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LTL and FTL Shipping: Which is best for you?

by Murray Phillips,
Dec 2, 2022
truck arriving at the warehouse
truck arriving at the warehouse

Both kinds of shipping have their advantages.

Table of contents:

–   What is Less Than Truckload (LTL) Shipping?
–   Benefits of LTL
–   Disadvantages of LTL
–   What is Full Truckload (FTL) Shipping?
–   Comparing your freight options

Freight can be shipped as Less Than Truckload (LTL) or Full Truck Load (FTL). Both kinds of shipping have their advantages, but one or the other will be the right choice for you depending on your situation. People sometimes confuse these terms, and it’s important to understand the main differences when you’re making business decisions.

So, what are the pros and cons of LTL and FTL shipping? We take a look at both of these options and why they might (or might not) be the right choice for you.

What is Less Than Truckload (LTL) Shipping?

When what you’re sending is too large for the mail, but it’s too small to fill a whole truck, it’s called a ‘less than truckload’ shipment, or LTL. These loads leave a lot of wasted space in trucks. Carriers don’t like shipping small loads ‘empty miles’.

Every year, the market in the United States alone for less than truckload (LTL) shipping is worth more than $86 billion.

It’s not cost effective, so they’ll often ship several LTL shipments together. It’s environmentally and economically savvy — for both the carriers and the shippers, who benefit from consolidating their freight with loads from other companies. They only pay for the weight of their goods and the space they take up in the truck. It also helps them keep warehouse stocks at manageable levels. 

So what difference does it make to the shippers whether they use less than truckload or full truckload shipping?

Benefits of LTL Shipping

Lower costs – One of the great things about LTL shipping is that it’s more affordable. Since you don’t have to reserve space on the entire truck, the cost will be far less expensive. Sending your goods in smaller loads (partial shipments) along with good from other companies reduces the overall costs of shipping.

Fuel efficient – On top of that, it is also better for the environment. Send goods via partial shipments maximises the space on a truck. So you’re not sending trucks with only half a load, which isn’t very fuel efficient.

Security – When they don’t have enough goods to take up the space of a full truckload, shippers will sometimes turn to parcel services to deliver their goods. Unfortunately, parcel services don’t provide the same security as less than truckload shipping.

Flexibility – LTL shipping is a lot more flexibility for both pick up and delivery, it allows you to transport small loads quickly instead of waiting until you have a full truckload.

Tracking – You can easily see the status of your freight with tracking and tracing options. Customers can also keep an eye on their shipments.

Disadvantages of LTL

On the other hand, there are some disadvantages to using LTL freight shipping as a shipper.

▶️ Can take longer – It can take significantly longer for your goods to arrive. After all, the same truck has to stop at many different addresses to drop off other people’s goods along the way.

▶️ Less predictable – On top of that, you don’t exactly know how much longer it may take you. In some cases, less than truckload shipping might be almost as fast as full truckload shipping. In other cases, it could take twice as long or even longer. The right transport management system can help you to nail down your estimated delivery time as much as possible, but you will never be as certain as you would be with full truckload shipping.

▶️ Less secure than FTL shipping – Although less than truckload shipping is much safer than parcel services, it isn’t as secure as full truckload shipping. With full truckload shipping, there’s only one instance of loading and unloading.

▶️ Higher risk of damage – When many people open up a truck many times, there’s always an increased chance that one of the people involved may damage or steal some of the goods on the truck.

What is Full Truckload (FTL) Shipping?

In contrast, full truckload shipping is much simpler. The entire truckload has only the products that belong to a single shipper. That means that you do not have to account for as much organisation or a variety of safety techniques.

This is usually the most economical and fastest choice if the shipper has enough freight to fill a truck. It means fewer stops and less likelihood of freight being damaged. Delivery times are better, because the whole thing is more straight-forward.  

Comparing your freight options

TransVirtual’s Transport Management System (TMS) takes the hassle out of calculating shipping options and booking the movement of freight. It allows transport companies to compare rates and delivery times from inside our app. It’s full of features that speed up delivery and lower costs – including route optimisation, so drivers will know the most efficient path from A to B.

For more information about how a TMS platform can help your business move freight faster and select the most efficient shipping options, get in touch with our team of transport experts today.