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The Basics of FTL shipping

ShippersPublished on May 29, 2020

What is FTL shipping?

FTL is industry shorthand for full truckload, or a truckload–most often a dry van or reefer–with a dedicated shipment from a single shipper to a single location. You may also see it referred to as just TL, or truckload. The alternative is LTL, or less than truckload, which is a truckload with multiple shipments from multiple shippers bound for multiple locations.

While there is no hard-and-fast rule, you typically want to look to FTL shipments if you are shipping ten or more pallets or more than 15,000 lbs. That said, there are plenty of shipments that could go either way. In those cases, the decision split between FTL and LTL comes down to four factors: speed, security, performance, and cost.

When is FTL shipping a fit?

Full truckloads are the best pick for time-sensitive shipments, so much so that it is often the default choice in a time crunch. With FTL shipping, your shipment is only traveling from Point A to Point B on the most efficient route. With LTL shipping, your shipment might travel to Points C, D and E to drop off other shipments before finally arriving at Point B.

If security is an important factor, FTL shipping is a better fit than LTL shipping. With that Point A to Point B path, only people directly associated with your shipment will touch your shipment. With LTL freight, your shipment could be taken on and off the truck multiple times, and sometimes be moved between different trucks. With FTL shipping, fewer stops with fewer people means fewer hands on your shipment, resulting in less risk for damaged or missing items.

With fewer stops and fewer risks, there are also fewer opportunities for delays to be introduced on FTL shipments. By removing some risk for unexpected delays, your on-time pickup (OTP) and on-time delivery (OTD) performance will naturally improve.

Finally, the bigger the shipment (by size or weight), the more cost-effective FTL carriers become. All other things being equal, an FTL shipment will be less expensive than the same shipment split into smaller LTL shipments. In short, if you have enough freight to constitute a full or near-full truckload shipment, it’s likely more cost effective to ship FTL.

When is FTL shipping not a fit?

On smaller loads with fewer than 10 pallets or less than 15,000 lbs of freight, you may find that LTL is the more cost-effective option. 

If your shipment is within the size and weight range that could go either FTL or LTL, you should evaluate the shipment based on time sensitivity and your carriers’ capacity.

For example, if you’re fortunate enough to have buffer time for your shipment, you don’t suffer one of the larger drawbacks of LTL shipments.

How Convoy can help you ship FTL

With one of the largest networks of high-quality carriers in the nation and a unique approach to partnering with shippers, Convoy can fulfill your FTL freight needs while also providing you with unmatched visibility into your supply chain operations. Learn more about Convoy’s freight services, and how we can help you move freight more efficiently.


Ari Bixhorn

Ari Bixhorn heads marketing and sales development at Convoy. In this role, Ari is responsible for driving awareness and adoption of Convoy's Digital Freight Network. Prior to Convoy, Ari was VP of Marketing at Panopto for 8 years and worked at Microsoft Corporation for 12 years, writing speeches for CEO Steve Ballmer, leading business development efforts in the Windows division, and driving developer tools product management. Ari studied Computer Science at Virginia Tech. He enjoys hiking, photography, and boxing.
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