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Tips for Shipping During Peak Season

Ocean freight and airfreight capacity begins to tighten and rates start to go up in the months leading up to the holidays as businesses prepare. See below for what you need to know about peak season and what you can do to ship successfully.

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In the second half of the year, businesses begin preparing for the winter holidays. Import volumes rise sharply, and so do freight rates. Peak season, as it’s called, is known for high, volatile rates, rolled cargo, trucking delays, and other interruptions.

Generally, we can say that the “main” peak season happens during the second half of the year between the Aug-Oct timeframe right up to the leadup to Golden Week. This is due to importers seeking to increase their inventories in anticipation of Black Friday, Cyber-Monday and Christmas holiday sales.

Another major peak season that happens during the year is the pre-Chinese New Year, where importers rush to get as many products out as possible before the factories shut down and the manufacturing capacity is significantly reduced.

However, we must assume that no two years will be the same. The Transpacific ocean market is a dynamic one and changes year-to-year. Just because the peak seasons during one particular year was extreme does not mean it’ll be the same the next year and vice versa. It is important to stay on top of the market as much as possible by closely communicating with your logistics services provider and making preparations accordingly.

What importers should know about shipping during peak season?

Plan ahead

  • Airfreight: Book 6-7 days in advance of the Cargo Ready Date (CRD).
  • Ocean FCL Shipping: Book 3-4 weeks in advance of the CRD.
    • LCL Shipping: Note that transit time for LCL shipments will be 7-10 days longer than an FCL shipment.
    • Avoid shipping 45’ HC containers, if possible. These are more likely to be rolled.
  • Ports and warehouses will be extremely congested. Expect more time to load/unload at origin and destination.
  • Avoid booking multiple containers on a single bill of lading (B/L) and try to book 2-4 TEU (1-2 x 40’s) per B/L. If we try to book too many containers under a single B/L (i.e. 10 x 40’), if that gets rolled, the impact would be far greater than a B/L with 1 or 2 containers getting rolled.

Prepare for extra fees

  • Freight rates will be up, in general, for both air and ocean shipments.
  • Congested ports mean longer wait times for truckers, who will charge trucking wait fees.
  • Some ports and rail ramps experience chassis shortages, which can result in chassis split charges.

Be flexible

  • Consider choosing a service with a slightly longer transit time. The fastest transit-time services are more likely to be overbooked; if you select a transit time that’s longer by, say, a couple of days, your cargo is less likely to be rolled to the following week.
  • If your cargo is traveling inland, be flexible about the port of discharge. This is likely to result in a slightly longer transit time, but will allow for more options when choosing a sailing.
  • During high volume seasons, various coastal ports in the US can be negatively impacted by port congestion. This usually leads to situations such as but not limited to longer dwell times on the terminal and delays on loading on rail cars for IPI inland cargo. To save time, discharging at the POD and transloading should be considered as a legitimate option.

Get ready for Golden Week (October 1-9)

In order for ocean shipments to arrive in time for the winter holidays, they must be booked prior to Golden Week -- especially if you are shipping to the East Coast.

Coordinate your Amazon shipments

  • If it’s your first time shipping to Amazon with Flexport, please read our Amazon guide.
  • Black Friday / Cyber Monday: If shipping to Amazon for Black Friday (November 23) or Cyber Monday (November 26), your shipment must arrive at Amazon prior to their cutoff date.
  • Winter holidays: Amazon will also announce a holiday delivery cutoff date.
  • Be sure that your FBA shipments are coordinated and labeled prior to sailing

Get your Customs ducks in a row

  • Provide HTS codes on the Commercial Invoice, especially for new products that you have never shipped before.
  • Ensure the accuracy of CI line items
  • Assign a fair value to all FOC (free of charge) items on CIs, even if you are not going to be charged for them. US Customs will not accept any line items with a value of $0.

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