Hidden Fees Revealed

How to make sure your shipping company doesn’t take you for a ride.

The idea of guaranteed shipping is an industry myth. Regardless of how diligent a carrier is, freight gets lost, mislaid, damaged, and stolen. Shipment tracking has improved with GPS technology, but not to the point where it’s 100 percent reliable.

The best you can do is to find a trade show shipping company you can trust, and then stick with it. Become a smart customer, know what questions to ask, then ask them every time.

Label Everything

I still remember getting to a show in Boston and finding roughly half of the items I had meticulously stacked on a pallet missing.

What happened? The carrier ran out of room on the trailer, and in order to fit everything on the truck, the driver broke down a couple of my pallets and tucked all of my boxes on top of the large crates in the shipment. Since I hadn’t labeled every single box on my pallet, all my little boxes got mixed up with another shipment.

Because I hadn’t marked my pallets, “Do not break down,” or “Do not depalletize,” the carrier told me I didn’t have a leg to stand on. I now label and number every box on every pallet, just to be safe, and I label the pallet itself with “Do Not Depalletize!”

You Don’t Always Get What You Pay For

Just because you make a request or get a quote for certain services, that doesn’t guarantee you’ll get them. The following three examples show how vigilant you have to be.

Flying Trucks. If the carrier can move your freight on what it calls an “expedited truck” and get it to your destination in the timeframe you specified, it may never see the tarmac nor hear the roar of jet engines. But don’t expect any great cost savings. You may still be charged as if it had been on the big silver bird in the sky.

Exclusive Use. You requested a quote on the use of a whole trailer for your exhibit. Carriers call this “exclusive use” or TL, which stands for “truck load.”  Some unscrupulous carriers will sell you exclusive use, but they figure they can cram another exhibitor’s freight onto your trailer and make a little extra profit, and maybe you’ll never find out. Find yourself another carrier and ask more questions next time.

Musical Trucks. Just because a carrier doesn’t have a truck available in your area when you need it doesn’t mean it’s going to turn away your business. They’ll subcontract your load to another carrier who may or may not be as reliable, have equipment that’s in good shape, or have drivers trained in moving exhibit properties.

Dim. Wt. Is Not an Insult
It’s important to understand the way each type of carrier (air freight, van line, or common carrier) charges you for your shipment, so you can make sure the charges are correct.

In addition, your shipment may also be subject to separate charges called “accessorial charges,” which may include any of the following:

  • Specials (specific pick-up times) on pick-up and delivery
  • Waiting time
  • Special equipment, such as lift-gate trucks and pallet jacks
  • Inside pickup (if driver doesn’t pick up at a loading dock)
  • Residential pickup
  • Remote pickup or delivery
  • A second driver
  • Storage

Ask your carrier what formula it uses to calculate your chargeable weight and for what additional services you will be charged.

Surprise! The Hidden Fees
To keep surprises to a minimum, always ask for a detailed breakdown of potential fees you may incur when you get your budgetary quote.

Here are some common hidden fees:

  • Labor
  • Moving pads and tape to blanket-wrap your exhibit
  • Aborted pick-ups if the freight wasn’t ready when the truck arrived
  • An extra pick-up at your company warehouse after the original loading at your exhibit house
  • Waiting time at the advance warehouse or marshaling yard
  • Insurance and fuel surcharges

Even if you ask about hidden costs up front, your final bill may not match the quote you received. Ask your exhibit house to copy you on any orders it places on your behalf. And never be afraid to ask why your quote doesn’t match your bill.

In the end, your best safeguard against shipping disasters is to choose a carrier wisely, then ask a barrage of questions and review all paperwork closely every time to avoid surprises. If you have a bad experience with a carrier, vote with your feet and your wallet and find a company that can meet your service needs and expectations. You don’t want to “myth” the next show because of a carrier who dropped the ball — or your freight.


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