Local freight trucking is a $63.3 billion industry in the United States alone. Within this market, LTL freight is taking an ever-larger slice of the pie.

And for good reason. LTL freight and pallet shipping make international eCommerce possible.

LTL freight is "less than load" freight. This cargo doesn't take up the entirety of the carrier. LTL freight wastes potential space in a cargo container.

Pallet shipping solves this problem. Some carriers call pallet shipping "consolidated freight shipping." This consolidation saves time and money as well as space.

But how much can you save when you ship a pallet? Is this strategy right for you? Keep reading to find out more.

What is a Pallet in Shipping?

Pallet shipping is a type of freight shipping. Pallet shippers use flat wooden structures to support and stabilize goods in transit.

A shipping pallet secures loads of diverse goods into identical, weight-balanced units. Pallets are sturdy, stackable, and easy to secure.

Shippers also use pallets to stabilize loads when they lift the goods. Typical pallets are compatible with forklifts, cranes, and pallet jack devices.

A shipping pallet is versatile. It's easy to transfer and secure a pallet from one mode of transport to another. Most pallets take advantage of the strength inherent to the corrugated design.

This keeps them light enough to be stable air cargo units. At the same time, pallets are sturdy enough to protect freight:

  • on cargo ships
  • in intermodal containers
  • on tarped flatbed trailers
  • during warehouse storage or transfer

Pallets are popular. Manufacturers discontinued previously popular structures, like wooden barrels, in favor of freight pallets.

Pallet Design Features

Typically, a shipping pallet is wood. But, designers make some pallets out of metal, plastic, or mixed materials.

Pallets typically fit one of six standard sizes. Shippers categorize pallet sizes by "footprint." That is, how much horizontal space the pallet takes up in the container.

Each pallet has a top deck and a bottom deck. The bottom deck is raised. This makes it easy to grip and lift a pallet with a crane or forklift.

What Size Are Pallets?

The International Standards Organization (ISO) set pallet size standards in 2014. In North America, there are two standard pallet sizes:

  • 40"x48" (three and one-third feet wide, four feet long)
  • 42"x42" (three and one-half feet wide, three and one-half feet long)

Twenty 40"x48" pallets fit into one standard intermodal container. They're packed inefficiently. Over 96% of the container floor supports good when they're palleted.

Choosing a Pallet

In 2019, transport researchers determined the best pallet management strategies for international shipping. These methods can help you choose the right pallet for your goods.

What Can You Ship By Pallet?

You can ship most goods by pallet. In North America, the Consumer Brand's Association (CBA) creates, and uses, almost one-third of all pallets.

Yet, industries from paper to automotive manufacturers use pallet shipping. Even chemical drums and military equipment parts can be transported on a shipping pallet.

Standard pallets can carry up to 4,600 pounds of cargo. According to the postal service's Domestic Mail Manual (DMM), a pallet must weigh at least 1000 pounds, minimum.

Ship Goods in Eighteen Freight Classes

Pallet shippers organize different types of goods into different classes. A pallet's freight class tells the shipper how to handle the load. It also indicates what tools or equipment may be necessary for transit.

The National Motor Traffic Association (NMTA) determines the freight class of different cargoes. NMTA uses the National Motor Freight Classification system to classify the load.

The NMTA calculates a loaded pallet's class using four factors. These are:

  • Density
  • Stow-ability
  • Handling
  • Liability

Density tells shippers the cargo's size and weight. Cargo's stow-ability factors in the pallet's shape and securement. Can it stack, or does it create gaps?

The "handling" factor tells shippers if the package must be handled with care. Fragile or dangerous items require more precise handling.

Pallets with a high liability factor are at risk. Typically, these are high-value goods that are more likely to break or damage other goods. If a thief is likely to target a pallet, that also increases its liability.

The least expensive freight to ship is Class 50. The most expensive is Class 500.

HS Codes

The Harmonized System is an international standard that classifies goods by type. This system determines which goods are subject to:

  • import taxes
  • tariffs
  • special regulations

There are twenty-one HS sections. The International Trade Administration publishes classification resources. You can determine the HS code of your goods.

Then, you can note which taxes they may be subject to. This will affect your final shipping cost.

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How Does Pallet Shipping Work?

International pallet shipping is a popular way to transport goods worldwide. Pallet shippers collect goods from distribution warehouses. These warehouses consolidate packages from multiple points of origin.

Some pallets shippers haul products to the distribution warehouse. These haulers load pallets from manufacturers, storage warehouses, or container ship ports.

Pallet shipping services vary. Some incorporate packing into the service. Others only carry products that are already prepared and palleted.

In these cases, the distribution warehouse (or fulfillment center) packs goods into pallets. Then, warehouse staff wrap or secure the pallets, to prep them for shipment.

Packing the Pallet

Warehouse staff should adhere to DMM guidelines for pallet shipping. If you are preparing for pallet shipping or distribution yourself, there are a few strategies to keep in mind.

Evenly distribute the goods within a pallet by weight. Make sure the pallet is balanced. There should be no air in any boxes in a pallet.

The heaviest items should be at the bottom. Distribute weight by starting at the center, then moving outward.

Fill in any gaps between boxes. Boxes and other cargo should form one whole unit in a pallet. Nothing should be loose.

Items get damaged from impact. Make sure each item is properly cushioned within its packaging.

Secure the pallet appropriately. Do not let any cargo hang over the edge of the pallet—or the cargo underneath it.

Remember: if a pallet cannot be stacked, it will cost more to ship.

Why Use Pallet Shipping?

Pallet shipping increases efficiency. Because pallet sizes are standardized, pallets reduce the time it takes to load, secure, and unload cargo.

Pallet shipping makes it easy to distribute diverse goods in a single load. Different-shaped goods can be palletized and stacked. This prevents wasteful gaps, and it protects packed goods.

In this way, palletization streamlines transport. And, it reduces risks from mishandling or accidental damage.

Pallet Shipping Cost

Pallet shipping cost varies. The pallet load's class and the type of pallet impact the shipping cost.

Distance also contributes to the total cost. And, most cargo haulers factor in the pallet's specific pickup point and destination. International pallet shipping costs more than a route that stays in one nation.

Still, it's easier to estimate the cost of shipping a pallet than it is for each item. ISO standardization streamlines the equation.

You can use a pallet shipping cost calculator to plan for shipping. You can also contact a freight consultant for pallet shipping quotes.

Make sure to account for taxes and tariffs. They aren't always factored into pallet shipping rates automatically.

Is It Cheaper to Ship by Pallet?

It is cheaper to ship a large bulk of goods by pallet. This is particularly true within the continental United States.

However, each shipment varies. Cheap pallet shipping may not be possible for your cargo.

To compare pallet shipping rates to other domestic shipping options, see the "Other Shipping Options" section. Or, use a pallet shipping cost calculator that compares options.

Is It Cheaper to Ship Pallets Instead of Loose Cartons?

Pallet shipping is cheaper in bulk. It's also cheaper if you want to ship goods in differently-shaped packages. The standard pallet shape improves efficiency, and the cost savings are passed back onto you.

But, loose cartons can be cheaper if you only need to send a few items. In some cases, very lightweight or fragile items cost less to distribute individually. There’s no cheap pallet shipping for cargo with a high NMFC rating.

How Much Does It Cost to Ship a Pallet?

Pallets are standardized. But, some pallets cost more to ship than others. You can estimate pallet shipping rates using a calculator.

Know that some LTL freight companies have a standard pallet size and weight. An LTL freight consultant can generate pallet shipping quotes for your cargo.

These services add surcharges for pallets outside standard dimensions. Many services set 1600 pounds as the standard pallet weight.

Other Shipping Options

Pallet shipping is an effective, streamlined cargo transport method. But, it's not the only way to distribute loads. Contrast pallet shipping with three other methods:

  • Open and distribute service
  • Dropshipping
  • Standard package shipping

Pallet shipping is cheaper than some of these options. But, it costs more than others.

Within the United States, standard package shipping costs the least—as long as the package is small.

In contrast, dropshipping cuts costs for businesses by skipping transitional stages in transport. Dropshippers typically contract with third-party logistics (3PL) systems.

Some 3PL fulfillment centers are ultimately cost-effective. But, they do charge for logistic services. In contrast, a strictly LTL carrier poses no surcharge.

Auto-Shipping Expertise

We know how much it costs to ship a pallet—and to ship a car.

Does your family need to ship a fleet of minivans across the country? Or, do you need high-end transport services? No matter what you need, Nexus has you covered. You can even use our moving cost estimator to find out the cost of your entire move.

Explore our library of car transport options. If you have any questions, talk to us. Our experts are ready to consult live at 224-218-2949.

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