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Large Package Shipping Mistakes And How To Ship More Cheaply

If you ship large packages, they can be expensive. In some cases, shippers can get surprised on a carrier’s invoice when they are charged over $1,000 for a single unauthorized package. This article explains large package shipping, dimensional pricing, mistakes to avoid and how to take steps to reduce costs. 

What’s A Large Package As Defined By Parcel Carriers?

Most packages to include large parcels are delivered by parcel carriers like UPS, FedEx, and USPS. However, there are some large packages that parcel carriers either will not ship or will charge excessive fees. Specifically, parcel carriers start charging extra large package fees when a package meets the following criteria:

  • Package More Than 50 Lbs (Billed). The actual weight or dimensional weight is more than 50 pounds (more about dimensional weight later in this article)
  • Package’s Longest Side Greater Than 48 Inches (22 inches for USPS). Parcel carriers will charge you more when you are shipping a large size package regardless of weight. Moreover, the higher the dimensions of the package, the more charges.
Large Package Stress - Large package shipping
Large Package Stress

What is Dimensional Weight And Why You Should Care?

It is a mistake to focus on the actual weight of a large package. More and more parcel carriers use the package’s dimensions to determine a dimensional weight that in turn becomes the billed weight. Especially for large packages, this means you will be charged by the size of the package, not the actual weight. 

Parcel Carriers’ DIM Factor For Billing Package By Size. Parcel carriers use a DIM factor to calculate your dimensional weight. Interestingly, parcel carriers use different DIM factors. This is important because a higher DIM factor would mean a lower charge for the same size package. 

Example Dimensional Weight Calculations. Now for some examples. First is a chart to illustrate different products and how their size affects billed weight. The other examples show you how different carriers’ DIM factors change the billed weight for the same package.

Here is another example using that parcel carriers’ published DIM factor.  FedEx published DIM factor is 139 and UPS / USPS published DIM factor is 166. Note if you are a large shipper, you can negotiate with the carrier to increase your DIM factor and thus lower your costs. 

  • UPS / USPS – actual weight 10 lbs – 12 X 12 X 18 / 166 DIM Factor =  Billed 16 lbs (rounded up)
  • FedEx – actual weight 10 lbs – 12 X 12 X 18 / 139 DIM Factor =  Billed 19 lbs (rounded up)

Are There Some Packages That Should Not be Shipped By a Parcel Carrier?

Yes, parcel carriers to include FedEx, UPS, and USPS do classify certain large packages as “unauthorized”. Worst of all, if you make a mistake and ship an unauthorized package, they will charge you a very expensive unauthorized package charge. Some of the fees can be $1,000 or more. Also, parcel carriers do not normally do special delivery services like over-the-threshold delivery and assembly of a product.

Accessorial Charges – Additional Handling, Large, and Unauthorized.  

For large packages, parcel carriers will charge you one or more extra accessorial charges. Moreover, these charges are in addition to the package freight charge. So large packages incur both these accessorial charges and the increased dimensional billed weight charge. For specifics, the chart below provides you a summary of extra accessorial charges that a parcel carrier will charge you depending on the size and weight of your package.

Package Weight / DimensionsWeight >Length >Girth ( 2 X Weight + 2 X Height) >Extra Charges?
Incur additional handling Charges50 lbs.48 inches105 inches$
Incur Large Package Chargesn/a96 inches130 inches$$$ + 90 lb min billed wgt chg
Do Not Ship Parcel / Unauthorized150 lbs.108 inches160 inches$$$$$
Chart – FedEx / UPS Parcel Weight and Dimension Characteristics that Trigger Packaging Accessorial Charges

Note: USPS is more restrictive than FedEx and UPS on what is a standard package. They have recently started charging “nonstandard” fees for packages over 22 inches and packages that are over 2 cubic feet (3,456 cubic inches). Additionally, USPS deems an unauthorized package as any package over 70 lbs or girth over 130 inches. Click here for more details.

Special Handling Delivery Charges.

If your large package needs special handling, there are some things that most parcel carriers will not do. Parcel carriers will not normally do what is called “white gloves” service. These are delivery services that are normally done inside the home or business. These premium services include things like over-the-threshhold delivery as well as assembly and installation. There are carriers that do provide these services, but not parcel carriers.

What Can You Do To Reduce Your Large Package Shipping?

It is just a fact of life that some shippers are going to have large packages with potentially large shipping charges. So specifically with parcel carriers, what can you do to control the costs? How do you avoid mistakes where you would incur excessive large package charges?

1. Reduce the Package Size.

Look at your packaging. Is there anything you can do to reduce the dimensions of the package? Even reducing your package’s dimensions by a few inches can bring the billable weight down and eliminate expensive accessorial charges. Also, look at options to break the shipment into multiple boxes. Another option would be to ship your product disassembled. Also, look at using different internal packaging or box sizes. This is where packaging expertise can save you a lot of money.

2. Compare Price Quotes From Each Parcel Carrier.

Each carrier generally has the same type of pricing, but there are some small differences. Get a price quote from each carrier. See if there are any carriers that are cheaper for your particular package’s dimensions.

3. Negotiate Discounts With Transport Carriers.

As a general rule the more packages you ship, the more discounts you may be able to negotiate with carriers. The negotiation opportunities are: negotiate higher discounts on freight charges, negotiate discounts on accessorials to include fuel, and negotiate your DIM factor or minimums.

How To Get Shipping Quotes And Compare Options For Your Large Package Shipping 

Parcel Carriers Shipping Quotes.

If you are an U.S. shipper and shipping a large package within the continental United States, start with UPS, FedEx, and USPS. No matter who you are shipping with, you will need, as a minimum, the following information about your package to get an exact quote.

  • Origin and destination zip code. In some cases, you may also need the city
  • Dimensions of your package to include the length, width, and height in inches
  • Actual weight of your package
  • Is the destination a residential address (usually costs more to ship to a residence)
  • Type of packaging. For large packages it will be your own packaging

The following links will take you to the package calculators for the major parcel carriers: UPS, USPS, and FedEx. Note these links are retail rates. You may need to log into the carrier’s website to get your contract rate.

Other Transportation Providers And Options For Large Package Shipping. 

There are also other carriers and 3rd party shipping services that can ship your large package. In some cases, you can stop making mistakes with incurring excessive large package charges by going with a non-parcel carrier. Below are the different types of non-parcel transportation providers and what they can do for shipping your large packages.

1. LTL Carrier / Speciality Carrier.

These types of carriers are a good option when your package’s sizes are unauthorized with parcel carriers. Also, these carriers may be an option if you have multiple pieces that can be palletized, or your shipment needs “white gloves” service. As an example, a shipper who ships large, irregular products such as large furniture or bathtubs would use these types of transportation carriers.

2. 3rd Party Logistics (3PL).

These types of companies use both LTL and parcel carriers. First, they may be able to offer you deeper discounts instead of negotiating directly with a transportation carrier. Second, they will normally have several distribution centers where your product can be shipped at a lower cost, faster service from multiple warehouses throughout the country. Lastly, they also may be able to offer you other value added services to include outsourcing your entire shipping or warehouse operations.

3. eCommerce / Order Fulfillment Company.

Some 3PL companies can do order fulfillment, but there are other companies that just do order fulfillment. Examples include companies like Amazon where you would be a seller on their eCommerce platform. Note, these fulfillment companies can offer a full range of unique services.  For example, this can include storing and shipping your product. By outsourcing most of your logistics to a fulfillment company, you can just focus on your product and marketing.

4. Shipping Station Software / Resellers.

Shipping station software company’s core business is printing shipping labels. Moreover many of them offer discounted parcel rates if you use their shipping account number. Additionally, there are also some companies that basically just resell their discounted rates to small businesses. They make money on the margin between what they are charged by the parcel carrier and what they charge you.

For more information and viewpoints on large package shipping, see the following links: 3 Easy Ways To Ship Large Packages (Good information if you are an occasional large package shipper), 5 Tips to Making Large Package Shipping More Profitable (Specialty / Last Mile perspective), What’s the Cheapest Way to Ship Large Items? (good information from a 3PL that caters to small shippers), The Cheapest Way to Ship Large and Oversized Packages (good information from a fulfillment company), and What’s The Cheapest Way to Ship Large Packages? (good information from a shipping solutions provider).

For more information from Unvarnished Facts, see articles on supply chains and eCommerce.

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