You need to get your goods from China to America. There are two ways to move your products over the expanse of the seas: air freight or ocean freight. This means, in essence, that your units can either travel by airplane or by ship to move from the Chinese export-port to the American import-port.

Which type of freight is right for your business and products? How can you ensure that your products will be delivered in the most efficient and cost-effective manner?

Below we’ll take a look at seven important transit characteristics to consider when deciding between air and ocean freight:  speed, reliability, cost, capacity, destinations, environmental impact, and tracking.



Air freight is generally much faster than ocean freight. Air can deliver products in days, while ocean freight can take weeks or even months. Generally, air can take 3-10 days, while ocean takes 14-70. If you need your products quickly, like when ordering trending products for Black Friday, you should ship by air.

However, although the rule has consistently maintained that air freight is the speedier option, ocean freight is catching up. International canals are creating shorter shipping routes, advanced technology is improving the speed of large boats, and improvements in navigation and tracking enable faster communication between boats. It’s expected that ocean freight could ship in as little as 8 days in the next two years.  Some forwarders are already offering express ocean services, called Expedited LCL, which offer guaranteed delivery dates with a timeline similar to air.



You want to know that your goods will arrive on time with minimal damage. Ocean carriers are notoriously unreliable, simply due to the concerns of the ocean and timeline of shipments. Ocean lines tend to run on a weekly schedule, so if the factory misses a shipment or there are weather concerns, the shipment must wait another week before setting out. Airlines, however, tend to run on a daily schedule. Thus, even inclement weather and storms won’t delay your shipment more than a day or two.



If you need to ensure speed and reliability, air freight is the way to go. This assurance comes with a premium, though. Air freight is more expensive than ocean freight—sometimes as much as five or six times more costly.

Airlines bill based on “chargeable weight,” which is the combined weight and size of the shipment. Sea carriers charge by container, usually based on volume and size rather than weight. Thus, if you’re shipping heavy goods, it’s almost always more cost effective to send via ocean. You’d pay a significant premium for the speed of the air freight in these cases.

However, ocean freight is usually not recommended for small, lightweight shipments. Smaller volumes usually have higher margins with air. We recommend air freight when the cost of shipping is less than 15-20% of the total value of goods. It’s also important to note that warehousing fees at seaports can be more expensive than those at airports, so it’s important to go through transit calculations with a sourcing middleman or freight carrier.



Ocean freight has significantly more capacity for larger and heavier volumes. Some ships can even carry 20,000 twenty-foot containers. Airline space is limited, thus contributing to the increased cost. The larger the size and quantity of the cargo you’re moving, the more likely you’ll want to use ocean freight.

Moreover, ocean freight tends to have fewer restrictions of what can be shipped. Airlines are stricter when it comes to their regulations of hazardous material shipments. There’s a long list of items that are prohibited from air shipment, including gases (like light bulbs), flammable goods (perfume), corrosive items (batteries), and more. If you’re selling any sort of hazardous materials, you should talk to your cargo freight forwarder to find the best solutions to remain compliant with international regulations.



You can ship globally with either air or ocean. However, if you’re shipping deep in-land in America, air freight might be the right solution. If you ship via ocean, you’ll have to then use trucking, rail, or short-sea shipping to bring your products on another leg of their trip closer to your warehouse. Air freight can deliver more directly to your final destination in-land, which can save time and money in overall shipping costs.


Environmental Impact

Most businesses are working to reduce their carbon footprints as a way to build a strong reputation as a caring and eco-friendly company. Shipping can be a huge strain on the environment that businesses are looking to cut back on. Those companies committed to green practices should evaluate their shipping methods in order to deliver with the least carbon emissions.

Ocean freight has a significantly smaller carbon footprint than air freight. However, dangers of oil spills associated with ocean freight may play a role in their impact on the environment as well. Ocean liners are moving away from oil altogether to avoid these severe environmental catastrophes.



Both air freight and ocean freight have advanced technology for tracking packages in transit. This allows you to see updated information about where your product is, estimated arrival dates, and any complications. Currently, air tracking is slightly more efficient and reliable, but ocean is catching up.


The Right Choice

Air freight wins in terms of speed and reliability. It may be the cheaper option depending on the size and destination of your shipment.

Ocean freight is the winner with cost, capacity, and environmental impact. For large, heavy shipments, ocean is the way to go.

It all boils down to the most important factors for your specific business and current cargo. Do you have trending products that need quick delivery via air or do you have large goods that have a longer lead time (like furniture)?

You don’t need to make the decision alone. Let us help you calculate your shipping costs start to finish in order to find the right solution for every shipment.

You want a simplified shipping strategy, whether by air or by freight. You want a provider who knows the intricacies of logistical shipping.

You want Ask Idea Sourcing. Contact us today to begin creating a logistics strategy with efficient shipping, high margins, and strategized growth.

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