What Is Air Freight and What Is Ocean Freight?
So, is there a winner between Air VS. Ocean Freight?
Nope. It depends on the volume of your shipment, distance and the flexibility you have.
You need to consider all the different elements that come into play - cost, speed, volume, reliability and if you’re going the extra mile - environment friendliness.
Based on that, you should analyze the cost of getting the goods to your destination faster vs getting them there cheaper, and what that means for your business.
Read on to explore any of the elements that will help you holistically decide between Air or Ocean freight.
Which Is Cheaper?
It depends! Ocean freight is not always cheaper than air! If you’re shipping 20kgs, it is way cheaper to ship by air than by ocean.
You may be wondering how? It’s because of the volume and weight.
How Does Volume and Weight Matter?
Freight forwarders charge based on chargeable weight - which is volumetric weight VS gross weight, whichever is greater.
Here is an overview of costs across the different freight options from China to US:
Air and Ocean are only a rough port to port cost estimate from China to the US.
Express Courier rates are for Door to Door
For LCL shipments, the minimum weight is usually around 100 kg
So, the cheapest mode of transport depends on the shipment weight.
For larger shipments weighing MORE than 150kg - choose Ocean freight.
For smaller shipments weighing LESS than 150kg - choose Air freight.
Be aware, air freight prices are very volatile- you can get good rates if booked in advance, but you’ll be paying 3-5x more if you book in the last minute.
Air vs Ocean Freight - Which Is Faster?
Air freight! Undoubtedly, air freight will always be faster than ocean freight.
Air freight allows for faster transit times, and flies ‘remote’ destinations which are may not be possible by ocean freight directly.
And if you miss the deadline for loading your freight on to the plane, it won’t cause a huge delay as there are multiple flights in a day. This is an underrated advantage of air vs ocean freight.
Here is a quick overview of the different air freight options:
Note: Faster options utilize direct flights, and slower options are transit flights
Ocean freight takes longer because the timing is just port to port, so you will still need to factor in the 4-7 days it takes the goods to go from the port of import to your final destination.
Here is a quick overview of the different ocean freight options:
And one more thing! These ships are scheduled to operate on a weekly or monthly basis, so if you miss the deadline to load your cargo, your shipment will be delayed big time!
So when speed is more important than cost, and you need the goods ASAP - choose air freight.
Air Freight vs Ocean Freight - Which Is Reliable and Safe?
Air freight! There’s very minimal handling - once the goods are loaded to the aircraft, there’s no chance to open it until it reaches the destination.
So, either way, make sure to get cargo insurance to protect your goods.
Which Is Environment Friendly?
Many firms are constantly on the lookout for reducing their carbon footprint, which is great!
When it comes to air vs ocean freight, ocean freight is the clear winner!
It is more eco-friendly - produces way less carbon emissions compared to air freight.
If you ship 2 tonnes of freight for 5000 kilometers:
What type of freight can ship more volume?
Ocean freight is definitely capable of shipping larger volumes
Because ships can carry greater volumes, economies of scale come into play. The larger your shipments are, the better off you’ll be if you ship through the Ocean.
What If You Want to Ship by Ocean, But Don’t Have Large Quantities?
Don't sweat it! You can still do LCL (Less than Container Load) shipments - which is when your shipments get consolidated with other exporter’s smaller shipments into a single container.
When should you do an LCL or FCL (Full Container Load) shipment?
Not sure how many CBM your shipment is? Find out on our platform.
Air vs Ocean Freight - Which is Better for Restricted Goods?
You can ship restricted goods by both Air and Ocean, but Air has very strict rules.
Because aircrafts have pressurized space, and can only carry limited volume - certain products like electronics or battery products are a lot harder to ship by air.
So, When Is the Best Time to Choose Air Freight?
Choose air freight if you’re shipping the following:
• Unitised Cargo - Things that can be put into pallets, or packed separately (not like sand, coal or other bulk cargo)
• High Cost & Low Weight - Jewellery, cosmetics
• Perishable Goods - Fruits, vegetables, processed meat
Ocean freight is far more flexible - It does not have many restrictions on types of goods and is a little complex in terms of regulations. So really you can ship anything by sea - even a zebra if you wanted.
Compare Your Air and Ocean Freight Costs Instantly!
Bookairfreight lets you compare air vs ocean freight quotes from multiple tier 1 forwarders on one website, saving you days spent waiting for quotes and at least 20% of the cost compared to traditional methods.
Logistics nerd and resident marketing guy of Bookairfreight. I love writing content that simplifies old-fashioned industry processes and provides solid, accurate information you can base your decisions on. Outside of logistics, I enjoy nature, hanging out with friends, electronic music and spirituality.