FTL vs LTL: Key Differences and How To Understand Which Model To Select


FTL vs LTL: Key Differences and How To Understand Which Model To Select

Transportation of goods doesn’t only include loading and unloading at the source and destination. It also incorporates choosing the right mode of transportation (air, land, or sea), selecting the suitable carrier or freight shipping provider, and considering many other factors for speedy and cost-effective transportation.

When it comes to road transportation, the trucking industry is responsible for most of the overland freight movement in the United States. Truck shipments can be broadly categorized into two categories, i.e., FTL (Full Truckload) and LTL (Less than truckload). The former makes up a whopping 46.4%, whereas the latter holds 11.3% of the market share.

Both shipping methods are used to deliver a high level of customized service to shippers. Let’s explore a bit more about FTL and LTL and learn which loading model works best for which type of shipments. Also, check out the major differences between the two and key considerations one should keep in mind during load planning for cost-efficient transportation.

What is FTL and LTL?

FTL – Full truckload (FTL) shipping is a perfect option for large shipments or large volumes of goods that take up the complete truck. The truck carries shipment only from your company.

You can still book an entire truck even if your shipment doesn’t take up the total capacity. Most companies do this to ensure that their goods or cargo transportation doesn’t get stuck with other products.

LTL – Less than truckload (LTL) or less than load is when one trailer carries freight from multiple shippers rather than from an individual company.

In Less than truckload (LTL) shipping, various shipments are loaded in one truck to utilize its capacity as near as possible. Small businesses generally prefer this type of trucking load with fewer shipping requirements and budget constraints.

How do FTL and LTL Freight Shipping work?

Full truckload (FTL) works on a point-to-point distribution model. In this case, the shipper loads their FTL cargo onto the truck, which directly drives to the final destination without stopping. The FTL model works best for bulk loads, shipments with special handling requirements, etc.

As the journey doesn’t involve unloading the shipment at any point earlier than the final destination, the shipments are least disturbed, which also ensures proper handling safety during transit. 

LTL or less than truckload works on a hub-and-spoke distribution model. At first, smaller LTL freights from multiple shippers are collected from a particular region or area.

After that, these LTL shipments are brought together to a regional hub or center and loaded onto one truck. The truck then heads towards the final destinations with multiple delivery stops.

How do FTL Freight and LTL shipping work

Differences Between FTL and LTL

FTL and LTL shipments have one thing in common, i.e., both these shipping methods move your shipment or freight across the road. However, there are many differences between LTL and FTL shipping, that determine the delivery time, cost, and efficiency of the entire transit process. 

Below, we explore the major differences between LTL and FTL shipments.

  • Cost

LTL is cost-effective when you ship a few pallets at a time, as you have to pay for the space you are using instead of paying for the total truck capacity. Less than trucking load shipping providers ensure the safety of your pallets by filling the products with other items that need to be transported toward the same destination.

Full truckload services or FTL shipping require booking a complete truck, which is a bit costlier than LTL shipping, especially for smaller shipments.

  • Transit time

Let’s first understand transit time. It is the interval required for a shipment to be delivered after picking it up from the point of departure.

In case of less than a truckload shipping, a shipment doesn’t go directly to the destination as LTL truck has to deliver multiple shipments. The actual LTL freight shipping time may vary from the estimated delivery time. Similarly, the LTL drivers don’t have a firm appointment time for picking up the shipment at the designated place.

Transit time for the FTL shipping is predictable as the FTL truck is loaded with shipments from one shipper only. After picking up the shipment, the truck heads directly to the destination and reaches within the estimated time. In the case of full truckload service, the shipment pick-up time is usually fixed.

  • Safety of goods

In less than load shipment, your goods might be loaded and unloaded several times, to load goods from other shippers, before the delivery. It increases handling and exposure, which further increases the chances of damage, especially if your products are fragile and sensitive.

FTL freight shipper guarantees complete safety of the shipment because once it is loaded the truck is sealed, and the driver heads directly to the destination.

Advantages of FTL and LTL

Both the LTL and FTL freight shipping come up with their own set of benefits. LTL carriers can help you save a significant amount of cost as you don’t have to reserve the entire truck. It is suitable for small shipments with only a few pallets at a time.

FTL shipments are best for transporting high-valued and sensitive cargo or shipments. Also, it guarantees on-time pick-ups and deliveries. FTL is a perfect choice for wholesalers and manufacturers who handle raw materials, valuable goods, and sensitive or hazardous materials.

When to use FTL and LTL?

When it comes to transportation, the most common question among shippers is, “Should I use FTL freight shipping or LTL freight?”

Selecting from LTL and FTL transport may vary from situation to situation. However, there are a few considerations that can help you decide on this.


What to consider while choosing a 3PL for FTL and LTL service?

By now, you must have an idea of the full truckload and less than load. In case if you want to get any of these shipping services to transport your shipments, then it is a great idea to choose a reliable 3PL. You can also look for FTL freight carriers or LTL carriers. However, when you choose one, keep these tips in mind-

  • Find a carrier with relevant expertise and experience in handling the type of goods or shipments you have
  • Don’t always look for low LTL shipping rates or FTL shipping rates; pick the one that offers the best combination of time and cost
  • Make sure your 3PL offers complete visibility on the LTL or FTL shipments
  • Ask what technology platform the 3PL is using for managing LTL or FTL shipments and communicating with its clients

FTL and LTL both hold a significant place in freight shipping. Selecting among these two shipping methods depends on various factors like the size and weight of the shipment, freight type, delivery time, and budget.

Although LTL involves extended delivery timelines and the need for unloading and reloading at various points, it offers greater cost-effectiveness and is particularly suitable for shipments that lack specific handling requirements. Conversely, FTL shipments guarantee uninterrupted transportation of goods from start to finish, resulting in quicker deliveries; however, they do come with a higher transportation expense.

Further, in addition to Full Truckload (FTL) and Less Than Truckload (LTL) options, companies have the choice of Partial Truckload for shipments larger than LTL but smaller than FTL. Alternatively, they can consider Volume LTL for shipments exceeding 18 feet in length or occupying 9 pallets yet weighing only 2,000 pounds.

Hence, it is extremely important to consider multiple factors while planning transportation, such as freight classification, delivery dates, load weight, etc., for cost-effective transportation.

This article will help you to decide which FTL shipping and LTL shipping is suitable for your shipment transportation needs. Besides, you can also know about the benefits, challenges, working methods, and differences between full truckload and less than truckload.


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