Parcel vs. LTL shipping: Understanding the key differences.

April 18, 2020
parcel shipping

LTL shipping has been a driving force in the shipping industry for quite some time. Lately, however, parcel shipping  has emerged as a cost-effective option for shippers with freight weighing 150 pounds or less, too. 

Since they are similar, it can be difficult to understand which option is best for your needs.

The main difference between parcel and LTL shipping starts with size. Parcels are typically smaller in size. This means they can be lifted without help, are easier to transport, and can be shipped in larger volumes. 

LTL packages are larger, so they are usually palletized, less likely to be damaged, and require fewer checkpoints. 

In this post, we’ll take a deeper look at both shipping methods. Once you have a solid understanding of what makes LTL shipping different from parcel shipping, you can save time and money on shipping for your business.


A look at parcel shipping.

Parcel shipping has historically involved packages that are below 150 pounds and can be lifted without assistance. Since this means that packages are typically smaller than what LTL shipping handles, there are both benefits and hurdles involved in the process.

Parcel shipping generally carries a higher risk because packages can get lost or damaged due to size. 

For this same reason, there are more checkpoints and possible transfers involved. More checkpoints may be a plus for parcel delivery companies since buyers can track their shipments more closely. 

Parcel shipping is an economical choice if you’re sending a few smaller, lightweight packages.

Finally, another reason to go with parcel shipping is scheduling pickups. If you don’t want drivers coming to your location, you can use parcel shipping. Many parcel carriers offer drop-off locations that are generally open during regular business hours. Simply take your shipments to these locations if you don’t want trucks driving to your business.


A look at LTL shipping.

Unlike parcel shipping, LTL shipping typically deals with larger packages. This means that bulky, sometimes uniquely-shaped freight can find a way with LTL shipping.

LTL shipments are usually palletized and stored in a non-damaging space, making them a less-risky option for carriers. With their size comes fewer checkpoints, which can either be a pro or a con for carriers. There are less check-ins, but that means there are also fewer hands on the packages, so an overall smaller chance of loss or damage. Ultimately, however, shippers with more freight than parcel carrier services can handle will end up choosing LTL shipping since they often don’t have enough to call for an entire truckload.

LTL is a great choice if you want all your packages to be delivered at the same location. Even if the boxes are small and light, LTL shipping allows you to transport more items together in one place while also saving you money on shipment per package. 


The key differences between parcel and LTL.

Parcel shipping and LTL shipping have some clear differences. 

Here’s a look at some of the major differences between these shipping types:

1. Damage risk and loss prevention

Each option comes with risks and benefits. With parcel shipping, the chance that a package will become lost or damaged is higher than with LTL. An LTL shipment is often secured by pallets and placed in a space that is designed to prevent damage to the freight. 

Parcel shipments are smaller, therefore able to be packed in higher volumes. While this is a nice advantage, it could absolutely lead to a greater risk of loss or damage.

2. Ease of tracking and checkpoints

Another key difference between parcel shipping and LTL shipping is ease of tracking. Parcel packages go through several different checkpoints, so parcel carriers are updated with shipment location more frequently than LTL shipments. On the other hand, fewer checkpoints allow for greater security with LTL. 

LTL also allows for zone skipping, the process of bypassing a parcel carrier's zones, letting the shipper evade charges from crossing multiple zones in a single trip. Essentially, the fewer checkpoints and transfers a shipment has to go through, the safer that shipment will be. 

3. Cost advantage

The cost advantage of parcel shipping comes from the higher volume it offers. Since LTL packages are larger, they take up more space and result in a slightly higher price.

This is not always an advantage of parcel shipping. Parcel carriers have their own set of additional charges. Things like correcting an address to a Saturday delivery could cost you extra with parcel shipping, whereas LTL carriers could hit you with charges for not having a loading dock.


Final thoughts.

There are key differences between parcel and LTL shipping that are helpful to know when booking your shipments. While size plays a large role, these two shipping methods also vary by how they are handled, transferred and delivered. 

Freightquote makes it easy to find the right shipping method for your needs. We offer the only web-based, mobile-responsive technology that provides multi-modal shipping options, including parcel, truckload and LTL shipping. Simply use our tool to get competitive quotes, book your shipments, and track deliveries online. 


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