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Spot Truck Rates vs. Contract Rates: Finding Balance in the Market

In the ever-changing landscape of the transportation industry, the balance between spot truck rates and contract rates plays a crucial role. As shippers navigate their shipping needs, understanding the differences between these two pricing structures becomes essential for making informed decisions. Spot rates and contract rates offer distinct advantages and considerations, each serving a unique purpose in meeting the demands of shipping operations. In this article, we’ll explore the fundamentals of spot rates and contract rates, shed light on their significance, and delve into the ongoing quest for balance in the market. 

Spot Rates: Embracing the Dynamic Market 

Spot rates are the dynamic pricing mechanism that reflects the current state of the market. These rates are influenced by various factors such as fuel prices, market demand, capacity availability, and economic conditions. Unlike contract rates, spot rates are short-term and provide shippers with the flexibility to adapt quickly to market fluctuations. For businesses with sporadic shipping needs or those seeking immediate capacity, spot rates offer the opportunity to seize favorable market conditions and secure shipping services on a transactional basis. 

Contract Rates: Stability and Long-Term Commitments 

In contrast to spot rates, contract rates provide stability and long-term commitments. These rates are established through contractual agreements between shippers and carriers for an extended period, typically a year or more. Contract rates offer predictable pricing and capacity, enabling businesses to plan their shipping operations with greater certainty. This pricing structure suits companies with consistent shipping volumes and allows them to establish mutually beneficial partnerships with carriers for a specified duration. 

Finding Balance: Analyzing the Market Dynamics 

The key challenge lies in striking the right balance between spot rates and contract rates. While spot rates embrace market volatility and immediate needs, they can be subject to significant fluctuations. On the other hand, contract rates provide stability but may limit the ability to take advantage of favorable market conditions. Achieving the optimal balance requires a comprehensive analysis of market trends, business requirements, and risk tolerance. 

By analyzing historical data, market forecasts, and assessing shipping needs, businesses can make informed decisions regarding their pricing strategies. Careful consideration of factors such as shipping volume, seasonality, cost predictability, and capacity requirements help in determining the appropriate mix of spot rates and contract rates. Striking the right balance between these pricing structures is a delicate process that requires understanding market dynamics and aligning them with business goals. 

In the following sections, we will dive deeper into the nuances of spot rates and contract rates, explore their impact on the shipping landscape, and provide insights into achieving the optimal balance.  

Spot Rates Find Stability

After a period of volatility, spot rates are showing signs of finding an even keel. This is a welcome change, as they have avoided further deterioration. Furthermore, despite concerns over rising diesel prices, recent events suggest that spot rates may remain unaffected. The failure of attempts to manipulate oil prices by OPEC+ has allowed the fundamentals of supply and demand to guide the market. As a result, we might see an upward shift in oil prices and, consequently, distillate fuel prices like diesel as we approach late Q3 of this year. 

Contract Rates Strive for Stability

Contract rates, which experienced setbacks in mid-April and mid-May, are also displaying signs of stability. While they still face challenging year-on-year comparisons due to reaching record highs in Q2 2022, recent data indicates a positive trend, which can be seen as beneficial for carriers. Despite being reported on a two-week delay, contract rates rose 2 cents per mile week-on-week to $2.41, offering some reassurance to the market. As rates increase, carriers have the opportunity to earn higher revenues for their services, which can help improve profitability. On the other hand, for shippers, the upward movement in contract rates may pose challenges as it can lead to increased transportation costs. Shippers may need to adjust their budgets or negotiate favorable rates to mitigate the impact on their overall shipping expenses. 

Spot-to-Contract Rate Spread

Analyzing the spread between spot rates and contract rates reveals interesting insights. The data shows that the spot rate index has hit all-time lows, which contrasts with the year 2019 when contract rates consistently exceeded spot rates. The previous year witnessed numerous bankruptcies in the industry due to this disparity. Although the spread narrowed in early 2023 by 20 cents per mile, recent trends suggest it is widening again. With spot rates still 80 cents below contract rates, we anticipate the possibility of contract rates declining or spot rates rising in the coming months. 

Spot Rate Trends 

Examining specific freight lanes, the Trusted Rate Assessment Consortium (TRAC) spot rate from Los Angeles to Dallas showcases a gradual recovery from its floor in April. Although the rate rose by 3 cents per mile over the past week to $2.08, it is still below its year-to-date high.  

TRAC spot rate from Los Angeles to Dallas, 12/9/2022 – 6/9/2023: 

Meanwhile, on the East Coast, particularly in the Atlanta region, rates continue to rally, outperforming the national average. For instance, the TRAC rate from Atlanta to Philadelphia increased by 2 cents per mile to $2.69, making north-to-south lanes in the East more attractive compared to West Coast alternatives. 

TRAC spot rate from Atlanta to Philadelphia, 12/9/2022 – 6/9/2023: 


Spot truck rates and contract rates are essential indicators of the transportation market’s health and stability. The recent stabilization of spot rates and the upward trajectory of contract rates provide optimism for the industry. However, the delicate balance between these rates, influenced by factors like fuel prices and regional trends, warrants close monitoring. As we move forward, keeping an eye on these developments will be crucial for industry participants to navigate the ever-evolving landscape of trucking and logistics.

International Bridge takes pride in the national-wide network of trusted carriers that forms the backbone of its shipping solutions. This well-developed network empowers us to strike the perfect balance between various types of rates, ensuring we provide our clients with the best possible shipping options. As a consolidator, we have the advantage of exploring and considering different rates, allowing us to curate the optimal combination that meets your specific needs. Our commitment to finding the best rates, coupled with our expertise in logistics, enables us to offer cost-effective solutions without compromising on quality or reliability. Contact us today and experience the benefits of our extensive carrier network and let us deliver exceptional shipping services tailored to your requirements.