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Understanding the Difference Between LTL and FTL Freight

In the rapidly evolving supply chain industry, being familiar with terms like Less Than Truckload (LTL) and Full Truckload (FTL) freight is crucial, especially for those new to the shipping sector. In essence, LTL shipping is an economical method for delivering shipments up to 12 linear feet, promoting efficiency and optimizing resources.

In this article, we'll explore the meanings of LTL and FTL freight, their key differences, how technology is reshaping these sectors, and the trends expected to influence these shipping modes in the future.

FTL Freight Meaning: Unpacking Full Truckload Shipping

FTL shipping, also referred to as TL or OTR (over the road), involves freight transportation using a semi-truck. There are several classes of equipment, but the most widely used equipment is a class 8 tractor with a 53-foot dry van trailer, although open deck and refrigerated trailers are prevalent too.

In FTL freight, a single shipper's cargo occupies the truck, even if it does not utilize the full capacity. Known as FTL shipment, it involves reserving the entire truck for exclusive use, ensuring the cargo remains undisturbed during transport.

The integration of advanced technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning has transformed FTL shipping. They've enhanced route optimization, predicted maintenance needs, and facilitated real-time tracking, significantly increasing the efficiency of FTL freight shipping.


What is Standard Less Than Truckload (LTL) freight?

Less Than Truckload is a mode of land transportation that, like Full Truckload, utilizes semi-trucks for shipping. Unlike Full Truckload, LTL hauls more than one shipper’s freight collectively on the same trailer. LTL is ideal for shipments varying from 1 to 6 pallets (as mentioned before, 12 linear feet).

Many companies utilize LTL because it saves them a significant amount of money. This is because they are only charged for the weight of the freight and the space it uses in the trailer. Many LTL shippers also appreciate service options that may not be available with other shipping methods, such as lift gate, notifications prior to delivery, inside pick-up and delivery, and special handling.


What is Volume Less Than Truckload (Volume LTL) Shipping?

With Volume LTL, the cargo is larger than a typical LTL shipment but still doesn't take up the room of a full truck. These shipments consist of 6 or more pallets, weigh over 5,000 pounds, and/or occupy more than 12 linear feet. Such shipments are smaller than a partial truckload, but larger than standard LTL.

Volume LTL uses automated rates for shipments up to 28 feet and 16k pounds. This type of shipping provides many of the benefits of FTL with the cost savings associated with less than truckload. Volume LTL is a popular choice for shippers whose freight takes up more than 20% of the trailer. 


Which Type of Shipping is Right for You?

There are multiple factors that should go into your decision-making process, which include determining what's right for your business needs, freight type, and size.

These are not hard-and-fast rules, but generally speaking, you can use the following guidelines when determining whether you should utilize FTL or LTL for your freight.


Use Full Truckload When:

Your product is very delicate or fragile

You require hard-set pick-up and delivery appointments

You are shipping more than 12 pallets at once

Your delivery date is tremendously time-sensitive


Use Less Than Truckload When:

Your product is robust enough (or extremely well-packaged) for increased handling

You have some flexibility with shipping and delivery times

You are shipping less than 12 pallets

You want to save money on the shipping process


What Are the Key Differences Between FTL and LTL?


Freight Classifications

With Full Truckload, carriers are not extremely concerned about exact commodity specifications. Finding out whether a product is hazmat, palletized and legal weight is usually enough to provide precise pricing. On the other hand, LTL rates for different commodities can vary widely. Though, this is highly dependent on the shipment’s freight class. All LTL carriers use a freight classification system that’s regulated by the National Motor Freight Traffic Association. There are 18 various classes, which range from Class 50 (the least expensive) to Class 500 (the most expensive).


Accessorial Charges

When utilizing LTL, shippers are only paying for a portion of the trailer’s capacity, which means that there are more drivers, warehouses, and overall stops involved than with Full Truckload shipping. Anything that causes a delay or disruption can result in extra charges. That’s why when using LTL it’s important to maintain optimal efficiency through a reliable digital shipping platform. This way, your route is more efficient, and you won’t accrue as many accessorial charges.


Transit Times

With Full Truckload shipping, the driver picks up the product and drives straight to the receiver or consignee. On the other hand, the route is never straight through with LTL shipping, which means it will usually take longer than Full Truckload to arrive at a delivery destination. This means that delivery rates are estimates, rather than guarantees. Fortunately, a majority of top carriers report service levels higher than 90%, which means that LTL shippers can expect most shipments to be on time.


Freight Handling

With Full Truckload, the shipper simply loads up the product and the driver heads straight to the delivery destination. With LTL, shipments are loaded in and out of trailers multiple times before reaching a final destination. Though an overwhelming majority of LTL shipments are delivered in pristine condition, the increased handling means increased exposure to potential product damage. Utilizing Full Value Insurance is a great way to guarantee that any loss or damage of the product is completely covered.



No matter which type of shipping is best for your needs, there are numerous ways to streamline your procedures, making the process more optimized and efficient. The more familiar you become with both LTL and FTL shipping, the more likely you are to find a solution that works best for you.


Get LTL Quotes for Free

MyCarrier provides Less Than Truckload, Volume Less Than Truckload, and Full Truckload shippers with multiple quotes instantly, all in one convenient place. They can quote, book, and track shipments between all of their providers without needing to scroll through multiple carrier websites. It provides the ultimate freight quoting tool, one-click dispatching, and live freight tracking. MyCarrier users enjoy increased efficiency, better shipping outcomes, and substantial savings by utilizing a free, user-friendly digital shipping platform.