Cargo Vs. Freight — What’s the Difference?

Long has the difference between cargo and freight confused those involved in the transportation industry. While both terms have similar meanings and are closely associated with transporting goods, experts claim that the difference indeed exists. How can we differentiate between cargo and freight, what meanings do these terms hide, and how can we use them correctly? Here is a comprehensive answer that will clear away any doubts you might have concerning these terms.

Where to start?

If you are looking to define the difference between cargo and freight, start from the beginning — the meaning of these words. You will notice at a glance that the type of transport they imply is different as well as the type of goods they are associated with. Still, even those with years of experience in this business continue using these terms interchangeably without even trying to perceive the difference. A great majority of them pose the question of whether it is indeed necessary to pay close attention to this issue and how it affects doing business, if at all. On the other hand, there are those who insist on finding out the answer, so for them, the explanation follows.

Freight has a wide range of meanings

Freight has a considerably wide range of meanings and is frequently used in the transportation and trade industries. The term refers to commercial goods only, which may be one of the crucial differences when compared with the term cargo.

Generally, freight is associated with the volumes of goods transported via truck or train. As genuine professionals in your business, you certainly use the words freight trucks or freight trains regularly, and this undoubtedly proves that the previously mentioned statement is correct. However, the term freight has a few more meanings, and this is where the problems of perceiving the difference between cargo and freight commence.

Namely, freight can be used for almost any cargo transported by train, truck, plane, or ship. Mail is the only type of cargo that does not belong in this group because, as we have already stated, freight refers to commercial goods only.

Finally, very often in the transportation industry, the term freight is used to refer to a charge for transportation services (with the word rate added to make the term freight rate). Let’s see that usage of freight in action juxtaposed to its other usage inside the type of international shipping analysis typical of the industry:

In January this year, experts believed two major factors would affect freight rates in 2020. The behavior of freight rates were to be influenced greatly by overcapacity and IMO 2020 this year, but then the COVID-19 pandemic completely changed everything, majorly impacting the quantity of freight being shipped and the number of sailings taking place while crashing oil prices.

What precisely does cargo refer to?

Similarly to freight, we also use cargo for volumes of goods but those transported via plane or ship, hence the terms cargo ships and cargo planes. The term can be used for both commercial and personal goods and, unlike freight, can refer to mail as well. Most often, cargo is transported in large containers and the appearance of smart containers in the transport industry will significantly help shipping companies by giving them an important ability to meet even the most demanding requests of their clients. The risks of losing or damaging the cargo in a container will be brought to a minimal level.

Another difference worth mentioning and emphasizing is that cargo is not normally used for any kind of transportation fee charged by the carrier. It is only related to goods and not money. If you need to talk about finances and transportation fees, the above-mentioned freight rate is the term you need.

Freight and cargo ­– contemporary usage

Despite the examples we have provided, it is highly possible that the difference between freight and cargo will disappear in the near future. The fact that more and more people use these terms interchangeably proves that the difference is already blurred. Even going so deeply into this problem and consulting dictionaries for this matter will prove that the difference is almost non-existent. However, those who still want to be on the safe side should study the above-mentioned rules in detail and use the terms freight and cargo in accordance to them.

What do freight and cargo have in common – let’s summarize

Bearing in mind the blurred difference between cargo and freight, it turns out these terms have a lot in common. Both terms refer to transporting goods. While freight is strictly associated with transporting commercial goods in the import and export business, for example, cargo can be used for your personal items you need to transport whether for moving or for some other reason.

While we use cargo for the goods only, freight can also have a financial connotation. Most probably, freight rate trends are something you need to follow at all times if involved in the transportation industry. Furthermore, they are one of the factors to evaluate when choosing a freight forwarding company.

Finally, freight can be used for all types of cargo transported by truck, train, ship or plane. Mail is the only type of cargo that does not belong to this immense group.

Final thoughts

Making a serious effort to understand the difference between cargo and freight might be in vain concerning the fact that the number of people — even among professionals — who use these terms interchangeably is increasing. If you still insist on knowing how to use these terms correctly beyond any doubt, explore the given explanations closely and apply them.

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