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

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Updated on August 13th, 2021

Transportation of goods doesn’t only include loading and unloading at 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 the shipping methods are used to deliver a high level of customized service to shippers. Let’s explore a bit more about FTL and LTL-

What are FTL and LTL?

FTL- Full truckload or 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 or less than load is when one trailer carries freight from multiple shippers rather than from an individual company. In LTL, 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 work?

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.

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 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.

Difference between FTL and LTL

FTL and LTL 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; let’s check them out below-

  • 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 towards the same destination.

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

  • 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 truckload, 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 that further increase 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 FTL and LTL come up with their own set of benefits. LTL 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 is 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, sensitive or hazardous materials.

When to use FTL and LTL?

When it comes to transportation, the most common question among the shippers is, “Should I use FTL freight 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.

Choose LTL if-Choose FTL if-
You are shipping less than 12 pallets at a time.You want to ship more than 12 pallets at one time.
Your goods don’t require special handling.You are shipping fragile or sensitive goods.
You have flexibility with shipping and delivery time.You want timely pick-ups and deliveries
You want to save money.Budget is not a constraint

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

By now, you must be having 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 the one, keep these tips in mind-

  • Find a 3PL 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 transport
  • 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. This article would help you to decide which among FTL shipping and LTL shipping is suitable for your shipment transportation needs. Besides, you can also know about the benefits, challenges, working method, and differences between full truckload and less than truckload.

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