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Less Than Truckload Shipping Rates:
Definition & Computation

less than truckload acronym

When it comes to shipping goods, businesses often face the challenge of finding cost-effective transportation options. Less Than Truckload (LTL) shipping is a popular choice for shipments that are too large for parcel shipping but not large enough to fill an entire truckload. LTL carriers collect pallets from multiple shippers and consolidate them onto trailers, allowing businesses to pay only for the space they occupy on the truck. However, understanding LTL shipping rates and how they are calculated is crucial for businesses to optimize their shipping strategies and minimize costs. In this article, we will delve into the factors that affect LTL shipping rates, ways to reduce LTL shipping costs, average LTL shipping rates, reasons for high LTL rates, and the cheapest way to ship LTL.


What Are Less-Than-Truckload Shipping Rates?

Less-than-truckload (LTL) shipping is a method of transporting a relatively small amount of freight that only requires using part of a truck or trailer. Instead of shipping individual shipments separately, LTL shipments are consolidated with other loads from different companies to create a full truckload. This allows businesses with smaller shipment sizes to benefit from cost savings and efficient transportation.

Factors Affecting LTL Shipping Rates

ltl factors

1. Base Freight Rates

The starting point for calculating LTL shipping prices is the carrier’s base rate. This rate determines the carrier’s starting rate per 100 pounds, also known as centum weight (CWT) or hundredweight. Base rates vary between carriers and can be adjusted based on factors such as shipment volume, freight classification, origin, and destination. It’s important to note that base rates may differ from one lane to another depending on the carrier’s availability.

2. Negotiated Freight Rates

Shippers have the opportunity to negotiate freight rates with LTL carriers. Carriers often offer discounts on specific tariffs based on their service areas. By understanding their freight shipping activity by lane, shippers can negotiate different rates for different lanes, ensuring they receive the best possible rates and maximize savings.

3. Less-Than-Truckload Weight Limits

LTL shipments typically range in weight from 150 to 20,000 pounds. Generally, the heavier the shipment, the higher the shipping cost. However, carriers may offer “weight break” discounts as the freight moves up in weight groups. These discounts provide cost savings per hundred pounds for larger shipments. Shippers should be aware of their carrier’s rates per weight group to optimize their shipping costs.

4. Freight Classification

The National Motor Freight Traffic Association (NMFTA) assigns freight classifications, ranging from 50 to 500, based on factors such as density, stowability, handling, and liability. LTL shipping rates can vary significantly depending on the freight classification. It is crucial for shippers to accurately determine the correct freight class for their shipments to avoid reclassification fees and optimize their rates.

5. Freight All Kinds (FAK)

If a shipment consists of goods from multiple freight classes, shippers can negotiate a Freight All Kinds (FAK) arrangement with the carrier. This allows all items to be shipped and billed at a single freight class, resulting in time and cost savings. For example, multiple commodities ranging from class 50 to 100 can be rated at class 70, reducing the overall cost compared to individual class rates.

6. Density Calculation

The density of a shipment, which refers to how heavy the freight is relative to its size, also affects LTL rates. Lower freight density generally corresponds to higher freight class and cost. Shippers should accurately calculate the density of their shipments by dividing the total weight (in pounds) by the total volume (in cubic feet). Proper density calculation ensures accurate rate quotes and helps shippers optimize their shipping costs.

7. Shipping Distance

The distance that freight needs to travel is a significant factor in LTL shipping rates. Generally, the longer the distance, the higher the rates. Long-haul shipments require carriers to incur additional costs such as fuel, equipment maintenance, and driver pay, which are factored into the rates. Moreover, shipping to rural or less-populated areas may incur higher costs due to limited carrier service availability.

8. Minimum Charges

LTL carriers have minimum charges, which represent the lowest price they offer to customers. Regardless of the shipment’s size or distance, the cost will not be lower than the carrier’s minimum charge. These minimum charges may increase over time, especially when capacity is limited.

9. Accessorial Fees

Accessorial fees are additional charges associated with LTL freight shipping that go beyond the carrier’s standard pick-up and delivery services. Examples of accessorial services include liftgate service, residential pick-up or delivery, inside delivery, and limited access locations. Shippers should clearly communicate their service requirements to carriers to avoid unexpected charges and accurately factor them into their shipping costs.

How LTL Carriers Calculate Rates

LTL carriers rely on the NMFTA freight class and shipment density to calculate rates. The following steps outline the general process for calculating LTL shipping rates:


  1. The carrier uses the shipment’s NMFTA class to establish a baseline rate for the shipment.
  2. The shipment weight is measured per 100 pounds, also known as CWT (hundredweight).
  3. The total volume of the shipment is calculated by multiplying the pallet’s length, width, and height.
  4. The carrier divides the shipment weight per 100 pounds by its total volume to determine the shipment’s density.
  5. Since carriers generate freight quotes based on the trailer space a shipment requires, density becomes a critical factor in determining the final shipping cost.

Ways to Reduce LTL Shipping Costs

Reducing LTL shipping costs is a priority for many businesses. Here are several strategies you can implement to optimize your LTL shipping expenses:


1. Consolidate Shipments: Whenever possible, try to consolidate multiple smaller shipments into a single larger shipment. This reduces the overall number of shipments and maximizes trailer space utilization, resulting in cost savings.

2. Optimize Packaging and Palletization: Efficient packaging and palletization can help minimize the size and weight of your shipments. Use appropriate packaging materials and stack items in a way that maximizes the use of space without compromising safety. This can lead to lower freight class assignments and reduced shipping costs.

ltl cost

3. Accurate Freight Class Determination: Properly classifying your shipments according to the NMFTA guidelines is crucial. Take the time to accurately determine the freight class of your products based on their density, stowability, handling, and liability. Misclassifying shipments can result in higher shipping rates and potential reclassification fees.

4. Negotiate with Carriers: Building strong relationships with LTL carriers and negotiating favorable contracts can lead to cost savings. Discuss your shipping requirements, volume, and frequency with carriers to explore potential discounts, incentives, or customized pricing structures that align with your business needs.

5. Utilize Freight Consolidators: Freight consolidators or freight brokers can help optimize your LTL shipping costs by leveraging their network and consolidating shipments from multiple shippers. They can negotiate competitive rates on your behalf and provide more cost-effective shipping solutions.

6. Implement Efficient Inventory Management: Effective inventory management practices, such as just-in-time (JIT) inventory systems and accurate demand forecasting, can help minimize storage requirements and reduce the frequency and size of LTL shipments.

7. Explore Intermodal Transportation: In some cases, utilizing intermodal transportation, such as combining truck and rail, can be a more cost-effective option for LTL shipping. Evaluate the feasibility of intermodal solutions based on your specific shipping lanes and requirements.

8. Leverage Technology and Automation: Adopting transportation management systems (TMS) and freight optimization software can streamline your shipping processes, improve route planning, and identify cost-saving opportunities. These tools can provide real-time visibility into rates, carrier performance, and shipment tracking.

What Are Average LTL Shipping Rates?

The average LTL shipping rates vary based on several factors, including the shipment characteristics, distance, carrier, and market conditions. It is essential to obtain customized freight quotes from LTL carriers based on your specific shipping requirements to get accurate pricing information.


Why Are LTL Rates So High?

LTL rates tend to be higher compared to other shipping methods due to several factors. LTL shipments involve additional handling, consolidation, and sorting processes compared to full-truckload (FTL) shipments. The operational complexities associated with LTL shipping contribute to higher costs, including labor, fuel, equipment, and terminal operations. Additionally, accessorial charges for value-added services and the impact of fluctuating fuel prices can further increase LTL rates.


What Is the Cheapest Way to Ship LTL?

Finding the cheapest way to ship LTL depends on various factors, including shipment characteristics, distance, carrier options, and market conditions. However, implementing the cost-saving strategies mentioned earlier, such as consolidating shipments, optimizing packaging, accurate freight class determination, and negotiating with carriers, can help you achieve more cost-effective LTL shipping.


Wrapping Up

Less-than-truckload (LTL) shipping rates are influenced by factors such as shipment weight and size, distance, freight class, accessorial charges, linehaul charges, and fuel surcharges. LTL carriers calculate rates based on the NMFTA freight class and shipment density. By understanding these factors and implementing strategies to reduce LTL shipping costs, businesses can optimize their shipping expenses and achieve more cost-effective transportation solutions. It is important to work closely with LTL carriers, leverage technology, and explore various cost-saving opportunities to ensure efficient and economical LTL shipping operations.

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