Do you have questions about LTL shipping? Understanding basic shipping information helps to make a sometimes complicated process less overwhelming. Here are some frequently asked questions customers want to know when we work with them.
What is LTL Shipping?
Less-Than-Truckload (LTL) shipping is a mode of transportation for freight that would not fill a full truckload trailer (FTL) but is too large for regular parcel service. LTL shipments usually occupy less than the 53 feet of a full semi-truck’s trailer and, depending on the commodity being shipped, are typically placed in crates or on 48” x 40” pallets. For the most efficient use of space, as well as security against damage, individual packages in an LTL load are often shrink-wrapped together to create one big box before being stacked into pallets, crates, or large boxes. They are then combined with shipments from other businesses into a single trailer.
An LTL shipment will stop at several terminals on the way to its final destination, combining cargo from multiple shippers and being handled multiple times as it is transferred to a number of different trucks before it reaches its delivery point. LTL carriers use a hub and spoke network of terminals and trucks to move freight while combining and recombining consolidated loads. Small local terminals are the spokes of the system, while larger regional terminals are the hubs.
At the last terminal in its journey, a shipment will be picked up by an LTL carrier who employs local drivers. Typically, these drivers begin the day by loading their trucks and spending the morning making deliveries. In the afternoon, when the trailer is empty they make pickups on a return route to the terminal, where sorting and delivery for the next day is done. Pickup and delivery (P&D) drivers often have regular routes which they travel so that the drivers develop a rapport with the customers.
For the range size and weight range between parcel service and FTL shipping, LTL is the most cost-effective way for companies to transport their freight. By sharing the capacity of space in a trailer cargo from multiple shippers’ cargo which is headed in the same general direction can move at a reduced cost.
What are Accessorial Fees?
Accessorial charges are fees due to additional services the freight carrier may need to provide in order to fulfill their contract. LTL shipping often also involves a number of optional services to provide more security and convenience, but which contribute to the final cost. Common accessorial services usually involve fuel costs and timing, freight-specific fees, and pickup and delivery.
It is important to understand that different carriers may charge for accessorial services differently. What is covered automatically by one carrier as a matter, of course, may, with another, mean an expensive extra charge. This is one reason why the lowest rate initially quoted without detailed discussion is often not the lowest bottom line cost when comparing between two or more LTL carriers. It is important to communicate with a potential shipping provider in detail about which accessorials may be needed, and choose an LTL carrier that clearly and transparently communicates with you about them in advance. The alternative can be an unpleasant shock as you receive an invoice with charges not only for the desired customizable options offered by the shipper but for services you weren’t aware were necessary.
What should I look for when comparing LTL freight providers?
Firms providing less-than-truckload services can range from specialized services that target a particular audience to national truck transportation companies that carry a client company’s goods across the country. Regardless of the variety of LTL carriers, shippers should understand that carriers making deliveries are an extension of their company to their consumers, and should convey respect for their consumers. Transparency around costs, clear communication, and ease of tracking should also be expected from all carriers.
Most customers who use LTL shipping value cost, punctuality, accurate billing, security that results in undamaged delivery, and assorted options for customization. It is useful to think about LTL carriers in terms of how different carrier firms match shipping priorities.
Some shippers place the most emphasis on the availability of service, ability to adjust to customer’s needs, invoice accuracy, and overall carrier reputation.Other businesses optimize for information sharing during the carrier’s transit of the freight. Still, other shippers focus more on image-related attributes such as overall reputation, financial stability, and track record of damage. Some shippers value customization and focus on delivering a specific array of services at competitive prices in order to attract customers with specific needs – be it delivery to difficult to access locations, or dedicated shipping and high-quality customer service pickup and delivery experience.
How are freight shipping rates and freight classes calculated and why are they important?
Many LTL companies negotiate year-long contracts with stable rates rather than expending time negotiating every shipment. Initial offers which are not sustainable in the long term for either party may not be worth the headaches over time, particularly if the headaches come in the form of surprising fees or service needs. From the carrier’s perspective, transparency and good communication is needed about relevant details of the freight and the details of its pick up or delivery. Shippers who improperly categorize and label their freight may face delays, penalties, and difficulty having claims paid in the event of damage. Understanding the basic factors relevant to these conversations is therefore important.
- Minimums. The pricing within LTL rates below which a carrier is not willing to go is the absolute minimum charge (AMC). Carriers establish these charges because they have certain fixed costs that must be met regardless of the characteristics of the freight they transport.
- Base Rates by Weight. All LTL carriers establish their own base rates according to their capacity for extra volume or the availability of trucks in certain shipping lanes. These base rates are categorized based on weight, and are quoted per 100 pounds, termed hundredweight and abbreviated as CWT (centum weight). The more a shipment weighs in general, the less is owed per hundred pounds.
- As the weight of the freight goes up and nears the next higher weight bracket it can potentially be rated at the lowest weight category in that higher bracket. This is known as deficit-weight rating. The base rate is calculated by comparing the actual and next higher weight bracket. The accurate weight bracket is determined for the freight and this is compared against the next higher weight bracket. The minimum cost of the higher weight bracket is then compared with the accurate weight bracket. The lower cost is then applied to the shipment.
- Dimensions. A shipment’s dimensions is another factor that determines LTL rates. Shippers need to accurately calculate dimensions so they can properly describe their goods on the bill of lading (BOL). A Bill of Lading functions as a receipt, a contract and a document of title, and provides the details necessary for the proper processing and invoicing of a shipment. Dimensions are calculated in total cubic feet, measuring the longest sides, including overhangs, packaging and any irregular shapes.
- Density is calculated by dividing the shipment’s weight by the cubic feet of it’s dimensions.When determining the dimensions of a shipment, the longest sides are measured, including any packaging, juts, bulges and overhangs. Keeping palletized shipments as compact and neat as possible is therefore a priority.
- Classification of Freight. The National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA) is a non-profit trade group that sets industry standards in pricing and trafficking. LTL freight is categorized into 18 separate freight classes in the National Motor Freight Classification (NMFC) code published by the NMFTA. Freight classes vary from a low of 50 to a high of 500 and are determined by density, handling requirements, insured value and ease of stowing for transport. Lower classifications are for freight which is very dense, resistant to damage and easy to handle and stow. This type of freight is very efficient for the carrier to move, hard to damage and easily stackable. High classifications are categories of freight which are lighter, less dense, more difficult to handle and space consuming. The final two digits of the freight class are known as the sub-number, and define in greater detail the characteristics of the freight according to the NMFC codes.
- Distance. For most contracts, the further the distance the carrier transports the freight, the higher the cost per hundredweight will be. Interlining is a practice that comes into play if the LTL carrier only works within a certain area directly and transfers shipments outside that area to a separate carrier for final delivery. Interlining can result in higher costs due to the second carrier’s differing rate structure.
- Freight All Kinds. Freight All Kinds (FAK) is a term for a single negotiated rate for freight with different classes which is being shipped and billed for together at an agreed upon combined freight class.
Why did I receive a billing adjustment?
The most frequent cause of billing adjustments are incorrectly measured, weighed, and classified freight, insufficient labeling, or the unanticipated need for accessorial services. It is important for shippers to put attention into properly preparing their freight, and working with a shipping company that has clear and transparent communication around their accessorial services.
Does the size of my business affect the freight shipping rates I receive?
While shipping classification is standardized by The National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA), shipping rates are negotiated, and the volume of freight may play a role in negotiations. A priority for shippers should be a clear and transparent rate-setting agreement that includes common accessorial charges that could potentially arise so that there are no surprise fees.
How do I properly package my LTL freight shipments to avoid damage or lost freight?
LTL shipping depends on quickly and efficiently combining and recombining freight from different sources as it flows through a network of trucks and warehouses on its path to final delivery. Most often, this is accomplished by properly and efficiently assembling pallets of goods, which is why there are roughly 1.4 billion reusable pallets in circulation in the United States. For other cargo, crates are commonly employed.
There are few events that frustrate shippers, carriers, and customers more than the arrival of a damaged item. Not only can replacing a damaged product can be more costly than the initial shipping cost, but filing claims can also be time-consuming, supply and inventory management can be disrupted, and insurance costs can increase. The true cost of damaged freight, however, is lost business, a tarnished brand image, and soured relationships.
The freight carrier’s responsibility is to move the cargo from here to there, not correctly package it. Packaging generally costs a sliver of the overall value of the freight it protects. Think carefully before cutting corners. Shippers should take care to properly prepare their shipments so that they avoid the most common types of freight damage.
Details matter. It is important that boxes, pallets, and crates be in good condition, proper packing materials be used to cushion freight, weight is distributed evenly, outer surfaces protected, and that if appropriate the finished load is consolidated tightly with shrink wrap and labeled accurately on all visible sides.
Common mistakes include not using rigid supports such as pallets and crates or using supports that are insufficient for the weight of the freight, placing heavy items in weak or old boxes, leaving too much empty space within containers, using low-quality adhesives for sealing boxes, and insufficiently labeling containers or wrapped pallets to reflect fragility or other sensitivity.
What is the difference between a freight broker and a freight forwarder?
Freight forwarders are companies in the supply chain that are directly involved as intermediaries between importers or exporters and shipping companies. They store freight, assemble and disassemble shipments, and directly and oversee delivery.
Freight brokers are intermediaries who function as matchmakers between many different shippers and carriers. Through a freight broker, carriers can get higher volumes of goods that more efficiently fill their transport capacity, shippers can acquire more bargaining power, and both are able to come together in an organized way with less friction.
What is White Glove Delivery?
While e-commerce has driven an expansion of the retail industry and the volume of LTL shipping, customer satisfaction in the physical condition, ease of tracking, timeliness of delivery, and range of delivery options have fallen in recent years. As competition between retailers becomes more competitive, but delivery has become on average less satisfying for customers, White Glove services have become more popular as a final mile delivery solution.
White Glove services mean that carrier personnel offers an engaged level of service, use added care, and go beyond what is offered by other LTL carriers. Rather than optimizing for volume, their operations are optimized around customer experience, with a focus on how it positively or negatively impacts customer perception of the brand of the product they are delivering.
White Glove services do this by providing accessorial services such as dedicated delivery, after-hours delivery, inside delivery, limited access delivery, liftgate use, and debris removal – often without adding them as separate accessorial charges on top of established rates. Deliveries are made with more attention to single customers and more urgency, rather than stringing as many pickups and deliveries together as possible within a given time frame, or practicing “drop and fly” by unloading and leaving without making contact with a receiver.
This makes them more reliable and customizable, and carriers are able to communicate more accurately and proactively about delivery times. Additionally, White Glove carriers often take specific steps to avoid damage to freight, such as never stacking pallets or crates on top of one another. Deliveries are inspected, and if damage does occur, pictures are taken and the shipper is contacted to find out how they would like the situation handled.
White Glove services may be especially important for residential delivery to customers at their homes, some of whom may be living alone, elderly, or disabled. For these customers, handling big, bulky products and their packaging with professional support can substantially elevate the brand image. This can also apply to a brand’s return policy, where a white glove service is able to take the pain out of disassembly, packing, and loading.
In addition to protecting customer satisfaction and building brand loyalty, shippers may choose White Glove services for shipping furniture, electronics, home fitness equipment, appliances, or delicate luxury items that require extra care and attention.
ExpressIT is a White Glove LTL service that offers real-time shipping, providing the ease of tracking, proactive communication, and flexible delivery experience required by a growing segment of e-commerce customers, and the brands that value them.
Can transit time of freight be guaranteed?
Due to the complex loading and unloading process involved with moving LTL freight, there are many opportunities for carriers to experience delays.
The high demand for LTL carriers and lack of competition due to the shift toward e-commerce in recent years have made LTL firms less attentive to customer service and professional performance, even as end-customers become more exquisitely sensitive to it.
As some degree of normalcy has returned, the pandemic has become a running excuse for inflexible scheduling, poor communication, delays, and lack of professionalism among carriers taking advantage of increased demand to operate around their own convenience rather than that of shippers’ end customers. Guaranteed service offers have evaporated, carriers have begun to return freight immediately and without authorization, if a consignee is closed or unavailable, or moved to drop-and-fly delivery practices.
If reliability and guaranteed delivery times are important to a shipper, they may want to explore LTL firms that specialize in White Glove delivery, or who offer dedicated delivery and after-hours delivery as accessorial services.
Is it possible to have LTL pickups and deliveries time specified?
For most LTL delivery services, freight is picked up in the morning for a route that is plotted to be as efficient as possible, while pickups are scheduled for the afternoon return. In rural areas, stops may be miles apart, while in urban areas traffic may create delays. The more stops are added to a route, the more complex its plotting becomes, the more downtime and waiting, and delays at any stop create delays for the remaining points.
Accordingly, many normal LTL carriers will provide broad windows, but not specific times for pick up and delivery. White Glove LTL firms will often be able to provide accessorials such as dedicated shipping and after-hours shipping that allow for more exact and reliable service.
Will you have access to real-time tracking information?
The surge in demand for delivery has collided with a long-term decline in the quality of delivery reported by customers. Increasing rates of damaged packages and late deliveries set side by side with rising expectations, have created a demand for transparency in the shipping process. Customers want to know in real-time what stage of the delivery process their shipment is in, and when they can expect arrival. Particularly during the supply chain stresses of the early pandemic, the companies which communicated openly and proactively with customers about problems and delays were better able to maintain strong relationships than those who provided passive tracking updates.
A related demand and increasing customer demand is for the ability to make changes to their shipping order while it is in transit, usually to send it to a different address because of a life change or in order to correct an address error. This is a particularly strong expectation among brands’ most loyal customers, three in four of whom value their previous delivery experience and expect the proactive real-time intervention to reroute or expedite shipments.
Real-time tracking and proactive communication to manage difficulties is a service that shippers should expect and insist on when contracting with a carrier. ExpressIT is a White Glove LTL service that offers real-time shipping, providing the ease of tracking, proactive communication, and flexible delivery experience required by a growing segment of e-commerce customers, and the brands that value them.
Can I ship LTL to a specific person?
Delivery options vary from carrier to carrier. White Glove delivery services are more likely to be optimized for delivering at a specific time, to a specific person, at a specific place even if that is something other than a loading dock. Regular LTL carriers may be far more constrained in terms of where and when they can deliver, offering instead windows of time when they may arrive for pickup and delivery, and unloading freight and leaving without contacting a receiving party in order to maintain their schedule. ExpressIT offers more flexible and precise options, such as delivering at a certain time of day, to a certain person, on a certain street corner.
Can you ship my thing?
This question often comes up with irregularly shaped or otherwise unconventional freight. Shippers of irregularly shaped freight should be sure to inquire about dedicated delivery, where their freight is not sharing a truck with other freight, or at least is not stacked tightly with other freight and increasing the risk of damage. ExpressIT offers dedicated delivery and has experience safely transporting and delivering this type of cargo.
What’s the latest I can book for same-day pickup? What are the shipping hours?
Typically, LTL drivers begin the day by loading their trucks and spending the morning making deliveries. In the afternoon, when the trailer is empty they make pickups on a return route to the terminal, where sorting and delivery for the next day is done.
Because the total hours freight drivers can work in a day are regulated for safety at both the state and federal level, this often means that pick-up and delivery hours are both rigid and inexact. Rigid, because for efficiency’s sake each task must happen during a certain part of the day, and inexact because multiple pick-ups or deliveries mean that delays at one-stop lead to a cascade of delays for all subsequent stops.
White Glove LTL firms such as ExpressIT employ drivers on multiple varying shifts in order to provide more flexible and precise hours for pick-up and delivery.
Are there additional fees for residential delivery or pickup?
As e-commerce has become more prevalent, LTL carriers have seen an increase in the volume of freight being delivered directly to end-use customers in residential areas. The accessorial services most relevant to residential delivery should be clearly discussed with a carrier so that there are no surprise charges. Often White Glove LTL services such as ExpressIT will include these services without charging extra fees.
- Limited Access Shipping. The limited access category applies to a number of locations like private houses, schools, churches, military bases, prisons, convention centers, construction sites, airports, or ocean docks. These are locations that restrict trucks from entering, and special authorization and scheduling may be required. White Glove LTL carriers may be best positioned for these specialized deliveries (and charge less for them), either because they have invested in establishing relationships and credentials, or because they are optimized for final mile delivery focused on customer experience.
- Delivery appointment. A delivery appointment is a specifically arranged time and date for freight arrival between the receiver and the carrier. It is an important consideration when you ship to a warehouse or facility that has strict delivery schedules.
- Liftgate Pickup and Delivery. The liftgate is a mechanical platform on the back of a vehicle that can be raised during the loading and unloading of heavy cargo. This is used when there isn’t a loading dock or forklift at the site of pickup or delivery to load or unload the freight and is crucial for avoiding damage to the freight. If you need assistance in loading your freight, consider discussing this option with your LTL provider. A liftgate should be used for almost every residential delivery, making it an important factor in White Glove LTL delivery services.
- Inside-delivery. Inside delivery is when freight is delivered to the door of a commercial facility or residence, inside a foyer or other storage area, or in a room up a flight of stairs. If you don’t request inside delivery, a common practice is for the carrier to leave the shipment at the place where it was unloaded from the truck. This service is often provided by White Glove LTL companies.
- Dedicated Shipping. In general, most LTL truck drivers are assigned a variety of deliveries each day. The receiving companies and residences change everyday, and also the driving route. A departing LTL driver arriving empty at the first shipper location on their pickup route may unexpectedly need to use five pallet positions rather than two. Because the driver has an empty truck at the time, he or she can take this load – however somewhere along the route the truck will fill earlier than planned, and another customer’s shipment toward the end of the route will be delayed.
Another driver may be available to be diverted to pick up the overflow, but there is an element of uncertainty to the ability to complete the pickup on time. If goods are uniquely fragile or perishable, even with the more secure packing requirements of LTL shipping, they may be damaged when lumped with more durable cargo.
Dedicated freight service means that a pickup or delivery trip is reserved for one customer alone. That vehicle will then be outfitted with any needed storage equipment needed, and the cargo delivered at a predictable time rather than within a broad window.
- Debris Removal. Because LTL shipping involves more repeated loading and unloading and the transportation of freight from multiple sources on a common truck, the freight is almost always very securely packed, palletized, and shrink-wrapped to avoid damage. White Glove LTL services will often include unpacking the shipment and removing all packaging materials, blankets, shrinkwrap, and other shipping debris from the receiving home or business. In the case of furniture or appliances, removal of items that are being replaced may also be included.
How Can ExpressIT Help You?
ExpressIT is a white-glove delivery service that specializes in last-mile delivery; on-time, after hours, with urgency. Their services are optimized to reflect positively on the brands they are delivering, and for proactive communication with warehouses, freight shippers, and end customers in order to handle difficult situations with attentive professionalism. Contact us today for more information on how we can work together to meet your shipping needs.