Parcel VS LTL Shipping & What’s Best?

United-Delivery-Service-Package-Dellivery-HomeParcel Shipping

Parcel shipping historically focused on packages that could reasonably be lifted without assistance by an average person. In other words, packages of less than 150 pounds incurred lower shipping charges due to maneuverability. Yet, pricing models for parcel are evolving to help small package carriers maintain a competitive advantage, and software-as-a-service providers are continuing to create a parcel-dominated industry.

In general, several criteria can be identified for when to at least consider parcel shipping, asserts Tom Stanton of Parcel MEDIA, which include the following:

  • Packages of less than 150 pounds, assuming the following criteria are also applicable to the package.
  • Packages of less than 165 inches in combined length and girth.
  • Packages of up to 108 inches in length. If the length is 108 inches, the girth must not be more than 67 inches.
  • Packages that weigh more in a smaller space. In other words, these packages are denser than others. Think the different in sending a pillow versus a laptop. Both may weigh the same, but the pillow may require more space. The laptop could end up being cheaper when sent as a small package than the pillow.

The key to reaping the most significant return from using parcel shipping depends on each package, but if you can compare the drawbacks to the benefits, such as faster delivery schedules or reduced costs, you can identify if parcel shipping is more cost efficient than LTL shipping.


Maneuverability of Freight

The old 150-pound rule of thumb is no longer a model cast in stone, but when it comes to choosing a shipping method, it is still important to consider weight, among other characteristics. Some shipments might be small and LTL Parcelcompact; while other packages might be large and bulky.

Large, overweight and unwieldy packages would be better handled by a LTL shipping company; while light and standard individual packages are best handled by a parcel carrier. The end to end LTL process is typically less automated as it requires machinery such as forklifts, instead of conveyor belts, to load and unload.

In addition, LTL carriers have their trucks and operations better suited for full pallet loads rather than LPL (less than pallet load).  LPL pallets are often taken apart by LTL carriers to fill their trailers to its capacity.  This issue you may run into is damage or lost packages due to additional handling that you may not have anticipated.


Can your company combine a group of similar packages and ship them to distribution centers where they can be broken down and delivered as individual parcel shipments? Or do you have a limited amount of shipments that leave your facility on a weekly or daily basis?

Limited shipments are typically sent out individually via a common parcel carrier. Sending out larger, consolidated shipments often saves your company on operational costs. Shipping consultants can analyze your shipping profile and give keen, detailed insight into your past and current activities to help you make more informed business decisions.


Another item that needs to be taken into consideration is accessibility. Parcel carriers will offer direct door-to-door delivery that LTL carriers frequently cannot. Is your recipient located on the 13th floor of an office building with no service elevator? If so, you may see an extra fee on your carrier invoice to accommodate your physical and operational needs.  Parcel carriers, however, generally have a more flexible schedule and can offer services such as Saturday express and overnight delivery. Parcel carriers are also more likely to deliver to residential addresses, whereas LTL carriers generally prefer to ship to loading docks.


In most cases, parcel carriers have the capability of guaranteeing delivery by a certain time and day. Many companies and individuals find this useful for time sensitive documents such as bid proposals and contracts. When you want items on site at a specific time and location, parcel carriers have the direct advantage to meet your needs.  Their reliability, over time, has proven to be more consistent compared to the LTL industry.


Parcel carriers instituted online shipment tracking, many LTL carriers adopting it later. Both types of carriers offer services that enable users to track shipments online, including an estimated time of arrival and live updates throughout the delivery process. Many shippers provide instant proof of delivery and signature confirmation.


We leave you with the last, and most likely the most important factor…cost.  It’s no secret that both parcel and LTL carriers have their share of service fees.  Evaluating your current carrier contracts and shipping profile can help you determine which option is best.  Does pulling volume away from your parcel operations to LTL make sense?  Are you maximizing your shipments to take advantage of your effective rates?  Taking the time to define your current parcel and LTL situation can help you identify cost reduction and potential savings opportunities.

Ultimately, your shipping strategy should be the one that best meets the needs of your company and customers. Even the best product in the world will lose favor with your customers if it is not delivered safely and on time. For overall customer service, parcel carriers typically have the flexibility that meets customers’ needs, but LTL carriers are not far behind. Regardless of your selected service type, be sure to consider the advantages and disadvantages of each option, and their suitability to your current and future business objectives.


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