Shipping Tips & Solutions

Air Freight vs. Sea Freight - Your Questions Answered

International freight shipping can be complicated, especially when it comes to air freight vs. sea freight. Here's how Easyship can help for a stress-free shipping experience.
Air Freight vs. Sea Freight - Your Questions Answered

By Freightos


September 26, 2017

Getting international freight shipped can feel really, really complicated. But one of the most common questions that comes up from both beginners and the slightly weathered importers is deciding whether to import specific shipments by air or ocean.

When You’re Just Getting Started with Freight Shipping

Beginner’s luck - deciding is easy when you’re getting started, especially with samples.

An international courier (express freight) will take care of your sample shipment (to test the product) and probably also your small trial shipment (to test the market).

But once you ramp up to larger shipments, you’ll be hitting courier weight and size restrictions, not to mention prohibitive cost. That’s when you’ll need to answer three questions to decide whether to use air freight or sea freight shipping.

1. Are You Looking To Save Money?

As with parcels, freight cost is weight-based. If your shipment is small (up to about 50 kg) you’re better off with express freight shipping. Heavier than that, it gets more economic to go with air freight shipping. Then around the 500 kilogram mark (1100 lbs), ocean freight becomes cheaper. The differences can be staggering. For instance, a $195 ocean shipment can cost $1,000 by air.

Take this with a grain of salt.

These weight cut-offs are approximate because costs don’t stay static.  But you can get accurate estimates by inputting your shipment details into Freightos' freight rate calculator, which uses average air and sea freight shipping rates from global forwarders.

2. Looking To Save Time?

Taking China to US door-to-door as a guide, express freight shipping takes about 3 days, compared to 8-10 days for air freight and 30 days or more on ocean freight. Each of these have a quicker premium option. Expedited ocean freight, for instance, can often shave 10 days or more off the transit time. Of course, there’s always small ways to reduce size, like skimping on (only the unnecessary!) packing or only palletizing after import, which may reduce the costs enough to make the air freight costs.

3. Looking to make sure that...

...You Make A Drop-dead Delivery Date?

Ocean freight shipping is more likely to get caught up with long delays like bad weather and port congestion. That’s risky if it’s critical your shipment arrives by a certain date – even if that date is well after the estimated transit time for ocean freight shipping.

...You 100% Avoid Product Damage?

Ocean freight moves around much more on a container ship than in the hold of a plane, so it is more likely to get damaged. But ignore talk of 10,000 containers falling off ships each year – it’s an urban myth.

...Save Your Planet?

CO2 emissions from ocean freight is miniscule compared with air freight. Even withstanding some measurement concerns, ocean freight has a much smaller carbon footprint. Thinking green? Stay with ocean carriers, which are literally the most carbon efficient way to transfer anything.

...Your Hazardous Material Doesn’t Destroy An Airplane?

Even if it’s never been a problem fulfilling sales, your freight shipments might be classified as hazardous. For instance, there are flight limits on products with batteries or magnets. That won’t affect your single sale fulfillment, but importing a large shipment will either have to go by sea, or be broken down into smaller shipments on separate flights.

Good luck!

This article was originally posted by our partner, Freightos. Check them out to get instant freight quotes for global fulfillment of oversized goods and B2B eCommerce!

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