Fleet carrier trading operates on the same premise as loop trading, but on a much larger scale. Carriers load (buy order) a commodity from a station for a low price, and then once full move to unload (sell order) at a station that buys that commodity for a high price.
While this advice is intended for Affiliate Carrier Owners (ACOs) on the Pilots Trade Network (PTN) Discord server, most of it is applicable to any carrier owner who wants to trade.
With a Fleet Carrier, you have the unique choice of whether to load the carrier yourself for maximum profit – at the cost of your own time and effort – or to advertise for other CMDRs to come and haul for you. In the PTN we refer to these latter as “trade missions”. Trade missions do require some time and effort to set up, and they only grant you a fraction of the potential profit, but they’re also the closest to “passive” income that Elite offers and it’s a lot of fun to provide other CMDRs with opportunities for profit! This guide will assume you’re running a trade mission, but the same principles also work for self-loading/unloading.
The primary commodity for carrier trading is Agronomic Treatment (or Agro for short); this commodity can often be bought for around 3k cr/t, and sold for 30k cr/t, for about 27k total profit per ton. Sometimes other commodities will also provide good margins, but these usually come with some kind of a catch, like an M‑Pad or a rare BGS state, or limited supply/demand. Agro is good because it’s reliable.
When looking to find good trade stations, use Inara.
On Inara, good loading stations can be found by clicking DATA then COMMODITIES and then e.g. Agronomic Treatment, then looking under the Supplies tab (example). Just make sure the station you’re looking at has enough supply to fill your fleet carrier (and any other PTN carriers already present). e.g. if your carrier can hold 20,000 tons of cargo, make sure the station has at least 20,000 tons of Agronomic Treatment available. Rule of thumb is to allow 20k tons per carrier present, so if three other carriers are loading from empty at the same station, you’d probably want to make sure there was at least 4*20k = 80k supply total. Otherwise, you might have to move your carrier mid-load!
Good unloading stations can be found under the Best Imports tab (example); here, you want a demand of 0 as this means the station will buy an unlimited amount of your commodity!
While searching for stations, check when the data was last updated – anything older than a day or two is highly unlikely to still be valid as prices can change about once every 24 hours during the daily BGS “tick”.
Also, remember when picking your target station to filter out small pads, surface stations, and carriers, and to check its distance from the Bubble (you don’t want to accidentally send CMDRs to Colonia or some random output 500ly from Sol!).
Once you’ve located your station, go visit it in a ship to double check the station price and obtain the system map. Once you’ve checked your station price, jump your carrier to the body on which the station orbits. Try to avoid gas giants as they lengthen trade loops and can be frustrating for haulers; if there’s absolutely no other option, consider using the Orrery view and parking your fleet carrier at one of the giant’s moons.
PTN’s Certified Carrier Owners (the official “P.T.N.” tagged carriers, for which missions are found in #official-trade-alerts or on our subreddit) are required to offer haulers at least 10,000 credits per ton profit on any trade. While this is not a requirement for ACOs, it is still recommended as it’s highly unlikely haulers used to 10k/t+ will go for anything less, especially as other ACOs and CCOs will be offering more.
This means that if your loading station is selling Agro for 3k/t, your carrier would set a buy order for at least 13k/t. If your unloading station is buying Agro for 30k/t, your carrier would set its sell order to at most 20k/t. In this instance, you as the carrier owner make 7k for every ton sold.
Alternatively, you can go the self-hauling route! Self-hauling means you get the full profit yield on every trade – a full agro self-load/unload cycle is worth more than half a billion in pure profit – but obviously it also takes considerably more effort on your part.
Advertising your carrier to various platforms alerts haulers to your trade mission. For trading in the #affiliate-trade-alerts channel, the format is:
[CARRIER NAME] (123-ABC) is [loading/unloading] [COMMODITY] [from/to] [STATION] ([L/M]-pads) in the [SYSTEM] system, [PROFIT]k/u, [ORDERSIZE]k units.
If you have access to #affiliate-co-chat, one of our members has created a bot to help with this. You can find information on this in the pinned messages.
Remember to keep adverts in the trade-alerts channel brief.
Advertising your carrier to reddit is also recommended: good subreddits for this are r/EliteTraders and r/EliteCarriers. Do NOT post your carrier ad to the main Elite Dangerous sub or they will ban you!
If you want to add a bit more pizazz to your ad, mission images are a great way to grab more attention from haulers on reddit and show off your fleet carrier at the same time. The bot in #affiliate-co-chat can create images for you. Alternatively, for something more personalised, you can use any graphics package you’re comfortable with, but for an easy way to get started try the online tool at Canva. Inkscape is a free and open source vector graphics tool if you want to try your hand at creating a logo for your carrier, and Photopea is a free online alternative to Photoshop.
Never be afraid to ask for help in our #affiliate-co-chat channel! (Or, if you’re not an ACO, our public #fleet-carrier-chat channel.) We have a bunch of experienced users who are delighted to answer genuine questions from a new carrier owner (or trader!) who wants to learn. And if you’re not already a PTN ACO, feel free to come on down to our Discord and check us out. The ACO position is a simple, accessible way for any of our Discord users who own a Fleet Carrier to use our platform to advertise their trades, or otherwise get involved in our community. You can find instructions on how to apply in the #become-a-carrier-owner channel in the LANDING PAD section at the top of the Discord server.