several shipments in the delivery truck, so the space and cost are shared. When purchasing an LTL delivery, brokers and/or carriers can quote the price immediately. The origin, destination, weight and linear space are entered into a TMS, which can deliver a real-time quote. Rates do not fluctuate often, and prices are static for many months.
Overall, full truckload rates average $1,200 or more for a shipment, while LTL shipments can be arranged for as little as $150-$200 if there is only a few pallets of lightweight goods involved.
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