Small Package Weights and Size Limits: What You Need to Know

No, you’re not imagining it: Small package shipping really isn’t as simple as it seems. And a lot of that has to do with weights and sizes. First you need to master the terms — DIM weight, billable weight, girth and more. Then you have to unlock how they affect delivery service rates.

Confusing? Yes. Complex? Quite often. But relevant to your bottom line? Always.

With that in mind, here’s a look at what you need to know — and how to avoid the most common mistakes.

Learn the terms

These are common weight and size terms and what they mean:

Actual weight Your package’s physical weight.
Dimensional weight
(also known as DIM weight)
The weight of your package based on volume rather than physical weight.
Billable weight The weight a carrier uses to calculate your rate. It can be either actual weight or dimensional weight. They’ll use whichever one is larger.
Cubic inches Your shipment’s length x width x height (all in inches and rounded up). This is the key measurement used in dimensional weight calculation.
Cubic foot When (length x width x height) in inches equals 1,728.
Girth [(2 x width) + (2 x height)]. This measurement helps determine if your package meets the carrier’s size limits, and if it’ll be subject to additional charges or fees.

Dive into dimensional weight

Shippers calculate dimensional weight by multiplying a package’s length, width and height, and then dividing the result by a number that corresponds to the mode of shipping (ground, air, etc.). For UPS, the 2020 DIM divisor is 139.

Most carriers compare dimensional weight against actual weight. And since they want to cut their fuel use, emissions and transportation costs, they’ll bill you for whichever figure is higher.

How can you lower your dimensional weight?

  • Use smaller, tighter packaging
  • Don’t over-box
  • If possible, pack more in each box, particularly with lighter items

Focus on weight and size limits

Many carriers have maximum weight and size limits. And if your package exceeds those limits, they can label it unacceptable for transport and return it to you. And even if the package gets accepted and delivered, it could rack up additional charges.

The critical step: Always enter your shipment’s correct weight and dimensions. That’ll allow the system to alert you if your package exceeds the carrier’s weight and size limits.

Get a handle on common weight and size charges

Even if your package doesn’t exceed maximum weight and size limits, you could still be on the hook for additional charges. These two are the most common ones:

Additional Handling Fees

You could incur package fees and surcharges if a package causes an issue with a carrier’s conveyor belts, slides or sorting machines — not to mention making your shipment more vulnerable to package delays. Carriers also can charge you a handling fee for a shipment that needs special handling, such as an irregular or heavy package.

Read more about common small package fees to see where you can avoid unexpected costs.

Large or oversize package surcharges

Carriers typically charge a premium for shipments they deem to be large or oversized — i.e., packages with an actual weight of more than 90 lbs. and boxes with a combined girth of more than 130 inches.

Looking for packaging help? Look to Worldwide Express.

Need some expert guidance on how your shipment’s dimensions will affect your shipping costs?

Get a quote today, and let Worldwide Express help you uncover smart solutions for your small package shipping needs.