If you don’t work in the logistics industry, the term “LTL freight” may be unfamiliar to you. After all, small parcel carriers are perfectly adequate for some business’ needs. For example, a one-person shop who sells necklaces on Etsy can usually get supplies delivered and send customer orders through carriers like UPS, FedEx, and DHL. Even giant storefronts like Zappos can use those same parcel carriers to deliver orders to their customers. 

However, there comes a point when some businesses need more. For example, imagine that you need to order a few pallets of raw materials from a supplier. Or maybe you make a deal with a retail outlet to sell large quantities of your goods. Or maybe you need to move large, heavy, or oversized goods that UPS, FedEx, and DHL can’t handle. 

That’s where LTL freight comes in. And if you’re not familiar with LTL freight and LTL shipping, we’ll show you everything you need to know. (And, if you have questions about any other terms, make sure to check out our Approved glossary of freight and logistics terms!) 

What Does LTL Stand For? 

LTL stands for Less Than truckLoad. You’ll often hear it used along with another logistics term, Full TruckLoad or FTL. 

Simply put, when you have a shipment that’s too big for a parcel carrier but won’t fill an entire trailer, you’ll need an LTL freight solution.  

What Exactly Is LTL Freight or LTL Shipping? 

LTL freight offers you an easy way to get a move a smaller shipment without having to pay for the entire truck. You might also hear this called “LTL trucking.”  

For example, you have four pallets of goods in your warehouse in Oregon going to a retail store in Seattle. You could pay for a dedicated truck, but that would get expensive. Instead, link up with a carrier or a freight forwarder and they can give you space in a truck going that route. They will load your goods along with others going to a similar destination, and you’ll pay for your share of the load. 

It’s a little like a ride-share where a driver might stop and pick up another passenger who’s going to a similar place as you. It’s a little less expensive than a dedicated ride, and it might take a little longer since the driver has to make a few stops along the way. 

What Are the Pros of LTL Freight? 

Ultimately, paying only for your share of a trailer is a lot cheaper up front than paying for a dedicated trailer you can’t fill. So, overall, LTL represents a lower cash outlay than an FTL solution. That said, LTL solutions generally result in a higher landed cost for your goods. We’ll explain why in the next section. 

What Are the Cons of LTL Freight? 

First and foremost, just like the ride-share example, LTL shipments can take longer for two reasons: 

  1. Your LTL shipment may not leave immediately. The carrier might already have an existing schedule for your route and, if so, you’re stuck with their timeline, not yours. Additionally, the carrier or forwarder may hold the shipment until they can create a full load. So if yours is one of the first pieces of cargo, it might sit for a few days while the other shipments arrive. 
  2. The driver will ultimately make a few other stops along the way. If you’re one of the first, you’ll get your shipment sooner. But, if you’re one of the last, you’ll just have to wait a little longer. 

LTL is also not the most cost-effective method of transportation.  LTL freight will often cost you more per piece to ship than FTL freight.  Here’s why: Think of it in terms of buying in bulk versus buying items in smaller quantities. A 72-pack of toilet paper at Costco will cost you more at the register than a 6-pack of toilet paper at the grocery store. However, your price per roll at Costco is way less than your price per roll at the grocery store.  

The same is true of LTL and FTL trucking. In an FTL situation, your cash outlay is higher (just like the Costco toilet paper at the register). However, when you calculate out your landed cost for an FTL shipment, you’ll find it’s lower per piece than if you were shipping LTL.  

However, despite this, if your shipments aren’t anywhere near approaching full trailer capacity, LTL is still likely the best choice for your business. 

Is LTL Related to LCL?  

If you’re doing some research on freight options, you might have also heard the term LCL thrown around. LCL stands for Less than Container Load. It’s basically the same idea as LTL, except instead of sharing a trailer that’s traveling over the road, you’re sharing a container that’s traveling via ocean or intermodal freight. 

  •  LCL = Ocean/intermodal freight 

  •  LTL = Road freight  

Need Some Help Simplifying Your Logistics? 

Now that we’ve given you a better sense of what LTL freight is, we’d also be happy to lend a hand with your freight shipments. We can explain all your options (in plain English!) and connect you with the solution you need, whether that’s LTL, FTL, LCL, or FCL freight. Just reach out to us for a free consultation to get started.  

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