LTL vs FTL: Key Differences

Author: Bryan Van Suchtelen
December 05, 2023

LTL vs FTL: Key Differences

To understand the difference between LTL (less than truckload) shipping and FTL (full truckload) shipping, consider escorting a large group of people from a hotel to a wedding venue. As the wedding planner, you could choose to rent out an entire bus and fill all the spots (FTL), or you could use the city bus system and send smaller groups at a time based on available seats (LTL).

How does this translate to logistics?

When it comes to ground shipping beyond a single package, you can choose between LTL (less than truckload) or FTL (full truckload) service. 

Although the naming convention sounds like it’s all about the size of your shipment, the decision is often based on cost and timing. 

LTL vs FTL: What's the Difference?

Introduction to LTL and FTL Shipping

Shipping orders have a lot of blanks to fill in, and one of the first is: how big is the shipment? 

Dimensions and weight, as well as fragility and special handling needs, are key to figuring out how to transport your freight over the road. From there, the two service models for ground shipping your freight are: 

  1. Less than truckload (LTL) shipping
  2. Full truckload (FTL) shipping

Freight size isn’t the only factor in choosing between the two options. The cost, speed, reliability, and freight security are all points to consider. 

Whether it's a smaller shipment for LTL freight shipping or a larger shipment utilizing FTL freight shipping, understanding the nuances of each shipping method is crucial for logistics efficiency.

Core Differences: Definitions and Basics

It’s not just about the number on the scale at the weigh stations for trucks along major highways. For businesses that need to move products, LTL vs FTL is a complex decision. 

LTL Service 

LTL means that you pay for the space and services you need within a truck carrying freight from multiple businesses and traveling a route that integrates all points of delivery for all included freight. For freight weighing between 100 – 10,000 pounds that doesn’t take up an entire truck, LTL freight or volume LTL shipping is often used

Comparatively, LTL service is generally: 

  • Less expensive
  • Slower
  • More likely to experience unexpected delays
  • More prone to breakage and loss
  • Often fraught with poor communication and documentation

Small businesses tend to prefer LTL shipping based on freight needs, lower costs, and fewer shipping requirements.

FTL Service

In FTL freight shipping, the shipper utilizes the entire truck or trailer space for their goods, ideal for large shipment sizes or multiple shipments. With FTL service, you use one dedicated truck to take your freight—and only your freight—on its delivery route, and cover the entirety of the cost. Usually, FTL freight size is at least ten full pallets and weighs more than 10,000 pounds.

Comparatively, FTL service is generally: 

  • Faster 
  • Less prone to unexpected delays
  • More likely to offer real-time transparent communication
  • More secure and more apt for all freight to arrive intact
  • More expensive

Freight Audit

When to Choose LTL Over FTL (and Vice Versa)

You’ll need to pull out a calculator and do some math—or use a shipping optimization platform—to help decide how to factor in all of the potential cost influences before making a selection. 

Choose FTL when: 

  • You have enough freight to fill a standard 53-foot truck
  • Slower shipping of a smaller quantity of freight will result in lost sales
  • The profit potential is significantly greater than the increased cost of FTL
  • A partial truckload can wait to grow to FTL quantity without quality or sales loss
  • Freight is high risk, delicate, or requires special handling, such as cold storage

Choose LTL when: 

  • The shipping cost difference equals or overtakes the profit directly reliant on FTL speed
  • You can find other ways to manage inventory to balance the additional shipping time
  • You do not have enough freight to justify the cost of purchasing an FTL

Speed and Reliability Considerations

Considering transit time is also crucial. The choice between LTL carrier services and FTL trucking often depends on the desired delivery time. While LTL transport may offer a cost-effective solution, it might not always match the speed of dedicated FTL transport.

When you send a full truckload out on schedule, you might be crossing your fingers that it’ll arrive on time. With the best of intentions, ground shipping can still encounter delays based on: 

  • Bad weather
  • Traffic congestion
  • Accidents
  • Vehicle breakdowns
  • Driver performance
  • Receiver issues

A multi-stop LTL provider more than doubles that gamble. More possibilities of shipment arrival and drop-off problems, longer routes, more non-freeway drive time. 

Confirming your carrier’s performance record is a must, but with more opportunity for glitches than FTL service, going with LTL carries more risk of delay as a general rule. 

Impact on Environmental Sustainability

If your company values incorporate environmental sustainability, shipping is a hot topic to address. Just like saving your washer and dryer cycles for full loads, when it comes to FTL, sending a truck out onto the highways at less than full capacity uses up more fuel and resources. 

Making the Right Freight Decision with Lojistic

LTL vs FTL is one of many choices you’ll make when it comes to shipping your products. Choice of carrier, route, and time range—how do you keep it all balanced and know that you’ve come up with the best option? 

At Lojistic, we understand the complexities and challenges of managing freight logistics, particularly when it comes to LTL (Less Than Truckload) and FTL (Full Truckload) shipments. That's why we've tailored our services to not just meet, but exceed the needs of businesses navigating the intricate world of freight shipping.

 We offer cost-reducing strategies like freight audit + pay, complemented by our free Transportation Management System (TMS).

Our expert freight management team provides tailored support, ensuring your logistics run smoothly. Plus, our Freight Marketplace offers competitive rates with top LTL and Truckload carriers, including the option to integrate your own carrier rates.

Choose Lojistic for smarter, more cost-effective freight handling. Contact us to learn more or check out our demo.


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Bryan Van Suchtelen

Bryan Van Suchtelen

Corporate Director of Parcel Rate Services

With more than 34 years of parcel experience, Bryan Van Suchtelen is the Corporate Director of Parcel Rate Services at Lojistic, one of the nation’s top logistics and transportation cost management companies.

Prior to joining Lojistic in 2015, Bryan enjoyed a 26-year career with UPS where his roles included Pricing, Field Sales and Director-level Sales Management of some of UPS’s largest customers.

At Lojistic, Bryan leverages his wealth of experience/expertise to identify and execute supply chain cost management solutions for parcel shippers of all sizes. Bryan has helped his customers reduce their shipping spend by tens of millions of dollars.
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