LTL and FTL are commonly used terms in shipping and logistics. LTL stands for Less Than Truckload, and FTL refers to Full Truckload. Freight dimensions such as length, width, height, freight classification, time sensitivity, and special services needed to handle goods are some factors that need to be taken into consideration while opting for LTL or FTL shipping. However, the most significant difference between the two is how much space the consignment occupies.

What is FTL Shipping?

In FTL shipping, only one shipment will occupy an entire truck. This is used when 10 or more palettes are awaiting dispatch. High-risk shipments often use FTL as it is regarded as a safer option as the cargo stays on one truck during the entire process. Thus, reducing the risk of damage. Here, since there is only one shipment on board, it doesn’t make multiple stops. Hence FTL is regarded as a quicker and time-saving transportation method than LTL. If you have a large and relatively delicate shipment that needs to be sent quickly, FTL is the best option. At times, even smaller shipments can also benefit from using FTL shipping.

Advantages of FTL Shipping

Listed below are three key advantages of FTL shipping:

1) Cost-effective for larger shipments

If there is a bulk order and the cargo can fill a trailer to its total capacity, FTL is the right choice. Such a transport method will cost you less when compared to using multiple LTL shipments. This makes FTL a more feasible option to export large quantities of cargo.

2) Lesser damage risk

As mentioned earlier, since FTL contains only one shipment, there is no unloading/loading at multiple points, thus eliminating considerably any significant risks of mishaps or mishandling.

3) A faster means of transport

The only factors associated with FTL shipping are the truck’s route plan consisting of the freight’s origin and final destination. FTL shipments ensure that the cargo reaches its end destination as quickly as possible as it has already traveled from one point to another without halting at various stops.

What is LTL Shipping?

LTL shipping is used when a shipment is not large enough to occupy an entire truck. These shipments typically weigh between 100 to 10,000 pounds. In an LTL shipment, you only have to pay for the space in the truck needed to accommodate your cargo. Suppose your shipment occupies only 50% of the truck space, then you have to merely pay half the shipping cost. The other vacant half is then filled with shipments from other companies to complete the load.

LTL shipment may be an appropriate choice for small businesses that don’t ship in large quantities as it helps them export limited goods within their budget. If you are operating within tight deadlines, then LTL might not be a suitable option for you. This is because LTL shipments often take longer to reach their destinations as they have to carry cargo from various companies having different end destinations, resulting in frequent stops.

Advantages of LTL Shipping

Listed below are three key advantages of LTL shipping:

1) Cost-effective for small companies

LTL is cost-effective for small businesses operating on a limited budget as their shipment is combined with others.

2) Flexibility

Exporting goods through LTL transportation mode is considered a flexible way of shipping for small and medium-sized companies. As demand changes, they can scale their space needs too.

3) Minimal environmental impact

LTL works on the carpooling model. As goods from other organizations are combined, less fuel is used for transport. If those goods are shipped individually, the impact of transportation on the environment would be more significant.

What is the difference between LTL and FTL?

What is the difference between LTL and FTL

The following are the key differences between FTL and LTL:


  • FTL: Here, the shipper loads the goods at the point of origin and affixes a seal on the trailer. The driver then takes the trailer straight to the destination for delivery.

  • LTL: In any LTL shipment, the the trailer is loaded with products by an array of companies which are unloaded at different destinations. Hence they stop at various warehouses throughout the journey until they reach their final destination.

Accessorial charges

  • FTL: In this type of shipping, you have undivided attention, and the services of the designated driver right from pick-up through delivery. A single load means several days of travel and that’s why FTL drivers are more flexible with accessorial charges.

  • LTL: As you are paying for only a miniscule portion of the total capacity in a trailer, the work is divided amongst several drivers and warehouses. LTL drivers must maintain optimum efficiency to gain profit. Any hindrance in the entire process can result in extra charges.

Knowledge of freight class

  • FTL: Generally, FTL carriers are not very concerned with the exact commodity specifications. To provide accurate pricing, they just need to know whether the product is palletized and what its hazmat and legal weight are.

  • LTL: Depending on the shipment’s freight class, the rates for different commodities may vary significantly, even if they are placed in the same lane with the same number of pallets. All LTL carriers use the standard freight classification system created and approved by the National Motor Freight Traffic Association to categorize commodities and determine the pricing.There are 18 different classes, ranging from Class 50 (least expensive) to Class 500 (most expensive).

Reweighing product for accuracy

  • FTL: Once a trailer is loaded, the driver may stop at a weigh station to verify that the truck carries a load under the legal limit of 80,000 lbs. Apart from this stop, there is generally no product inspection until the seal on the shipment is broken by the receiver at the delivery dock.

  • LTL: Carriers possess the liberty to re-inspect any product on its arrival at the origin terminal. Shipments are scanned by a machine known as 'dimensioner,' which automatically scans pallets to determine weight and dimensions. If there is a difference in the results from the listed product specifications on the bill of lading, the LTL carrier reclassifies the freight and makes an updated offer based on the new findings.

Transit route

  • FTL: The driver collects the product and heads straight to the consignee/receiver. The transit generally takes a predictable and predetermined route. Unless there is an equipment breakdown, the driver usually will arrive at the destination at the calculated time. This time is estimated based on a simple equation of total mileage, hours of service, posted speed limit, and estimated traffic.

  • LTL: The transit of goods through LTL usually takes longer than FTL. Also, the delivery rates here are merely estimates and not fixed charges. Many LTL carriers report service levels above 90%. But they can vary depending on the lane and the carrier.

FCFS pick-up windows

  • FTL: Drivers of FTL trailers will accept firm appointment times which means that pick-up times are not guaranteed and flexibile on your end, as the shipper, is going to be critical.

  • LTL: LTL drivers have to complete multiple pick-ups and/or deliveries per run, and their services are flexible according to business needs. LTL offers a two-hour, first-come-first-serve (FCFS) window. This is the industry standard. Here, pick-ups are not guaranteed.

Trailer specifications

  • FTL: Most FTL carriers have 53’ trailers with swing doors. Trailers are typically 102" wide and have 110" clearance height.

  • LTL: LTL carriers generally use 53’ trailers. They are 102" wide, but most are equipped with roll doors. This reduces the clearance height to 96". Factors such as long delays, empty miles, non-standard services, and under-utilized trailer space can impact the profitability and efficiency of LTL carriers when compared to FTL carriers.

Similarities between LTL and FTL

The following are a few similarities between LTL and FTL:

  • Both mostly use the roadways to ship the freight. However, some LTL carriers do utilize intermodal rail shipping.
  • Both use semi-trucks, also known as class 8 tractors.
  • Both require the services of professional drivers who must have a commercial driver’s license.
  • Both primary ships palletized freight.

FTL vs LTL: When Should You Use Either One?

Several factors need to be considered when deciding whether to opt for FTL or LTL shipping for your freight and business needs. FTL is the best option if you are shipping more than 12 pallets in one go. It is also recommended for fragile/delicate products. FTL is associated with timely pickups and deliveries. If your delivery date is time-sensitive, FTL is your answer. LTL is recommended if you are shipping 12 pallets or less. LTL is also the best choice if your products are sturdy and can withstand frequent handling. If your delivery timings are flexible and you are looking to cut costs, LTL is a perfect choice.

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