Every shipper — no matter how big or small — has to move at least some of their freight on the spot market.
Whether you have unplanned shipments, service failures, or not enough volume to secure contract pricing, if you move freight, you will have to get spot quotes.
Though getting rates is a common practice, not every shipper does it well.
Having a solid strategy will put you in the best position to get accurate, reasonable pricing and reliable service for your truckload and LTL shipments.
These 8 do's and don'ts of spot quoting will help you price like a freight pro.
First, let's cover some basics.
What is a spot rate in truckload and LTL shipping?
A spot rate, also called a spot quote, is a one-time fee that a shipper pays to move a load (or shipment) at current market pricing.
Spot rates are a form of short-term, transactional freight pricing that reflect the real-time balance of carrier supply and shipper demand in the market.
Here are several common scenarios where shippers use spot rates:
- Not enough volume (loads) in a shipping lane to secure committed (contract) pricing
- Unexpected/unplanned freight volumes
- One-off shipments outside of usual shipping lanes
- Special or non-standard load requirements
Want to keep a spot quoting quick reference guide on hand?
Download & save your copy of the spot quoting checklist.
8 Rules for Getting Better Spot Truckload & LTL Rates:
1. Do provide accurate, detailed shipment information.
Carriers and 3PLs generate spot quotes based on each shipment’s unique requirements.
Though you can get an instant spot quote with as little as origin and destination zip codes, pick up date and equipment type, it's best to have all of your shipment details on hand when you confirm pricing and capacity.
Why? If you exclude important information or ballpark details when getting your spot quote, you may end up paying for it later (especially if your shipment has non-standard requirements).
More precise shipment details = more accurate spot rates.
What you need to get the most accurate full truckload spot quote:
- Origin city or zip code
- Destination city or zip code
- Pickup date
- Equipment type (i.e., dry van, refrigerated, flatbed, RGN, etc.)
- Commodity type
- Product weight
- Special requirements or attributes
What you need to get the most accurate LTL spot quote:
In addition to providing all the basic shipment details listed above, you will also need to provide more detailed commodity information:
- Packaging type
- Freight class and NMFC code
- Dimensions of each packaged commodity
e.g. limited access, residential pick-up/delivery, appointment required, etc.
Related: Learn more about the core differences between full truckload vs. LTL
If your shipment requires specialty equipment, additional product handling, or any other non-standard services, make sure to communicate those details with your provider when you confirm rates and capacity.
These special requirements will likely increase your rate up front, but accurate communication will help you avoid expensive accessorials and service disruptions when it's actually time to ship.
Standard Truckload Shipping Requirements:
- Live load / live unload
- "No touch" by driver
Driver is not expected to assist with product loading/unloading
- Legal weight
80,000 lbs. max weight for a loaded truck, which usually translates to ~44-45,000 lbs. of freight (pending equipment type)
Non-Standard Truckload Shipping Requirements:
- Drop trailer
- Hazardous materials
- Driver assist
- +2 hours of loading/unloading
- Equipment age restrictions
3. Do try to get your spot rates in advance.
Typically, shippers request spot quotes 1-2 business days before their shipping date.
That said, shippers often request same-day spot quotes, or on the other hand, request quotes for more than a week in advance.
Just keep in mind: spot rates tend to increase as your pickup date approaches.
Whenever possible, try to request your quotes as soon as you can confirm all the relevant shipment details.
Giving yourself a few extra days to secure pricing and capacity will generally lead to less expensive freight rates.
This proprietary Coyote data shows that, as the pick up date approaches, there are much more carrier offers available, but the average rate also tends to get higher.
Spot market rates can be volatile, sometimes changing over the course of a single day.
Just because you moved a load for a certain rate last time does not mean it will necessarily be the same. Always check with your provider to get an up-to-date market rate.
When you get a rate that works for your shipment, don't wait to confirm it with your provider — let them know ASAP to lock in pricing and capacity.
Once you and your provider agree on a rate, a reliable carrier or 3PL will not change it unless an important piece of information about your shipment changes.
In the event your shipment details change, make sure you get an updated quote. Even if it ends up increasing your rate, it will help you avoid costly accessorials during the shipping process.
Planning to ship your goods over the weekend or during a holiday?
If so, expect to pay more.
Though they're incredibly hard working, drivers like to celebrate holidays and sleep at night too.
There is usually much more capacity available during regular business hours (Monday-Friday, 08:00-17:00), so try to set your appointments during those times.
When your shipments depend on precise pickup and delivery times, make sure to include each appointment time in your quote request so your quote will be accurate.
Pro Tip: Flexibility is your friend when setting appointments. Whenever possible, pick up and delivery windows (instead of strict appointment times) can open you up to more capacity options, as drivers have to manage strict Hours of Service when planning their day.
6. Do get digital freight quotes.
There is a huge amount of freight technology in the market — use it to your advantage.
Many providers' digital freight platforms, (like CoyoteGO®), can give you free instant freight quotes. This is a great way to keep up-to-date on current pricing without having to send a lot of emails.
A good freight provider will have logistics professionals on-call when you have questions or need additional help, but the ability to get quotes on demand can add a lot of efficiency back into your day.
For many shippers, choosing their transportation providers often comes down to cost.
While it's certainly important, you should take several other factors into account when making your decision, like expertise, trust, efficiency and service.
A cheap quote that results in a missed pick up, hidden accessorial or damaged product will probably end up costing your business more.
What should you do?
Get quotes from a few different trusted providers — it's smart to shop around to see where the market is for many opportunities.
Once you have a few quotes, evaluate the rates while considering your unique load requirements and the providers' strengths and weaknesses.
- Will this provider hit my service requirements?
- Are they easy to do business with?
- Can I use their tech tools to operate more efficiently?
- If something goes wrong, can I trust them to fix it?
If it's a high-value load that absolutely has to arrive by 5 PM to protect this customer relationship, service should be the deciding factor, not the bargain rate.
Generally, spot rates are all-in rates, which means they include the cost of fuel, whereas contract rates are usually linehaul rates, which are not inclusive of fuel.
It’s important to verify if your rate is all-in or before you accept a spot rate, as well as any other charges. If the rate is not all-in, ask your provider for their fuel surcharge (FSC) matrix.
You should also ask to see your provider's accessorial schedule. Many of these charges are based on industry standards (e.g. 2 hours free loading/unloading), but if you're working with a new provider, it's important to check.
Bottom line: before you accept a spot quote, make sure you know exactly what you’re paying for and if you need to factor in any additional costs.
Download the checklist & put your knowledge to the test.
Now that you have the 8 rules of spot quoting, it's time to put them to use.
You can use Coyote's free digital freight platform, CoyoteGO, to get unlimited instant spot quotes for your LTL and Truckload freight.
To keep these spot quoting best practices close at hand, download the checklist.
Save it to your desktop, forward to your team and use it as a quick reference guide.