Not all air is equal, particularly in the context of transportation. We’re all aware of the difference between shipping by air and sea. In the e-commerce world, shipping by air is typically reserved for urgent situations where a customer’s order has been mishandled, as it can be quite costly.

However, in international shipping, there is an additional differentiation to be made within air shipping: air freight VS air courier.

What Is Air Freight Service?

Air freight is a method of shipping goods by air that involves transporting large quantities of goods on a cargo plane. Air freight is typically used for shipments that are too large, heavy, or bulky to be shipped by air courier. Air freight is often used for commercial purposes, such as transporting raw materials, finished products, and industrial machinery.

What Is Air Courier Service?

Air courier is a familiar shipping method for most of us, with popular services like FedEx, DHL, UPS, DPD, and GLS providing door-to-door service. Air courier is typically used for shipments that are time-sensitive, high-value, or require special handling. Air courier is often used for commercial and personal purposes, such as shipping documents, samples, and small electronic devices.

Differences Between Air Courier Vs Air Freight

Let’s briefly examine the differences between shipping by Air Courier and Air Freight before we delve into when to use each method.

Air Courier Vs Air Freight, Which One Is Cheaper?

Having understood the differences between air courier and air freight, namely door-to-door VS port-to-port delivery, let’s now delve into the cost differences.

When shipping anything by air, weight plays a significant role in determining the cost. The shipping cost is charged based on the product’s weight, with the actual weight or dimensional weight (whichever is greater) being used as the basis. Therefore, we know that we will be charged based on weight.

In general, air freight costs about half the price of air courier express shipping. However, this is where it gets tricky. Your China freight forwarder’s air courier quote may seem like it’s only half the price of the courier service. For example, if you’re sending a box of products from China to the United States, a freight forwarder may quote you $4 per kg, while FedEx or DHL may quote you $8 per kg. At first glance, it may seem like the courier service is twice as expensive, but this is not entirely accurate. Your China freight forwarder has to add on additional fees from origin to destination, as they provide port-to-port service, and they have to cover the cost of additional fees to deliver your product to your door. Fortunately, many of these fees are fixed costs, so air freight is still a viable option. The heavier the load, the cheaper the air freight cost.

If you receive a lower shipping quote from a China freight forwarder compared to FedEx or DHL, it’s because they have established long-term contracts with air couriers so they can get discounted shipping rates.

Air Courier & Air Freight Calculations

Importers, including those with experience, often find themselves confused about how courier and air cargo costs are calculated. When you receive a quote from a courier service, forwarding agent, or supplier on a per kg basis, they are typically referring to the cost per kg of “Chargeable Weight.”

Chargeable weight is calculated based on the higher of either the actual weight or the volumetric weight of the goods. Volumetric weight (also known as “dimensional weight”) is determined by multiplying the dimensions of the carton and dividing it by the “dimensional factor.”

Importers frequently ask suppliers for the weight of goods and take a quote from China freight forwarder based on the actual weight, only to be surprised by a large courier bill because they were charged based on volumetric weight, which was higher than the actual weight.

To further complicate matters, the formula for calculating volumetric weight for “courier” shipments is different from that of “air freight.” The dimensional factor for courier shipments is 5000, while for air freight, it is 6000.

This is where even experienced importers can run into trouble when trying to decide between courier and air freight, as they use the same weight to compare options. But no more confusion, let’s examine an example to clarify things:

In the case mentioned above, as the volumetric weight of the cargo exceeds the actual weight, the air courier charges would be based on 400kg, while the air freight charges would be based on 333.33 = 334 kg.

There’s a Catch to Air Freight

When deciding between air courier and air freight, the decision can be based on the size of the package and the associated fixed costs for customs clearing, forwarder’s fees, and domestic trucking at each end. For small packages and samples, using a courier service is typically the most cost-effective option.

Let’s continue with the previous example of importing from China to the US, assuming you were quoted $5/Kg for courier and $4.5/Kg for air freight. The costs would be as follows:

  • Door-to-door courier: $5 x 400 kg = $2000
  • Air Freight: $4.5 x 334 kg = $1500

However, there are additional costs to consider when using air freight, such as domestic courier or haulage from the factory to the airport, customs clearance costs, forwarder costs in both China and the US, and haulage from the US airport to your door. Assuming these costs total around $750, the options now look like this:

  • Door-to-door air courier: $5 x 400 kg = $2000
  • Air freight: $4.5 x 334 kg = $1500 + $750 = $2250

In this scenario, the air courier service is clearly the better option. Additionally, express courier services are typically faster, unless you opt for one of the slower and cheaper courier services that may take 7-10 days for your package to arrive at its destination.

When To Choose Air Freight over Air Courier?

The main question is at what point does air freight become more cost-effective than air couriers? Based on our experience of shipping thousands of air courier and air freight shipments from China to North America and Europe over the years, we have found that in most cases, at around 400-500Kg chargeable weight, the “total cost” of air freight begins to be less expensive than using air couriers.

For instance, in the example above, if you increase the number of cartons from 10 to 20, the total volumetric weight for air freight becomes 667Kg, while for air courier, it becomes 800kg. Therefore, in this case, air freight is a more cost-effective option than air courier.

For shipments weighing less than 500Kg, using air courier is a simpler option than air freight, especially if you can get a discounted courier rate from freight forwarders.

When deciding between air freight and air couriers, it is crucial to take into account important factors:

  • For air freight, you can choose DDP (delivery to door, including customs clearance and customs duties, the recipient only needs to wait for goods) and DDU (delivery to door, excluding customs clearance and customs duties, and the recipient needs to clear customs)
  • But for air courier, you can only choose DDU except for the UK(delivery to the door, excluding customs clearance and customs duties, the recipient needs to clear customs). DDP air freight is a suitable option for customers who lack the capability to clear customs or do not comprehend the customs clearance procedure.
  • Of course, we also offer airport-to-airport air freight and port-to-port sea freight.

Chargeable Weight of Multi-piece Shipment for Air Courier

UPS Shipping Charge Rules

Multi-Piece Shipment: this refers to a shipment that contains more than one package, with UPS allowing up to 20 packages per shipment(more than 20, UPS will automatically divide orders).

For Multi-Piece Shipments, the minimum weight of a single package is 5kg per package, with any chargeable weight less than 5kg being calculated as 5kg. The maximum weight per package should not exceed 30kg, as UPS may impose surcharges for overweight packages.

The total chargeable weight of multiple packages in one shipment is determined by calculating the greater of the actual weight and volume weight of each package on the waybill. If the calculated weight is less than 0.5kg, it will be rounded up to 0.5kg, and if it exceeds 0.5kg, it will be rounded up to 1kg.

The chargeable weight of one shipment is the sum of the chargeable weights of each package. For example, if there are three packages with the following information:

Then the total chargeable weight of this shipment is 15.5+20.5+21=57KG

  • Note: if there is only one package in the shipment, there is no minimum weight requirement.
  • For Air Courier Express delivery, the minimum weight requirement starts from 0.5kg

Chargeable Weight of Multi-piece Shipment for Air Freight

  • For Air Freight, the minimum weight requirement for One Single-Package Shipment starts from 21kg. (The same min weight requirement of 21kg applies to Sea Freight shipments)
  • For air freight and sea freight from China to the US, the minimum weight of a single package in a Multi-Piece Shipment is 12kg/piece, and the maximum weight cannot exceed 22kg/package.
  • For air freight and ocean freight to other countries, the minimum weight of a single package in a Multi-Piece Shipment is 12kg/piece, and the maximum weight cannot exceed 30kg/piece.
  • Regardless of the shipping method or destination country, the circumference of a single piece must not exceed 260cm.

For instance, if you have five packages, each weighing 10kg, they will still be billed as 12kg per piece. Therefore, the total chargeable weight for the shipment of 5 packages would be 60kg (12kg x 5).

And if you have only one package in a shipment, weighing just 10kg, you will still be billed as 21kg, which is the minimum weight requirement for both air freight and sea freight.

Don’t hesitate to ask us if you’re unsure about the requirements. Get A Quote Here.

    Air Shipping with China Global Freight

    Ultimately, the decision between air freight and air courier express shipping should be based on the specific needs of your business. By understanding the advantages and disadvantages of each method, you can make an informed decision that meets your business needs and budget.

    China Global Freight is your go-to solution for all your air shipping needs, whether it’s Air Courier or Air Freight. We offer a variety of air shipping options, including intermodal shipping and intermodal containers for use across multiple modes of transportation. Contact us today to get a discounted freight rate quote for your next air shipment from China.