Choosing the Right Shipping Method:


FTL, LTL, 3PL—the transportation and logistics industry is rife with acronyms. You might know what LTL and FTL stand for, but do you know the difference? Do you know which is the best method for your business? Full Truckload (FTL) transportation and Less-than-Truckload (LTL) transportation sound self-explanatory; however, they serve very different needs, each shipping through a different kind transportation network. When deciding which type best serves your business’ goals, you must consider size of shipment, delivery timeframe, and handling. These factors influence the amount of money you should spend. This guide to FTL and LTL trucking gives you all the information you need to know to make the best decision for your business.

What is LTL Freight?

With Less-than-Truckload freight, your cargo shares a truck with another company’s products. LTL carriers operate via a Hub and Spoke network. In other words, trucks move cargo from the origin to a terminal (or hub), where freight is consolidated into “full” loads of separate cargo going in the same general direction. These loads are then delivered to multiple destinations. This transportation network can include multiple terminal stops between origin and destination.

There is also a “matchup” option. Matchup LTL matches cargo with other freight going in similar directions, so it doesn't stop at terminals for transfer along the way.

What is FTL Freight?

Full Truckload freight, as its name implies, fills an entire trailer. Operating via a Point to Point network, FTL transports cargo uninterrupted from origin to destination; in other words, cargo does not transfer from truck to truck.

So now that we understand how each works, let’s review the three main considerations.

What to Consider

Each method has many pros and cons, depending on your company's transportation needs. Here are three things to consider before deciding.
difference between FTL and LTL

Size of Shipment

LTL serves small- to medium-sized businesses looking to ship smaller amounts at a time—about 100 to 10,000, and taking up less than 24 ft of the truck. On the other hand, FTL is best suited for shipments over 10,000 lbs. Depending on where shipment size falls between 5,000 to 10,000 lbs, sometimes it makes more sense to ship Volume LTL or Partial LTL. FTL is more cost effective for large loads. If you have a large amount of cargo to ship, it makes more sense financially to ship it all FTL than to break it into smaller LTL shipments, despite LTL generally being cheaper.

Delivery Timeframe

Since you share space with other companies in LTL shipping, trucks must make multiple stops, including transfers and multiple destinations. Thus, they tend to take longer to deliver. You can’t necessarily guarantee a delivery time due to such delays. In contrast, FTL delivers much faster because only your freight is on the truck. The cargo goes from origin to destination without transfer from one truck to another and with only one delivery point.


The Hub-and-Spoke system of LTL shipping involves unloading, reloading, and unloading again. This process may cause damage to the goods. Therefore, avoid shipping more sensitive cargo with this method. You should consider shipping sensitive cargo FTL or matched up on a truck that is not going to a terminal because your goods do not transfer to other trucks, reducing the amount of handling.

What's Right for Your Company?

James River Logistics is an FTL Freight Broker with LTL service and recommends matchup LTL, if not FTL. This way, your product bypasses the Hub and Spoke transportation network, ensuring no exposure to warehouse workers moving your freight from trailer to trailer. It stays on the same truck, in the same location on the trailer, and usually the same travel time as if it were an FTL shipment. As a Point to Point transportation network, FTL and matchup LTL are faster with fewer (if any) damages to the product. By paying a little more, you invest in quality delivery and better customer service PR for your business, since you can guarantee fast delivery—well worth any extra money spent. And better yet, matchup LTL cost is comparable to LTL cost, so you can still save money while shipping fast and worry-free.

For more information on how matchup LTL and FTL shipping can benefit your company, or to get a quote, reach out to us today!