Sea Freight and Air Freight

When it comes to importing and shipping products internationally, sea freight and air freight are the two main options you will consider. But for a beginner, to decide on which shipping method to choose could be painful. Each shipping method has its advantages and drawbacks. For example, sea freight which takes 30-45 days may not be a great option for a perishable item, while air freight would be too much costly for common cargoes.

Exactly which shipping method is suitable for us? In this post, we present you both shipping methods and discuss their pros and cons, and share our experience in choosing the right method. After reading this, you should find it easy to make your choice.

Table of Content

Chapter 1 Factors to consider when choosing Sea freight & Air freight?

Chapter 2 Ratings of sea freight & air freight

Chapter 3 Actual weight vs. Dimensional weight

Chapter 4 Find the right shipping carrier

Chapter 1. Factors to Consider When Choosing Sea freight and Airfreight

Choosing the right mode of shipping is not as easy as one would expect. This is why you need guidelines to help decide between sea freight and air freight. These are the two major ways to transport bulky goods across countries and continents.

These are several factors you need to consider:

a. Cost

Sea freight is comparably the cheapest mode of transport with respect to shipping. When you compare sea freight and air freight, you will notice a very huge difference. In some cases, sea freight costs may be about 5 to 6 times less than the costs of air freight.

A number of measures are being taken to make air freight more affordable. However, for now, ocean freight seems to be the best option if you want to save money on shipping.

b. Type of products

Air freight is great for high-value products. On a global scale, over 35% of all high-value products are shipped by air. The only challenge is that this is just about 1% of all the shipments transported all over the world.

Sea freight is the right option if you have heavy products that are not perishable or regarded as having high value. Ships are large enough to carry bulk and combined with the costs, it makes it easier for businesses that transport such goods.

classes of hazardous materiels

Asides size and value, the type of products may also refer to whether the product is hazardous or not. There is more limitation on the type of product in the air cargo. Certain products are not allowed to be shipped by air because they are considered hazardous. In this light, you need to check with the destination of your products to be sure as laws may be different. Many of these hazardous products may not be allowed on airplanes but sea freight is less restrictive.

c. The urgency of delivery/timeliness

There are certain products that you need to transport very quickly, either because of the order or their nature. For perishable products, if they don’t get to their destination early enough, loss becomes imminent. This is why air freight is recommended for shipments with short shelf lives, very high value, or sensitive in nature. Air freight is also great when you need to ship a sample product to seal a quick deal.

Sea freight, on the other hand, is the perfect choice for temperature-controlled products. As you know, charges are associated with shipping these goods in this condition. If you are not constrained by time, then sea freight should work for you. This is because it is far cheaper, even for products that have special temperature requirements.

d. Delivery location

Where do you plan to deliver your shipments? This is a very important determinant of what shipping method you will choose. Sea freight is limited to areas that are close to the coast. This means that if a location is away from a port city, you will need an extra means of transportation to move the shipments. As you can expect, this means you will be paying extra for shipping to these locations.

Air freight, on the other hand, can reach very remote areas. This makes it easier to connect to different locations far more easily. As a result of this, you may be spending less in the long run. It also reduces the time your shipments will be spending in transit. The longer your products stay in transit, the more they are at risk of damage or getting missing.

e. Environmental impact

Many businesses neglect the effect of their business activities and shipping methods on the environment. Clients are becoming more aware of the influence of different shipping methods on our environment. One way to show that you care about the environment is by choosing a shipping method that protects it. This also shows that you care about the interests of your customers.

Generally, air freight produces higher carbon emissions than sea freight. This is not to say that sea freight doesn’t pollute our water. However, the effects are not as dangerous as air freight. Consider the environmental effects of your shipping method and weigh them in relation to the other factors on this list. This will ensure that you achieve a balance in making your choice.

f. Cargo safety

When transporting products from one location to another, it is very important that you consider their safety. Cargo shipped using air freight is always given utmost attention based on strict regulations. Regulations cover several elements that are crucial to cargo safety including handling, securing and storage. This is why air freight is seen as a better alternative if you are considering cargo safety.
This is not to say that sea freight is not safe, however, a lot more human effort is required in this sense. Cargo spends more time in transit in sea cargo which is why you need to make extra effort to reduce any chances of damage. This is not an assurance that there still won’t be damaged.

Chapter 2. Ratings of Sea Freight and Air Freight

As we have discussed in the previous part the main factors to compare sea freight and air freight. Let’s take a look at ratings of these methods to help you make your decision easier.

Chapter 3. Actual Weight vs. Dimensional Weight

We cannot discuss freight of any kind without mentioning actual weight and dimensional weight. Many individuals that are new to shipping products may find it difficult to differentiate between both.

One thing is evident with shipping, how you package products determine the cost of shipping. To understand how packaging determines shipping costs, it is imperative to first understand the way shipping carriers establish shipping rates. There is no better way to understand this than by differentiating between actual and dimensional weights.

Actual weight is also known as dead weight. As the name suggests, the actual weight is the real weight of the product taking into consideration the weight of the packaging. So in more understandable terms, actual weight equals the weight of the product plus the weight of the packaging.

Some carriers charge shipping rates based on actual weight. In this case, they don’t consider the physical size or dimensions of the shipment. This method of charging shipping costs has been in use for so many years, however, it has proven to be unprofitable carriers. The reason for unprofitability can be traced to the fact that shipments may consume lots of space and weigh so little. This implies that the shipping company losses more since more space is consumed while the client pays less.

As a result of the losses incurred, dimensional weight became the new way to charge shipping costs. It basically considers the dimensions of the package rather than the overall weight. Dimensional weight considers the volume of a package thus it takes into consideration the length, width, and height of a package. It is usually calculated thus,

Dimensional weight = Length (L) x Breadth or Width (W) x Height (H)/139

Dimensional weight is also known as volumetric weight, DIM weight, or cubed weight. Shipping carriers check the dimensional weight and the actual weight before charging shipping rates. It is common practice for these carriers to choose the higher of the two weights as the criteria for charging rates. The reason for this is to ensure that the company maximizes space to attain better profitability.

If you address the dimensional weight of your products properly, here are some advantages you can enjoy:

– It helps you to create better conversion rates when comparing shipping costs to the size of the product.

– Reduce the cost of shipping due to better product package planning.

– Raise profitability levels.

– Better wholesale pricing for your products resulting from reduced shipping costs.

Chapter 4. Find the Right Shipping Carrier

A shipping carrier has more effect on your business than you can imagine. This is why it is very important to find the right shipping carrier for your business. The problem, however, is that there are so many carriers out there that it becomes so difficult to find the right one.

Since there is so much at stake, you have to take time to evaluate and analyze each option carefully. This can take a whole lot of time that you don’t have so we have put together a few factors to help you out.

a. Cost, time and quality

For almost everything you do in business, including shipping, pricing is a very important factor. How do we know this? When you make an inquiry about anything, the first thing you ask for is the price. You need to be sure that the rates charged by a shipping carrier are not overboard when compared to other carriers.

Along with these, time and quality of service are also very important. To figure these out, you must answer the question, what are your business needs? There must be a balance between these three factors which is why we put them together as a point. The fact that you want cheap shipping doesn’t mean you will sacrifice the quality of service and time of delivery.

b. Reliability

Regardless of what product you are shipping, delivery time is very important. This is where the reliability of a shipping carrier comes to play. Products have to be delivered in time and in the right condition. If the products don’t reach the receiver in time or get there damaged, your business suffers the brunt.

The carrier should also be transparent with communicating about the shipping process. Accountability is also very important where reliability is concerned.

c. Sustainability

For you to choose a carrier, that carrier must follow specific sustainable practices. Along with these, in transporting packages, they need to be conscious of protecting the environment. When you choose this kind of carrier, it does wonders to your business image and affects your sales positively.

d. Performance

Is the shipping carrier able to handle the shipping needs of your company? Can they handle your products to different locations or you need to work with multiple carriers? These questions and more help to decide which carrier company you need depending on your needs.

e. Customer experience

Before you choose any service or product, it is always important to find out about customer experience. Read reviews and ask previous customers about a carrier’s services. This gives you a better picture of how reliable a company is thus making it easier to choose the right shipping carrier.


Both sea freight and air freight have their pros and cons as we have shown above. If you need quick delivery and reliability for small items and objects of high value, air freight is perfect. However, if you want to ship large packages at a friendly cost, sea freight works better.