Essential Guide to Accessorial Fees for Carriers: Managing Extra Costs Effectively

Accessorial fees for carriers can turn freight shipping into a costly affair. As a carrier, dealing with these fees without warning can derail your budget. Learn what causes these fees, the typical charges you might encounter, and how to proactively manage them to keep your financials on track. Start saving on shipping and enhance your cost-control strategies with the guidance you’ll find here.

Key Takeaways

  • Accessorial fees, accounting for up to 40% of a carrier’s freight spend, are vital to absorbing the costs of unforeseen services and complexities in shipments, ensuring the financial health of carriers.

  • Common accessorial fees include fuel surcharges, detention and layover charges, and extra fees for specialized situations such as high-risk or limited access areas, each reflecting additional services or complexities in freight shipping.

  • Strategies for carriers to manage and reduce accessorial charges include optimizing shipping processes, leveraging technology for accurate billing and real-time visibility, and maintaining effective communication with shippers and customers.

Understanding Accessorial Fees in Freight Shipping

In the realm of freight shipping, freight accessorial charges, also known as accessorial fees, are the additional charges that appear like unexpected twists and turns, affecting the final cost of your shipment. These fees cover the extra services or nuances that arise beyond the standard pick-up and delivery—think of them as the hidden alleys and side streets that your cargo may need to traverse to reach its destination. Their role? Ensuring the entire shipping process is transparent and fair, reflecting the true cost of transporting your cargo from A to B.

These fees are not just minor details; they can have a substantial impact on a carrier’s bottom line. As a carrier, understanding these additional costs is vital for maintaining a healthy balance sheet and ensuring that every freight trip is profitable. Let’s dive deeper into what these fees are and how they affect your financial journey.

Defining Accessorial Charges

Accessorial charges are the extra fees that make themselves known when your shipment requires more than the basic service initially agreed upon. Like an unexpected detour, they appear on the freight invoice or bill of lading, signaling that there’s more to the journey than initially planned. Whether it’s detention for additional loading time, reconsignment for changing delivery destinations, or stop-off charges for additional delivery stops, these terms represent the extra miles and effort your cargo trip entails.

Think of these charges as the plot twists in the story of your shipment—unanticipated but necessary for the narrative to unfold. They are supplementary, not arbitrary, ensuring that when your cargo’s journey extends beyond the original script, the additional scenes are accounted for financially.

The Impact on a Carrier’s Bottom Line

Peering into the financial ledger of carriers, accessorial fees can sometimes comprise up to a staggering 40% of total freight spend, highlighting their significance in the tapestry of overall revenue. These fees are not just a drop in the ocean; they are a significant tributary to the financial health of carriers, often increasing at higher percentages than standard tariff rates. They act as a protective shield, guarding profit margins against the unforeseen expenses that may ambush a carrier during transit and delivery.

Understanding the role of accessorial fees is akin to mastering the art of financial defense in the shipping arena. They offer a method for carriers to incorporate the costs of additional services into product pricing, making shipping costs more palatable for customers while ensuring their profit margins remain unscathed by unexpected expenses. By strategically factoring historical data on accessorial charges into setting base rates, carriers can navigate the unpredictabilities of freight shipping with the confidence that their bottom line remains protected.

Comprehensive Breakdown of Common Accessorial Fees


A fuel pump at a truck stop


Some of the common accessorial fees include:

  • Delivery Area Surcharges (DAS) for hard-to-reach locations

  • Oversize charges for larger-than-life cargo

  • Liftgate fees for locations without a loading dock

  • Inside delivery fees for delivering goods inside a building

  • Residential delivery fees for delivering to residential addresses

These additional costs, including cargo insurance, are the tolls carriers pay to traverse the shipping landscape.

Some of these fees, like after-hour delivery charges, are the result of extending the operational hours beyond the usual schedule—essentially, paying for the extra time the shipping journey requires. Others, such as residential delivery fees or truck order not used (TONU) charges, reflect the additional services or changes in plans that may occur, adding complexity and cost to the delivery process. Let’s delve into some of the most common accessorial fees you might encounter.

Fuel Surcharge: Adjusting for Variable Fuel Costs

Fuel surcharges are the compass that helps carriers navigate fluctuating fuel prices. They are an accessorial fee that adjusts for the ebb and flow of fuel costs, allowing carriers to manage the inherent variability without capsizing financially.

With a staggering 93% of bills containing a fuel surcharge, this fee is a staple in the diet of freight shipping costs, essential for offsetting the high cost of gas and diesel and the wear and tear on trucks that come with mileage. It’s a fee that helps keep the engines running and the cargo moving, ensuring that carriers can keep delivering no matter how the fuel market fluctuates. In this context, the freight charge plays a crucial role in maintaining the efficiency of the shipping process.

Detention Charges: Compensation for Waiting Time

Imagine a truck driver waiting at the loading dock, the clock ticking away. This is where detention charges come into play—compensating drivers for the additional waiting time that surpasses the allotted free time during loading or unloading. However, like waiting in line at an amusement park, this time can be minimized with the right strategies. Efficient dock operations, effective shipment planning, and implementing systems like drop and hook can all contribute to reducing detention fees.

A well-oiled dock scheduling system can be a game-changer, ensuring that an open dock is always ready and waiting, thus diminishing the chance of detention fees being applied. This proactive approach, coupled with open communication with shippers and customers, can lead to improved load performance and a smoother shipping experience for everyone involved.

Layover Fee: Dealing with Unscheduled Delays

There are times when a truck is ready to roll, but the cargo isn’t.

This is when layover fees come into the picture, charged when a truck cannot be loaded or offloaded as scheduled, creating an unexpected pause in the journey. Common culprits for these charges include scheduling mishaps, staffing issues at receiving locations, or equipment malfunctions—essentially any hiccup that prevents the cargo from being ready for its next leg of the trip.

These fees, known as freight fees, typically range from $200 to $500 per day, a reminder of the importance of having goods prepared and ready for transit. While they can be a costly addition to the freight bill, carriers can reduce their likelihood by proactively planning and staging their schedules—ensuring that the stage is set for the cargo to make its exit on cue.

Additional Services Leading to Extra Fees


A forklift loading cargo onto a truck


Navigating the freight shipping industry often involves more than just moving cargo from point A to point B. Sometimes, it requires a touch of finesse or specialized equipment that was not part of the original shipping quote, leading to additional accessorial fees. Whether it’s the need for a pallet jack to move a heavy load or a lift gate to assist with offloading, these tools and services represent an added cost to ensure the safe and efficient handling of your shipment.

These extra fees can manifest in various forms, such as charges for sorting and segregating (Sort/Seg) when products need to be moved from one pallet to another, reflecting the additional work involved. Or perhaps there’s a need for temperature control or deliveries to areas with limited access, which also come with their own set of high-cost delivery accessorial charges.

Let’s examine some specific additional services and their associated fees.

Loading and Unloading Assistance: Lumper Fees

Picture a bustling distribution warehouse where cargo is unloaded around the clock. Here, lumper fees come into play, charged for the use of third-party laborers who assist in the loading or unloading process. These fees are the gateway for ensuring that the cargo is handled efficiently and safely, allowing drivers to focus on the road ahead rather than the intricate dance of loading docks.

Lumpers are the unsung heroes of the shipping world, often providing the muscle needed to keep cargo moving smoothly through the supply chain. Their fees are an acknowledgment of the essential service they provide, ensuring that each load is managed with care and expertise.

Special Equipment Usage: Lift Gate and Pallet Jacks

Sometimes, a shipment’s journey requires tools that aren’t part of the standard shipping ensemble. Enter lift gates and pallet jacks—specialized equipment that comes with its own set of accessorial charges. Lift gates are the mechanical wings that allow freight to ascend or descend to and from the truck, a necessity when the destination lacks a loading dock. Pallet jacks, on the other hand, are the chariots that ferry heavy or bulky items within a facility, ensuring that each pallet reaches its designated spot with minimal manual effort.

When the weight of the cargo becomes too much to bear, pallet jack charges are applied to ease the burden, ensuring the load can be moved safely and efficiently. These tools may represent an additional fee, but they’re indispensable for deliveries that demand a little extra lifting power.

Navigating High-Risk and Specialty Areas


A hazardous materials warning sign


As we delve deeper into the complexities of freight shipping, we encounter the high-risk and specialty areas that demand extra attention and, consequently, extra fees. These are the zones that may require additional security measures or specialized services, such as:

  • Deliveries to government facilities

  • Deliveries to schools

  • Deliveries to medical centers

  • Limited access deliveries

These specialty areas carry charges for loads that require extra effort or time to be delivered to areas with challenging accessibility.

Understanding the nuances of these special zones is critical, as the surcharges associated with them can significantly increase the overall costs of transportation operations. From metro pickup/delivery charges to emergency risk surcharges for high-risk overseas shipments, carriers must navigate these waters with care and precision.

Hazardous Materials Handling

Transporting hazardous materials is a task that carries its own set of risks and regulations, necessitating hazmat accessorial charges. These fees are the armor carriers don when they undertake the transportation of goods that might pose a danger to the environment or public safety. With costs ranging from $48 to $145 per shipment, these charges vary depending on the service level and the nature of the material being transported.

The transportation industry, including truck drivers, must handle these materials with the utmost care, employing specialized equipment and adhering to strict guidelines to ensure safety and compliance. As such, the fees reflect the added responsibility and diligence required to move these potentially volatile goods from one destination to another.

Limited Access Deliveries: Understanding Added Complexity

When a delivery destination is shrouded in complexity—be it a congested urban area, a remote construction site, or a secure government facility—limited access delivery fees come into effect. These fees are the cost of navigating through the maze of restrictions and obstacles that such locations present, including:

  • Narrow streets

  • Limited parking

  • Security checkpoints

  • Restricted access areas

These fees are necessary to ensure that your package reaches its destination safely and on time.

The fee for overcoming these obstacles, which are part of common freight shipping costs, can be a flat rate or based on the shipment’s weight, starting at around $100 and potentially soaring beyond $300. It’s a premium price for a premium service, ensuring that even the most challenging of deliveries reach their final destination without a hitch.

Strategies for Managing and Reducing Accessorial Charges

Awareness and planning are the keys to managing and reducing accessorial charges. Carriers can adopt various strategies to avoid these extra fees, such as optimizing packaging, selecting competitive rates, and negotiating contracts with better terms for these charges. It’s about being proactive—ensuring accurate freight classification, avoiding shipping volume extremes, and streamlining freight contracting to minimize charges like Truck Ordered Not Used (TONU) costs.

Moreover, carriers are leveraging technology to their advantage. Parcel shipping analytics tools offer insights into transit times, variable costs, and buying trends, while real-time visibility tools support shipment consolidation, resulting in fewer shipments and, consequently, a reduction in accessorial charges. This strategic approach not only safeguards a carrier’s profits and Return on Investments (ROIs) but also ensures the financial health of their operations.

Accurate Billing Through Detailed Freight Invoices

Accurate billing through detailed freight invoices is akin to a map that guides carriers through the potential pitfalls of misquoted charges and ensures that every item on the freight bill reflects the actual services provided. It’s about getting the details right from the start—verifying bill of lading (BOL) accuracy before the carrier picks up the shipment to prevent correction charges that could arise from discrepancies. This level of precision in the billing process acts as a safeguard against the cascading effects of billing errors.

Employing an audit process for freight bills or using parcel auditing software can serve as a compass for carriers, helping them navigate the complex waters of billing accuracy. These tools assist in identifying potential invoicing errors, ensuring consistency with agreed-upon terms, and spotting opportunities for eligible refunds.

Moreover, real-time updates and the application of dock scheduling software contribute to a smoother shipping operation by decreasing the likelihood of no-shows, thus reducing the risk of incurring related accessorial charges.

Effective Communication with Shippers and Customers

Clear communication is the beacon that illuminates the path to smooth deliveries and helps in sidestepping unnecessary accessorial charges. By engaging in transparent dialogue with shippers and customers, carriers can set realistic expectations and foster trust, which is crucial in managing perceptions and realities of additional fees. Delivery experience management tools that provide real-time shipping alerts act as a conduit for this communication, offering up-to-the-minute information that can significantly enhance customer satisfaction.

This constant stream of communication is not just a courtesy; it’s a strategic move that can lead to increased loyalty and a better understanding of the shipping process, including the accessorial fees that may accompany it. The ripple effect of enhanced customer satisfaction is far-reaching, leading to smoother operations and a stronger relationship between carriers, shippers, and customers.

Technology’s Role in Controlling Accessorial Fees

In the digital age, technology emerges as a pivotal player in the narrative of controlling accessorial fees. Systems like MercuryGate offer carriers the automation, visibility, and freight settlement tools needed to manage these fees with precision and efficiency. Technology is the lighthouse guiding carriers through the fog of complex freight charges, providing the clarity needed to anticipate and avoid unnecessary costs.

Through the lens of parcel shipping analytics tools, carriers can compare performance and negotiate better terms, armed with insights into their shipping programs. Cloud transportation management systems empower carriers to make informed decisions regarding package size, rates, and routes, considering all potential accessorial charges as part of the equation. The data harvested by logistics optimization tools can model real-life scenarios, aiding carriers and logistics providers in informed decision-making about partnerships and operational strategies.

Automation Tools for Carriers

Automation tools for carriers streamline the process of tracking and billing accessorial charges, simplifying management and mitigating the risk of human error. These digital solutions function as the autopilot for accessorial fee handling, ensuring that every charge is accounted for according to the shipment execution procedures.

Some benefits of using automation tools for carriers include:

  • Simplified management of accessorial charges

  • Reduced risk of human error

  • More precise billing

  • Streamlined tracking process

Electronic data interchange (EDI) furthers this efficiency by automating the exchange of data between carriers and shippers, leading to more precise billing and reduced inaccuracies.

Collaborating with third-party logistics (3PL) providers, carriers can improve communication and achieve accurate freight billing details, enhancing the overall efficiency of the shipping process. The result is a smoother journey for both the cargo and the carrier, with each step in the process optimized for accuracy and efficiency.

Real-Time Visibility for Proactive Management

Real-time visibility into shipments is the crystal ball that allows carriers to:

  • Foresee and address potential issues before they snowball into costly accessorial charges

  • Have a bird’s-eye view of the entire shipping process

  • Make adjustments on the fly and steer clear of additional fees

  • Mitigate customer dissatisfaction from unexpected delivery delays

  • Reduce the likelihood of incurring accessorial charges

Delivery experience management tools that offer real-time updates can help achieve these benefits, especially during the final delivery process.

With parcel auditing and analytics tools, carriers gain a deeper understanding of their operations, leading to:

  • Proactive management

  • Decrease in unnecessary fees

  • End-to-end shipment visibility

  • Detecting problem areas early

  • Avoiding unplanned equipment charges

  • Aligning shipping, delivery, and unloading procedures to minimize additional costs.


As we reach the end of our journey through the complex landscape of accessorial fees, it’s clear that these charges are an integral part of freight shipping—a series of checkpoints ensuring that carriers are compensated for additional services and unforeseen challenges. By understanding the myriad of fees, from fuel surcharges to layover fees, carriers can better navigate and manage the additional costs associated with transporting cargo.

To effectively manage these fees, carriers must employ strategies that include accurate billing, effective communication, and the use of cutting-edge technology. The adoption of these practices not only reduces the likelihood of incurring excess charges but also enhances the overall efficiency and profitability of freight operations. As carriers continue to sail the seas of freight shipping, it is the mastery of accessorial fees that will steer them toward success.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is accessorial pay in trucking?

Accessorial pay in trucking refers to the additional fees charged by carriers for services beyond standard pick-up and delivery, such as extra labor, equipment, time, or fuel. These charges are applied for various additional services in transportation.

What is an example of an accessorial charge?

An example of an accessorial charge is a lift gate, which is a special service provided by the carrier for pick-up or delivery to a place without a shipping dock. This specialized equipment incurs an additional charge.

How can carriers reduce the impact of accessorial fees on their bottom line?

Carriers can reduce the impact of accessorial fees by optimizing packaging, scheduling deliveries to avoid layovers, employing real-time visibility tools for shipment consolidation, and negotiating better contract terms. These strategies can help minimize the financial impact of accessorial fees.

What role does technology play in managing accessorial fees?

Technology plays a significant role in managing accessorial fees by providing automation tools for tracking and billing, real-time visibility for proactive management, and analytics for optimizing shipping operations. It helps streamline processes and improve efficiency in fee management.

Can accessorial fees be negotiated with carriers or are they fixed?

Yes, accessorial fees can often be negotiated with carriers to ensure favorable terms in contracts. It’s important to discuss potential fees upfront to reach a mutually beneficial agreement.


Author: Brad McBride

Brad McBride, CEO and Founder of Zero Down Supply Chain Solutions is a dynamic leader with over 30 years of experience in the supply chain sector. His journey began at Consolidated Freightways in 1988, where he mastered freight logistics and pricing. His career led him to Eagle Global Logistics, diving into international freight forwarding and leading high-volume shipping projects.

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