Why You Might Be Losing Money On Your Air Shipments

7 min read

You think to yourself, “those shoes are so light, they shouldn’t cost me a lot to ship. I’ll just toss them in a box and send them on their way.” So, you do. You package the shoes in the first box that comes to hand, even though it’s twice the size of the shoes themselves and therefore about twice the size of the box that you actually need. You then take your package to your air express provider and diligently pay your shipping fee, unconscious of the fact that you are paying for something that you are not consuming—the air in your oversized box.

In the air freight industry, both the weight and the size of your shipment matters when determining the shipping costs you need to pay. This weight and size consideration is reflected in a pricing technique known as volumetric weight. You should have a clear understanding of what it is, how to calculate it and some of the things you can do to minimize its potential impact on your pocket. Stick around; more on this below.

What is volumetric weight?

Volumetric weight, or dimensional weight as it is sometimes called, is based on the dimensions of a package and is a measure of the amount of space that a package occupies on an aircraft as opposed to the gross (actual) weight of the package. It reflects the density of a package and is predicated on the fact that a less dense item generally occupies a greater volume of space in comparison to its actual weight.

The volumetric weight is calculated and compared with the actual weight of a package to ascertain which of the two weights is higher. This is the package’s chargeable weight, which is used to determine the shipping cost.

Why is volumetric weight used?

Volumetric weight is the air freight industry’s way of making efficient use of cargo space in aircrafts and maintaining profitability. In so doing, they are not put at a disadvantage by cargo taking up more space than what the customer is charged for based on the actual weight of the cargo alone.

Package density can vary widely. Let’s take as an example an aircraft filled with books versus one filled with ostrich feathers. Both items take up the same space on the aircraft but vary drastically in weight. If the carrier was charging the customer purely on actual weight, the cost incurred by the carrier to transport the ostrich feathers may well exceed the amount of revenue generated from the customer, therefore making the trip unprofitable. Thus, in order to bring space in context with weight, to recover financially what is lost in size capacity, maintain profitability and streamline operations, the air freight industry calculates the volumetric weight of cargo as a standard way to determine shipping costs.

How is volumetric weight calculated?

Anyone on the entrepreneurial end of the small package or air freight industry must walk with the ammunition of knowing how to calculate volumetric weight. After all, understanding volumetric weight can save you money and impact your bottom line.

It’s a simple calculation: multiply the length, height and width (cubic dimensions) of your package, then divide the answer by the dimensional weight factor (DIM factor), which is an industry standard volumetric divisor. The result is the volumetric weight. It is then compared with the actual weight of the package. Whichever is the greater weight of the two is used to determine the shipping cost.

The DIM factor used varies by company. Generally, express couriers use a DIM factor of 139 inches/pound or 5000 cm/kg for international shipments, while airlines use a DIM factor of 166 inches/pound or 6000 cm/kg.

Assume the actual weight of your box of shoes mentioned earlier is 2 pounds and its length is 16 inches, height 13 inches and width 13 inches. Let’s calculate the volumetric weight.

The volumetric weight is therefore 20 pounds, which is significantly higher than the actual weight of 2 pounds. Therefore, the volumetric weight would be used in calculating the price to be charged for shipping and you will have to pay for a package “weighing” 20 pounds instead of the 2 pounds you expected.

The chargeable or billable weight of your package may be much more than its actual weight. Be aware.

When calculating volumetric weight, keep in mind that:

  • You should round each dimension up to the nearest whole number using standard rounding rules.

  • The calculated dimensional weight should be round up to the next full pound or half kilogram.

  • If your package is irregularly shaped, the volumetric weight is calculated based on the dimensions of the smallest cubic shape that your package will fit into.

  • If you are sending multiple packages in a single consignment, calculate the volumetric weight of each package, then use the greater of the volumetric or actual weight for each package and add them together in order to calculate the total consignment weight for pricing.

  • There are a plethora of free online volumetric weight calculators that can help you out.

How you can save money on your air shipments

It is very important to understand the point at which the size of your package becomes heavier than the actual weight of your package, since you will be charged on the weight that generates the greatest revenue for the air carrier. Your goal should be to keep the volumetric weight as close as possible to the gross weight of your package.

Package to reduce wasted space

You should consider volumetric weight when designing the packaging for your product, especially if it is irregularly-shaped. Ideally, you want to pack your product safely but at the same time, pack small enough that you avoid over-bulking with shipping air, packaging peanuts, bubble wrap, void fill and the like.

What if in our anecdotal example we used a much smaller box to package the pair of shoes. The package still weighs 2 pounds, but its dimensions are now 13 x 8 x 4 inches. Let’s calculate the volumetric weight.

The volumetric weight is now 3 pounds, which is much less than the chargeable of 20 pounds when using the larger box and much closer to the actual weight of 2 pounds, which is something you should always strive for. There are definite cost savings.

Economizing on your packaging may start as small as $1 or $2 in savings per package, but this may amount to $1,000 or more in total savings when you consider the number of packages you ship every month or every year.

Consider packaging tools

Free online calculators are available, which utilize your product’s dimensions to suggest an appropriate box size. Depending on your budget, you can also consider using on-demand packaging suppliers. Such suppliers use special machinery that creates boxes specially tailored to the size of your product, thereby ensuring the smallest volumetric weight possible.

Consolidate and repackage your cargo

Consolidating and repackaging multiple packages into a single shipment can potentially reduce your shipping costs. This is especially true for smaller-sized packages, which may be subject to minimum shipment fees regardless of their gross or volumetric weight.

Combining high- and low-density packages can also potentially cut shipping costs. For example, a box of books may have a gross weight that is higher than the volumetric weight however, adding a much lighter, equally-sized box of socks to the shipment wouldn’t throw things out of balance. The gross weight of your shipment would remain the same or thereabouts and would still be higher than the volumetric weight. By contrast, if you ship the socks separately, you would be charged based on the volumetric weight as more likely than not, it would be higher than the gross weight.

Negotiate with your carrier

If you are a loyal customer who ships often with a particular carrier, you should try to negotiate a better contracted rate.

Consider other shipping methods

If you can’t get around a volumetric weight that is higher than actual weight because of the nature of your product, it may benefit you to consider more cost-effective shipping methods, such as ocean freight—although this may not always be the case. See why here →

Be the intelligent shipper, don’t hurt yourself financially. Avoid overpaying for your shipments by keeping chargeable weight to the most minimum possible and always remember to calculate volumetric weight.

Written by Dr. Nakita Haynes

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