e've come to regard Carnival Cruse Lines as a pretty smart outfit, a company that usually gets things right. Some agents surely think that Carnival has some annoying habits, but in a discussion about Carnival's sales, marketing and public relations activities, you're more likely to hear words like slick, savvy and effective than words like ham-handed and what-were-they-thinking. You don't go from being the world's smallest cruise line to the world's largest by stumbling around in the dark.

But it appears that somebody at Carnival miscalculated on ASTA's Nationwide Day of Awareness, by choosing that very day to roll out a commission cut on the air portion of air/sea sales.

We are not privy to Carnival's deals with the airlines, but suppose you're Carnival and your number crunchers conclude that it is no longer a sound business practice to pay a higher commission on air travel than the airlines themselves. What do you do?

There is probably no way to deliver this kind of news to agents without some backlash, but it doesn't look like Carnival went out of its way to minimize it. The line's decision to drop this bomb on ASTA's Day of Awareness just made matters worse.

Carnival said it wants to increase its air/sea business and keep the price competitive, but reducing the agent's incentive to book the product hardly seems like the way to stimulate sales.

To a lot of travel agents, this looks like an attempt by the cruise lines to cut costs and pocket some more of that air money for themselves -- at agents' expense. Royal Caribbean admitted as much when it matched Carnival and said the lower commission rate "is not expected to have an impact on what consumers pay for a cruise."

Figure it out.

From where we sit, Carnival bungled the job of communicating this decision to the trade.

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