FTL or LTL? What you Need to Know and Which Works Best

Bryanis MartinFreight Trucking, General, Shipping Guide7 Comments

Box inside a truck

Shippers have a variety of options available to them based on the size of their shipment. LTL and FTL Freight offer the perfect solution for different situations and it’s important to understand the key differences between both modes, especially if you’re new to the terms.

What are LTL and FTL?

LTL refers to less than truckload. FTL refers to full truckload freight. LTL is when multiple shippers’ freight is moving concurrently on the same trailer rather than having your freight exclusively on an individual trailer. This is perfect for shipments that are between one and six pallets or effectively any shipment that is less than 12 linear feet because it makes the most out of the available shipping space. In situations like these, any shipments that are over six pallets can typically still qualify for items like volume LTL or a partial truckload shipment.

STL is commonly used for shipments that require a full truckload, such as a Class 8 tractor that has a refrigerated trailer or a dry van. With FTL, your freight is the only freight moving on an individual truck so you have exclusivity to the truck and theoretically are filling the truckload. Of course, you can exclusively reserve the truck with its full capacity even if you don’t fill it. Doing so would still provide you with that exclusivity and you won’t have to worry about your goods changing hands at any time or your goods being stuck with other products.

When to Use LTL vs. FTL

There are specific times when you should use LTL or FTL. There are no hard and fast rules by which you must abide; however, there are certain situations where full truckload freight might be more appropriate.

Let’s say you are shipping more than 12 pallets at one time, then the full truckload option is going to be best for you. If your product is fragile and otherwise too delicate to be compromised by excessive handling by multiple carriers, or potentially compromised by other content in a single truckload, the full truckload option is going to be best for you because you can have peace of mind knowing that your fragile products are the only items within that truck. You will also rest easy knowing they will be transported where you need without interruption.

If you need firm delivery and pick-up dates the full truckload option is going to be much better because you can reserve a single carrier to transport your item. For time-sensitive delivery dates, you absolutely want the full truckload option.

If you have a smaller shipment that is anything less than 12 pallets you will benefit financially by using the LTL method. If you want to save money and you have a bit more flexibility on the delivery or shipping date the LTL option is going to be much better suited for you. As long as you have a few days of padding on either end you can benefit from the savings of combining your shipment with another shipment.

When using LTL you also want to be aware of the sturdiness of your product. You want to make sure that it is either sturdy enough on its own for regular handling at various points throughout the shipping process or that it’s been properly packaged so that being handled regularly won’t cause any damage.

There are many similarities between LTL and FTL. Primarily both options move your freight across the road; although, in rare cases, LTL carriers can capitalize on an intermodal rail to move your shipment. Both options utilize Class 8 semi-trucks which require a professional driver who has a commercial driver’s license. Both options also ship primarily palletized freight.

The trailer size for both FTL and LTL is usually the same with a width of 8.5 feet, a length of 53 feet and a legal height of 13.5 feet.

Should I use FTL or LTL?

We recommend you using FTL or LTL depending on the below situations:



You are shipping over twelve pallets at one time.

You are shipping twelve pallets or less.

Your product is extremely fragile or delicate.

Your product is sturdy enough or properly packaged for handling.

You require firm pick-up and delivery appointments.

You have a little bit of flexibility with shipping and delivery.

The delivery date is extremely time-sensitive.

You want to save money.

LTL and FTL Differences

The biggest difference between LTL and FTL is that LTL gives you higher cost savings when you ship a few pallets at a time. This is cheaper for you because you’re only really paying for the space you’re using rather than paying for a full truck that isn’t filled to capacity. LTL carriers have to maintain efficiency by filling underutilized space with any other shipment they can find and that’s where your goods come into play as they fill that underutilized space.

FTL drivers will accept a very firm appointment time, but drivers handling LTL shipments have to pick up and deliver at multiple locations for each run. This means the pick-up times are not guaranteed and flexibility on your end, as the shipper, is going to be critical.

LTL and FTL have a key difference when handling transit. If you have a full truckload your driver will pick up whatever you are shipping and drive it straight to the receiver so transit is very predictable and timely. Assuming the driver does not encounter any issues during the drive, you will see your goods arrive on a timely schedule with the appropriate total mileage. However, the transit for LTL usually takes a more circuitous route because of all the different stops they have to make, so the delivery dates they give you are more of an estimate and not a guarantee.

Another difference is that with a full truckload the shipper will load your product at the point of origin, seal the trailer, and take it straight to its delivery destination. With an LTL shipment, your product will typically be loaded and unloaded in and out of trailers and warehouses not just once but several times before finally reaching its destination. So while most of the time shipments are delivered in perfect condition there is an increased amount of handling and exposure which means your products could potentially be damaged especially if they are sensitive or fragile.

Shippers Can Use Both Modes Effectively

One shipping method isn’t necessarily better than the other. There are plenty of situations where shippers can benefit from using both LTL and FTL. If you have a smaller shipment that is very sturdy and has flexible shipping and delivery dates, you can use LTL to save money. This would help combat the cost associated with the times you have to ship a more delicate product and you need to utilize the FTL method.

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Bryanis Martin
Bryanis is our Customer Relationship Manager here at ShipLilly, she loves to build strong partnerships and help people succeed. In the past few years, She's had the opportunity to work with many clients, helping them achieve better results through the improvement of their supply chain strategy.

7 Comments on “FTL or LTL? What you Need to Know and Which Works Best”

  1. Almer Perez

    Thank you so much for this interesting explanation, please say hello to Mrs. Liliana(Mrs.Lilly) from her friend Almer Perez, Venezuela.

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