Parcel vs. LTL freight: Which is best for larger packages?

As a small or mid-sized business (SMB) shipper, you face a myriad of decisions on a day-by-day, hour-by-hour and even minute-by-minute basis. If you ship bulky items, one of the most fundamental choices you have to make about each of your shipments is if it should be delivered via parcel service or less-than-truckload (LTL) freight shipping.

While parcel shipments are typically smaller in size than LTL freight, some packages — especially those larger, bulkier items — can seem to fall in a confusing middle ground. However, even when you could technically choose either service for your shipment, one of these options will likely be more cost-effective for your bottom line. So let’s take a closer look at the differences between these shipping options, the advantages each can offer and how to ensure you make the right selection for each of your unique shipments.

What is parcel shipping?

Most parcel shipments are individual small packages, which can be shipped in a variety of packaging types. There are two key questions you can ask yourself to help determine if your shipment qualifies for small parcel shipping through UPS®: “Does it weigh less than 150 pounds?” and “Can it be lifted without assistance?” If the answer to both of these questions is “yes,” then you’ve likely got a parcel shipment on your hands. If not, it may be time to consider LTL.

What is LTL freight shipping?

LTL freight shipments usually weigh between 150 and 15,000 pounds and consist of multi-package or single bulky shipments contained in crates or on pallets. Unlike full truckload freight shipping — which utilizes the entire truck for one company’s shipment — LTL is used when a shipment only occupies some (but not all) of the space on the truck. Learn more about the benefits of LTL shipping.

Now that you understand the basic characteristics of parcel and LTL shipping, let’s dive into when it makes sense to utilize each service.

When should I use parcel service?

If your packages don’t take up too much space, weigh too much or require a lot of special handling, parcel shipping through UPS will likely be your best option. Parcel shipping is also typically more cost-effective than LTL shipping due to the higher volume of packages making their way through the carrier’s network. If your shipment is on a time crunch, you also have many more time-based delivery options with small package shipping. Unishippers offers a wide array of affordable UPS delivery speed options, including delivery as early as the next day.

When considering parcel shipping for a large or oversized package, it’s important to note that many carriers have weight and size restrictions. Packages found in their systems that exceed these limitations are technically unauthorized for transport and may be refused or returned to you. In some cases, the package may be accepted and delivered, but it will incur additional charges — raising your final UPS shipping cost. Be sure to review the specific UPS guidelines for small package shipments and learn more about how your package’s size and weight can affect your final UPS quote. If your package exceeds standard small package limits, it may be time to consider LTL.

When should I use LTL service?

If you are shipping big and bulky items — especially if they exceed standard UPS size and weight limitations — you will likely be better served by opting for LTL service. A good rule of thumb is this: “Heavy weight? Go with freight!” However, even if your package’s weight and dimensions technically fall within UPS parcel guidelines, LTL can also be an affordable option if you have a high volume of small packages going to the same destination.

Beyond the weight and size of your shipment, another deciding factor to consider when choosing between parcel and LTL shipping is security. On the whole, freight shipments pass through fewer stops and checkpoints than parcel shipments in transit. More stops and transfers inherently mean a higher risk of loss, damage and theft. LTL freight also offers more flexibility regarding additional services you may require, such as freeze protection service and white glove delivery. Just be sure to consider the additional fees you could incur when shipping LTL freight!

Either way, we’ve got you covered

Still need help deciding which shipping type is right for your needs? Our team of shipping experts are here to advise and assist you! With more than 30 years in the industry, we’ve helped SMBs successfully ship packages of every conceivable shape and size. And thanks to our special relationships with UPS and our carefully selected network of freight carrier partners, we’re sure to have a service that meets your needs — without breaking the bank. Contact us today to get started.

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