Chargeable weight: Actual Weight versus Volume Weight explained

Perhaps one of the biggest questions we get from new shippers concerns the calculation of volume weight. Even experienced shippers are sometimes surprised to find they are charged for a higher weight than what the shipment actually weighed.

What is "volume weight"?

All delivery companies (including FedEx, UPS, USPS, Canada Post, Purolator) consider their cost based on the weight and size of an item. A large shipment that takes up a disproportionate amount of space can be just as costly to handle versus a smaller - yet heavier - item.


Low Density Cargo is charged higher than the actual weight.

One of the best ways to explain volume pricing is when a "really big shipment does not weight much." In industry terms, this is described as Low Density Cargo: Low density cargo, is charged at “volume weight” rather than actual weight.

What is "chargeable or billable" weight?

Chargeable weight -or "billable weight" is the higher of actual or dimensional weight. Dimensional weight applies if the volume weight is greater than actual weight.

The formula used to calculate volume weight by many express carriers is:

Length x Width x Height (in cm)/ 5000 = dimensional weight in Kilograms

The actual formula to calculate the volume weight can vary by carrier and type of service. The volume weight of parcels sent via ground (versus air), for example, are often calculated via a different formula.

Check with your carrier to confirm their policy on volume weight and confirm how volume weight will be calculated for your shipment.

Common Chargeable Weight Formula

The volume weight varies by carrier and method of transport but a common calculation for volume weight is:

Length x width x height (in cm) / 5000 = volume weight in KG.

For example, a 40 cm x 40 cm x 40 cm box that weighs 5 kg.

  • Actual box weight: 5 kg
  • Box dimensions: 40 cm x 40cm x 40cm = 64,000
  • 64,000/ 5000= 12.8 kg
  • Actual weight = 5 kg, Volume Weight - 12.8 kg, Chargeable weight = 12.8 kg


For heavy freight shipments, the measurement used is "cubic Meters" or CBM.

Visit our related blog on volume weight and of calculating CBM

Package Measurements: Always round up - when calculating costs:

All carriers systematically scan and capture the weight and dimension of each  package;  rounding up to the nearest inch or centimetre.

It is important to note that carriers will not lower “over declared” dimensions.  It is best to be accurate but not to over declare either the weight or dimension with the carrier.   

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Disclaimer:   The information in this blog is for general information only.   Producers, shippers, exporters, importers should confirm their processes with their customs brokers, carriers and regulating authorities.


Written by Timothy Byrnes