UK cruise market leader P&O Cruises has defended its additional 10% off brochure prices for the 2012 programme launch after agents accused it of using their commission savings to offer discounts.

The 10% saving is replicated by sister line Cunard, although P&O Cruises is marketing it as a special discount to celebrate its 175th anniversary next year.

However, the prices drew criticism from agents in the wake of last month’s announcement that base commission would be cut to 5% from 12%-15%.

Tim Hurrell, managing director of Cruise Amor, said the launch offer was just a way of discounting without having to fund it through agent commission.

“So we now discover why Carnival UK is reducing agent commission to just 5%,” he said.

“We were told it was to prevent the discount culture and to stop brands being devalued – comical.”

At this week’s Global Travel Group conference, Gordon McCreadie, sales and marketing director at Travel 2, told agents: “Choose your partners carefully. Why support a business that’s giving you only 5%?”

Andy Schofield, founder of Dreamcatcher Holidays, said: “For a lot of agents, the wriggle room has been taken away.” And Stuart Wilson, managing director of Blue Bay Travel, said: “I don’t think you can operate a business on that type of margin.”

Carnival UK insisted the move to 5% would combat discounting by agents competing with each other. P&O Cruises managing director Carol Marlow said the offer was “simple and clear”.

“There will be a clarity of message,” she said. “This will help smaller agents that have not been able to sell us before because they couldn’t compete.”

Marlow said the launch period would be monitored to see if the new commission structure encouraged more agents to sell cruise as is hoped.