Less-than-truckload (LTL) shipping is an excellent option for shippers whose loads are less than a full truckload but too big for parcel post. But how long will it take for your shipment to arrive?
Factors in LTL Shipping Times
LTL shipping times can vary widely depending on the carrier and their routes. Some of these factors include:
- Total distance: When shipping ground freight, the total distance is the biggest factor in shipping times. Trucks are limited in the number of miles they can cover each day by speed limits and other traffic laws as well as regulations governing the time an individual driver can be behind the wheel each day. Typically, intrastate moves take 1-2 business days to arrive, regional shipments may take 2-4 business days, and cross-country shipments may take 4-6 business days.
- Route: Where you're going matters, too. Shipments to less populated areas may take longer because there are fewer trucks heading that way and your shipment may have longer to wait for a full truckload to be assembled. If your freight load is headed to less populated states like Montana or Wyoming, for example, shipments from the east coast may take as long as 7-10 business days.
- Number of transfers: While full truckload (FTL) shipments generally take the shortest possible distance from point A to point B, LTL shipments may make several stops and transfers along the way. Your shipment is likely to first head to a regional terminal, where it will be taken off the first truck and sorted onto another truck headed towards its final destination. Depending on the carrier's routes, this may happen more than once. Sometimes, shipments are even transferred between carriers, especially on cross-country trips. The more stops and transfers your load makes, the longer it will take to get to its destination.
- Weather and unexpected delays: Bad weather, poor road conditions, traffic and mechanical breakdowns can all cause unexpected delays in ground freight shipments. These delays can be difficult to make up, because drivers are still subject to the same traffic laws and regulations—chances are, they were already going as fast as possible for their route.
Reducing LTL Shipping Times
Because of these limitations, LTL is usually best for shipments that do not have hard delivery timelines. But there are ways you can reduce your LTL shipping times and speed up your shipments.
- Shop around for the right carrier. Different carriers can have dramatically different delivery estimates for the same route depending on how much coverage they have for the area you are shipping to and how many transfers they would have to make to get your shipment to its destination. If you are shipping intrastate or regionally, a regional carrier may provide better coverage for the route your load needs to travel. It pays to shop around and ask about LTL shipping times.
- Ask about delivery guarantees. Some carriers will offer expedited or guaranteed delivery for an extra fee. If your delivery window is critical, it may be worth it to find a carrier who offers this service.
- Consider a third-party logistics company. Third-party logistics companies can be very helpful for companies with more complex LTL shipping needs. They typically use software to compare costs and delivery times among carriers and find the best route for your LTL shipment. They can also coordinate shipments that may require transfers from one regional carrier to another.
- Make sure your shipment is packed and bundled appropriately. Shipments that fit into easily loadable and stackable pallets or crates are likely to have a smoother journey to their destination. Oddly shaped, oversize or non-stackable loads may have to wait longer at a terminal for a truck that can accommodate them.
Understanding LTL shipping times will help you make the right choice for your ground shipment. A little research can help you reduce LTL shipping times and get your load where it needs to go on time.