Introduction to freight shipments

Freight is a term used to describe shipments that exceed a parcel’s maximum weight and size dimensions. In other words, if it's too heavy or too large for your carrier's standard services or too bulky for their sorting scanners, it will be handled differently. Here we explain what it means for your shipment, tell you more about different carrier services and share tips for keeping the costs low.

What is a freight shipment?

When you think of freight, your mind might turn to container loads of goods or a pallet containing one heavy or fragile item. However, freight doesn't always have to be unique or even that large. Ordinary shipments like books, clothes or toys can also be sent as freight. So how do you know if your shipment falls under this category?

  • Measure and weigh your package. Check the maximum weight and size dimensions of a parcel. Keep in mind that these will vary depending on the carrier, the origin and the destination country. If your package exceeds the weight and size limits, it will usually be considered freight. 
  • If you are shipping several parcels to the same destination, you may have combined them into a single freight shipment - for example, by stacking them onto a pallet. Handling packages this way may lower the risk of incomplete delivery and even cost you less.

When choosing to combine packages into a single shipment, keep in mind that freight services may not serve the same destinations as those for regular parcels. It may also take longer for your shipment to reach its destination.

Remember that even freight shipments will have maximum dimensions. After all, your cargo needs to fit on a plane, in a truck, or into a container. If your carrier operates its own fleet, it may be able to ship larger cargo than carriers using passenger planes. If you need to move an extremely large, fragile or unique item (such as specialist machinery, or items destined for a museum), it's a good idea to reach out to your carrier so they can help plan the big move.

What are the different ways my freight shipment can travel?

There are three ways a large and heavy shipment can travel from sender to receiver. Here's how they work and the pros and cons of each:

  • Directly from A to B. Like a pizza you order from a local parlor, your goods can also be picked up and delivered in one go. While it's probably the quickest way to transport freight, it will usually only be available for large central destinations. 
  • Groupage is like carpooling for goods. Your carrier will collect several freight shipments from relatively close locations before moving them all together to a common destination. Price is the biggest advantage of this mode of transport. On the downside, there's limited reach and an uncertain schedule.
  • Via a central hub. This is your Swiss train. A hub-and-spoke distribution connects multiple locations via a central hub. It's centrally managed and relies on schedules. While this journey may take longer compared to direct delivery, the spoke-and-hub model allows carriers to cover vast territories and reach remote destinations. Hub-and-spoke distribution is the most predictable transportation mode. And since it's usually managed by one provider, it'll be easy to keep track of where your goods are at any given moment.

What carrier services are available for freight shipments?

Whether you are shipping museum pieces or consumer products, your carrier will have a range of solutions that make sending and receiving goods a breeze. These three services may be especially relevant when shipping freight:

  • Pickup and delivery. Oversized, odd-sized and heavy-weight parcels can't always be picked up by a regular courier. They may require special transport and loading assistance. Check with your carrier if they offer pickup and delivery for larger, heavier goods. 
  • Temperature-controlled transport. When shipping fresh produce, art or medical supplies, you want to make sure your goods are kept cool for the entire journey. Finding a carrier that can maintain and monitor a constant temperature will be crucial for keeping your shipment in good condition
  • Customs brokerage. When your shipment crosses borders, it will have to clear customs. A customs broker can be a great source of help if you need guidance through the process or simply want to outsource the paperwork.

What paperwork will I need to ship freight?

Regardless of how large or unique your shipment is, it will need a commercial invoice with a detailed goods description, HS code and an air waybill. Check if your goods require any licenses and permits. Arranging these may take time, so don't leave it to the last moment.

What affects the freight shipping price?

Just like when you're shipping a parcel, costs may vary when shipping freight – depending on several factors. Here are four things to keep in mind if you want to keep your costs at bay.

  • Seasonal price fluctuation. All carriers see a fluctuation of prices throughout the year. While the fee will always depend on your carrier’s capacity and their expectations of the market, it's safe to say that shipping a pallet will cost you less in March than it will in November when the holiday season shipping frenzy starts.

  • Shipment density. Remember dimensional weight? Small but heavy shipments may cost less to ship than featherlight parcels of the same size. 

  • Contract rate. One way to make sure that seasonal price fluctuations don't throw your budget off track is to sign a contract with your carrier. If you plan on shipping regularly, you can fix the price per kilogram with your carrier for a certain period. This way, even when demand is high and planes are flying full load, you'll be guaranteed your rate for the shipment.

  • Spot pricing. If you only ship occasionally and can afford to be flexible with delivery times, shop around for spot pricing. This will be a one-off offer your carrier can make for a specific piece of freight and shipping date. You can usually request this type of quote from about a week before you plan to ship. Spot prices are based on the available capacity. If there's room for your goods, this will be the cheapest you can get.

Shipping requirements and documentation may vary between carriers. This website is designed to provide general information related to shipping. If you’re unsure of the shipping requirements that apply to you, check with your carrier.

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