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How to track LTL shipments

Less-than-truckload (LTL) shipping rates among the most common cargo transport options, but the shipments are also quite challenging to track. Parcel systems are often unequipped to monitor individual pallets or parcel collections.

But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to learn how to track LTL shipments. Here are industry best practices you should consider implementing.

What are LTL shipments? 

LTL shipments don’t take up enough space to require an entire truck. They’re typically pallets of items, and are often used by retail and e-commerce businesses.

Most consumers are familiar with the standard tracking system behind e-commerce order fulfillment. You place an order and receive a tracking number that can be used to monitor a package’s progress toward delivery. LTL shipments tend to be more complex, especially since a single truck can contain multiple pallets with different destinations.

Why is tracking LTL freight important for shippers?

LTL shipping is ideal for e-commerce operations and small businesses. LTL tracking is important for improving the efficiency of the process. An inefficient delivery system can require additional handling services, which usually translates to accessorial fees passed onto businesses and consumers.

With proper planning, businesses can reduce the cost associated with LTL deliveries and minimize their environmental impact. And that says nothing of the ability of retailers to deliver greater customer satisfaction by providing fast, reliable deliveries.

By virtue of these benefits, companies can rely on LTL tracking to maintain a competitive edge in a crowded marketplace.

What documents are needed for LTL shipments? 

The shipping process requires several types of LTL tracking documents, including:

  • Weight ticket: Description of the quantity and type of freight, as well as the PO number, receipt and customer contact details
  • Proof of delivery: Information on the items being delivered and the receiving party’s signature
  • Invoice: Document requesting payment that includes a list of deliverables and their costs
  • Shipping quote: Document explaining the cost of shipping and surcharges incurred during the process

Together, this information provides all the necessary details about the shipment, the items involved and any related costs.

Documents needed for LTL shipments without a BOL 

A bill of lading (BOL) contains information about the shipment itself, along with information about the sender and recipient. Without a BOL, the LTL shipping provider may still be able to show you how to track LTL shipments by using the following documents:

  • Reference of shipment: A number or phrase assigned by the shipper to identify the shipment
  • Shipment number: A number assigned after the freight shipment request has been made 
  • PO number: A number assigned by the purchaser, also included on other financial documents
  • PRO number: A number used to track the shipment, assigned by the carrier upon pick-up

These documents can help you track LTL shipments and keep your shipping records organized.

4 steps to track less-than-truckload shipments

What exactly is the process for LTL tracking? Here’s how to track LTL shipments efficiently and accurately.

Find a shipping partner to register with

Start by registering with the right shipping partner. Registering with an online account can make it easier down the line to use an account number, PO number or other identification tools to keep track of future shipments.

Make it a point to compare rates and reviews between providers to ensure that you’re using the most cost-efficient solution.

Provide BOL documents

Your BOL documents will contain detailed information about the shipment, including the items in it, along with shipper and recipient information. An accurate BOL provides reliable information that can be used to monitor shipments along their journey.

Include the PRO number

The PRO number is typically a seven-to-10-digit number assigned by the carrier when a shipment is picked up. It functions as a freight-tracking number and can be used to organize and monitor LTL shipments.

This identifier can be invaluable in tracking freight, and most carriers will provide an online tracking option for total shipping visibility.

Attach GPS tracking if available

The most reliable tracking method involves a GPS tracking device. GPS tracking provides accurate, real-time data about your LTL shipments. However, this method can also be the most expensive, which is why it may be reserved for high-value or priority shipments.

The future of LTL shipping

LTL tracking methods offer an accurate way to monitor freight, and the paperwork associated with these methods can be a helpful record for sellers and shippers.

Given the prevalence of retail and e-commerce businesses, LTL shipping will continue to proliferate. An efficient tracking system can keep costs down and customers satisfied.


Does LTL have a tracking number?

Unlike consumer deliveries, LTL shipments don’t have tracking numbers in the traditional sense. However, the PRO number can serve a similar purpose, which is why shippers assign one when they pick up the shipment.

What is the difference between LTL and freight?

An LTL shipment contains freight, so the two terms overlap one another in that respect. However, LTL freight may be distinguished from full-truckload freight. Truckload freight means that all the items on the truck are going to the same destination, while LTL freight can go to multiple destinations per truckload.

How long does it take to ship LTL?

Shipping times for LTL shipments can vary based on the logistics provider, distance covered and type of shipment.

For example, some companies and customers might use express services to ensure deliveries in as little as one to three business days. Other shipping times can stretch from five to 10 business days.

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