LTL vs. FTL Shipping: 5 Key Differences that Every Shipper Should Know

LTL vs. FTL Shipping: 5 Key Differences that Every Shipper Should Know

Freight shipping is a common phenomenon of transporting goods, commodities, and cargo in bulk by ships, trucks, or aircraft. Two common branches of freight shipping are full truckload (FTL) shipping and less than truckload (LTL) shipping. These terms are often thrown around in the shipping and logistics community, but not everyone knows what they actually mean.

The truckload market in the USA grew to $196.34 billion in 2021. Out of which, the size of the LTL market grew to $80.16 billion in 2021. It is a clear indicator that the American economy is stretching, and more freight is moving as part of widespread supply chains. Most industries rely heavily on trucking to maintain their supply chain. Some of these significant industries include the following:

  • Dairy, Fruit, Vegetables, and Nuts – 92%
  • Lumber and Wood Products – 91.9%
  • Agriculture products – 82.7%
  • Pharmaceutical products – 65%

Both LTL and FTL shipping can meet the needs of a business, but which one is the most suitable depends on the size and weight of your shipment, delivery timelines, and freight classification. In this blog, we will define what is LTL and FTL shipping and what is the difference between LTL and FTL freight.

What Does LTL Stand for?

Less than truckload (LTL) shipping refers to the transportation of freight that does not fill the entire truck. You can start the shipment with as low as 100 pounds. It is usually ideal for shipments with 1 to 6 pallets or less than 12 linear feet. LTL shipping is very beneficial for the shippers as they can reduce their shipping cost by only paying for the portion of the trailer that takes up the freight. Similarly, other LTL shippers pay the cost of using the remaining trailer space.

What Is FTL Shipment?

The term FTL stands for Full Truckload, meaning you must hire the entire shipment even if your goods do not occupy the whole trailer. A full truckload can weigh 20,000 pounds or more, and only one shipper’s freight is transported on the truck. The shipper reserves the full capacity of the truck in FTL shipments.

LTL vs. FTL Shipping: What’s Right for You?

Several factors come into play when deciding which model of freight shipment is suitable for your business needs. Let’s have a look at some significant pointers that determine when to use FTL and when to use LTL.

You should use FTL shipping if:

  • You are shipping more than 12 pallets at a time.
  • Your shipment is fragile and delicate.
  • You need firm pick-up and delivery appointments.
  • Your delivery dates are highly time sensitive.

You should opt for LTL shipping if:

  • You have 12 or fewer pallets to ship.
  • You want to save shipping costs.
  • Your shipping and delivery timing is flexible.

FTL vs. LTL: Five Key Differences

LTL shipping is primarily about cost-saving. If you have a few pallets to ship, it is wise to opt for LTL freight shipment. This section will discuss five key differences between LTL and FTL shipping.

1. Freight Handling

In FTL trucking, the product is driven straight to the destination for delivery. However, in LTL freight, the product is loaded and unloaded several times in and out of the trucks and warehouses before reaching the destination. In simple words, LTL logistics involves increased handling, which translates to potential damage and exposure. Therefore, shippers should properly pack and protect their shipments for the LTL mode of freight shipping.

2. Accessorial Charges

From pick-up to delivery, you have all the attention of the driver in full truckload because it takes several days for a driver to transport an FTL shipment. Therefore, FTL carriers are forgiving with accessorial charges. But this is not the case in LTL shipping. You only pay for the small portion in a trailer, and anything that causes disruption results in extra charges.

3. Commodity Specifications

In FTL freight, the carriers are not concerned with freight class or commodity specifications. However, knowing the freight class is necessary for LTL. All the LTL carriers utilize a freight classification system devised by the National Motor Freight Traffic Association to sort out commodities and decide pricing. There are 18 different freight classes ranging from Class 50 to 500.

4. Product Reweighing for Accuracy

In FTL shipping, once the shipment is loaded, the driver may stop at a weighing station to ensure the truck is under 80,000 lbs. Apart from that, there is rarely a chance of any other product inspection. However, LTL carriers reinspect products for weight at different steps. First, the carriers inspect the product at the original terminal, where they move through a dimensioner that scans pallets for weight and dimension verification. In case the results differ from the specifications listed on the bill, the shipment will be reweighed.

5. Trailer Specifications

The trailer specifications are slightly different in full truckload and less than truckload. In FTL shipment, carriers typically have 53’ trailers with swing doors. The width of the trailers is 102,” and the clearance height is 110”. On the other hand, in LTL shipping, the carriers use trailers with roll doors and clearance height up to 96”.

How Can You Improve Your Shipping Operations?

Leveraging technology is the best and the simplest way of improving freight shipping operations. By utilizing an all-in-one shipping solution like Ship, shippers can view and compare rates on a single platform. Also, they can generate shipping labels from national carriers and on-demand couriers within seconds for regular or same-day shipping. When all your shipping operations are streamlined and automated, it becomes easier to manage FTL or LTL shipping. In addition to this, the PackageX platform also helps you track your FTL or LTL shipments.


LTL and FTL shipping are two major types of freight shipping and a crucial part of every supply chain. If your shipment is 12 linear feet or less, it is better to choose LTL shipping because it is a great way to reduce cost and improve efficiency simultaneously. There are many similarities between LTL and FTL freight, but there are some critical differences between the two that every shipper should know. However, the final decision of choosing FTL or LTL depends on your cost, timing, and handling requirements for your shipment.

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