What is the Difference between FTL and LTL?

Written by Neal Willis

Difference between FTL and LTLAlthough they may sound similar, FTL (full truckload) and LTL (less than truckload) freight can be drastically different.  A few notable differences between these two types of shipping include handling, transit time, size, and cost - but, arguably, the biggest difference is the governing body of the domestic LTL industry known as the National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA®).

NMFTA® members are LTL freight carriers who participate in the National Motor Freight Classification® (NMFC®), which is the standard for determining LTL freight class.  The NMFC® is comprised of 18 different LTL freight class codes (classes) ranging from class 50 – 500 and it specifies packaging requirements and governs the rules and procedures for claims and claims filings for domestic LTL freight shipments. (Read more about the NMFTA & NMFC here).

Truckload vs LTL: Handling & Transit

With a FTL (full truckload) shipment, the entire truck and trailer is dedicated to your freight.  It travels directly to the destination from the point of origin and never leaves the trailer until it arrives at the delivery destination.  The transit time is based upon the time it takes to travel between origin and destination and, generally speaking, since freight never leaves the trailer on a full truckload shipment, it tends to arrive faster than LTL freight shipments.  

LTL FreightLTL freight (less than truckload) takes up less space than an entire truckload.  Because it takes up less space than the whole trailer, additional freight is placed onto the trailer(s) along with your LTL freight shipment in order to utilize equipment and space efficiently.  It travels through a hub-and-spoke type network (break-bulk points & terminals) where multiple stops are made to load, unload, and deliver freight along the way, which translates into more handling with LTL freight than with truckload shipments.

In general, LTL freight is more vulnerable to damage and/or theft and loss than truckload freight.   Additionally, since there can be multiple stops along the way for any given LTL freight shipment, LTL freight tends to have slower transit times than FTL.

Truckload vs LTL: Size & Weight

Typically, full truckloads range anywhere from 24 – 30 pallets in size, depending on the size of the trailer and/or pallets, and the weight normally ranges anywhere from between 1,000 – 45,000 pounds.  To the contrary, LTL shipments usually range from between 1 – 6 pallets in size and weigh anywhere from between 100 – 10,000 lbs.

Truckload vs LTL: Cost & Rates

Truckload rates are commonly dependent on current market conditions and rates are frequently measured in terms of dollars ($) per mile.  Carriers offer different rates at their discretion, often taking into account such factors as the origin and destination, weight, and the commodity along with its value.

LTL freight cost is usually factored from an LTL freight carrier rate table or tariff, which determines LTL freight rates based on an origin and destination zip code, LTL freight classification (as determined by the NMFC), the number of pallets (size), and weight.  If any additional accessorial services are needed, such as a liftgate or inside delivery at destination, then the cost of that service is also added to the LTL freight carrier rate.  

Volume / Spot Market / Partial Truckloads

There is a gray area in between truckload and LTL (less than truckload), sometimes known as a partial truckload, volume, or spot market shipment.  These shipments generally range in size from 6 pallets or more and weigh anywhere from between 5,000 – 20,000 pounds.  Given those shipment characteristics, it’s best to check with LTL freight carriers and truckload carriers for the best rates because, depending on the demand and the equipment availability of the carriers in the market at that particular time (spot), you may find a carrier willing to offer a deep discount in order to fill empty trailer space that would otherwise go unused.

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