Keys to Shipping Happiness Part 3: Getting Freight Class Right

May 29, 2018 by Meyer Baron
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In this, the third in our series of Keys to Shipping Happiness blog posts, you’ll learn how to get your freight class right and avoid ever having to get a billing adjustment for freight class.

Freight class is a very straightforward concept. By standardizing the classification of freight on a scale of 18 classes between 50 and 500, the National Motor Freight Traffic Association created a way for all freight carriers to consider freight equally, and for shippers to compare shipping costs.

Today, thousands of commodities are assigned freight classes based on the following four factors:

  1. Density: Weight per cubic foot.
  2. Stowability: The placement and space required.
  3. Handling: The amount of care needed to transport the item safely.
  4. Liability: Based on shipment value and the cost to replace in the event of theft, damage, breakage or spoilage.

Freight Class Lookup Tool

FreightCenter provides a freight class lookup tool that includes many frequently-shipped commodities, so you can look up your cargo’s freight class. It is far from a complete list, but it gives you a good estimate of what a shipment’s freight class will be.

Drilling Down for the Details

To determine the true and accurate freight class, we subscribe to a software service that allows our shipping agents to look up the freight class (and sub-class, when applicable) of every commodity with an assigned freight class. That’s why our shipping agents should be your final check on freight class before booking your shipment.

In some cases (for a variety of reasons), even our agents cannot find the exact class of the item. When that happens the freight class must be indicated by the group it belongs to (paper, plastic, electronics, etc.) followed by the initials NOI, (Not Otherwise Indicated). When NOI is noted, freight class is determined by density.

Freight Class Density Calculator

Fortunately, FreightCenter’s freight class density calculator makes it very easy for shippers to determine the suggested freight class by cargo density.

There are occasions when multiple items with different freight classes are packaged together. Some carriers use the highest freight class of all items in the shipment, while others determine freight class by density. There is no way for you, the shipper, to know which carrier uses which method. Again, count on your shipping agent to help you get the freight class right.

Yet with all this help, freight class is the second biggest reason for billing adjustments among FreightCenter customers. By examining three recent billing adjustments for freight class, we can point out what went wrong and how you can prevent making the same mistakes. You’ll also see how a little mistake here or there can cause a big problem.

Three Actual Billing Adjustments

The images used in these examples are screen grabs of our freight class density calculator, using the measurements provided by the shippers and carriers. The density number shown is a measure of pounds per cubic foot.

1. Estimating Package Dimensions

Our first example demonstrates how estimating the dimensions of the packaged freight is always a mistake.

Here we see the density and recommended freight class generated by the density calculator using the dimensions provided by the shipper.

Freight class density calculation based on shipper’s estimated package dimensions.

In the billing adjustment, the carrier reported that the actual dimensions were somewhat different.

Freight class density calculation based on actual package dimensions as measured by the carrier.

Notice that the weight used for both calculations was the same: 525 pounds. The only differences were a few inches in the length, width and height of the package. But, because those seemingly minor differences reduced the density of the freight, they also raised the freight class.

The billing adjustment, in this case, was $66.61, more than a third of the original shipping bill.

2. Guessing The Weight

Some people figure if they can’t get the actual weight of their freight, they can just guess high on it and that will have them covered. That might be true for shipping parcels, but it doesn’t work with freight. With freight shipping, when you guess high on weight, that means you’re guessing high on the density as well, which artificially lowers the freight class. But then, when the actual weight is reported by the carrier, the density goes down, the freight class goes up, and you get hit with a billing adjustment. Head spinning yet?

Freight class density calculation based on shipper’s guess of weight.
Here’s a real-world example of how guessing the weight can cost you money, starting with the measurements provided by the customer.
When we correct the length, width and height to the actual measurements as provided by the carrier, we see a decrease in density and a bump in freight class from 125 to 175.

Freight class density calculation based on customer’s guess of weight, with dimension measurements corrected.

But when we take the next step and correct the weight by subtracting 125 pounds, the freight class jumps all the way to 250.

Freight class density calculation based on carrier's actual measurements.

The difference in freight class from 125 to 250 is substantial. The billing adjustment for these corrections cost the customer $151.03 on top of the original shipping fee of $406.08. While much of that $151.03 billing adjustment cost is simply covering corrections to the numbers, a portion of it is for weight and inspection fees that wouldn’t be charged without the billing adjustment. In other words, it’s just lost money.

3. Relying on “Standard” Pallet Dimensions

On the FreightCenter LTL quote form, Section 4 is for “Items to be Shipped.” There is a drop-down for the type of packaging that you used in preparing your shipment, and the first three listings in that dropdown are for “Standard” pallet sizes. Those three options can be helpful in creating a guesstimate of shipping costs, but a shipper should never assume that their pallet is a “standard” size. There is no such thing as a standard size pallet.

Pallets should always be measured, and any measurement that includes a fraction of an inch should be rounded up to the next whole inch. Then, the fourth item on the packaging dropdown should be selected—Pallets (enter dimensions)—and the accurate measurements should be entered in the total dimensions area.

In this example, a customer shipping a sophisticated piece of industrial equipment thought his pallet was a standard pallet.

Here’s how the item was shipped, based on the customer’s input.

Freight class density calculation based on shipper's presumption of standard pallet size.

In the billing adjustment, the carrier reported that the measurements were quite different.

Freight class density calculation based on carrier's corrected pallet measurements.

In this unfortunate case, the billing adjustment exceeded the original shipping cost based on the shipper’s input.

You Can’t Beat the Carrier’s Technology

You’ve probably picked up on a theme here: Being inaccurate in your measurements can be an expensive mistake, and in all three of these examples, the billing adjustment was due to the shipper not providing accurate measurements and weight. Making your best guess isn’t good enough.

Today’s carriers employ technology that makes them exact on all their figures. Forklifts have built-in digital scales, and every piece of cargo is weighed. As for the width, length and height of your cargo, carriers use industry-specific measuring devices that incorporate lasers and computers to report your cargo’s accurate measurements in an instant. There is no way to get around the carrier’s technology. You must be accurate.

5 Tips to Make Sure You Get Freight Class Right

But it’s not all doom and gloom for shippers. If you follow these five tips, you will never have to endure a billing adjustment for freight class.

  1. Check with one of our shipping experts to see if there is an assigned freight class for the commodity you’re shipping. If there is, you don’t need to calculate the density.
  2. Whether on our online quote form or via phone conversation with a shipping agent, provide accurate length, width, height and weight measurements for your cargo.
  3. When measuring dimensions, always round up to the next whole inch.
  4. If you don’t own a freight scale, find a certified scale near you (Google “public scale near me”) and have your cargo weighed properly.
  5. As a last step, double-check the freight class with your shipping agent.

Eliminate the mystery of freight class and you’ll also eliminate one potential source of billing adjustments. That will put you one step closer to becoming a happy shipper.

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