Shangri-La: The Successful Paradise of Hotel Loyalty Programs
14 April 2023
Susan Walsh

Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts is a luxury hotel group with over 100 properties located in 78 destinations across the world in Asia, the Middle East, Europe, North America, and Australia. The Shangri-La Group owns, operates and manages under four brands – Shangri-La, Kerry Hotels, JEN by Shangri-La, and Trade.

The beginning of hotel loyalty programs in China

The Shangri-La loyalty program launched in 1991 and was the first hotel loyalty program in China. It has grown to become one of the most popular and respected loyalty programs in the hospitality industry in China and around the world.

Over the years, the program has had a few iterations with updates to the structure and benefits– but the heart of the program has always been around recognition.

The Golden Circle version of the program was first introduced in 2010 with the traditional tiering program. A significant change to the program occurred in March 2015 when Shangri-La merged its loyalty program with the loyalty programs of two other hotel chains, Kerry Hotels and Traders Hotels, to create a single program with expanded benefits and a new tier structure.

In 2022, the Shangri-La updated its program to be called simply Circle with the introduction of a new elite tier Polaris.

How the Shangri-La program works

The program is free to join via the website or in person. It offers various benefits to its members, including exclusive discounts on room rates, dining, and other services, as well as access to special events and promotions. The program has also expanded to include partnerships with other companies, such as airlines and credit card providers, to offer even more benefits to its members where they can accumulate points to use.

Each benefit is dependent on what tier you belong to:

Loyalty tiering for shangri-la hotel loyalty program

Some of the more rewarding benefits include:

  • Free Room Upgrades: Members are eligible for free room upgrades, subject to availability, when booking direct and paying full price.
  • Free Night Awards: Members can earn free nights at Shangri-La hotels and resorts when they accumulate enough points.
  • Priority Check-In and Late Check-Out: Members can enjoy priority check-in and late check-out, subject to availability.
  • Dining Benefits: Members can enjoy exclusive dining benefits, including discounts on food and beverages at participating restaurants.
  • Personalized Services: Members are assigned a dedicated Guest Recognition Manager, who can assist with their travel arrangements and provide personalised services during their stay.

Overall, the loyalty program offers a range of benefits that can enhance your travel experience and make your stay at Shangri-La hotels and resorts more enjoyable.

Is the Polaris tier special?

Yes – it is an elite invitation only tier. It is estimated only a few hundred people have this status. It should be noted there is no set criteria officially communicated on how to be invited to this tier.

The Polaris tier benefits are incredible:

  • All Access to any Shangri-La club lounge, health club/pool or meeting room all year (even when not staying with them)
  • Super flexible check-in: arrival starting at 12.00am and check-out 6pm
  • Dedicated concierge hotline for reservations
  • Complimentary room upgrades up to 10 times*
  • Airport transfers with meet and greet
  • Luxury Car Service – up to 4hrs per stay
  • Gift a Diamond status to a family member
  • Invitations to coveted global events – based on members interests
  • Access to exclusive Shangri-La events (e.g., Michelin-star dining)
  • 4 quintessential Shangri-La experiences to gift or enjoy (e.g., spa, dining experiences, etc)

The Polaris tier is a direct competitor with other chains offering elite tiers: Marriot with Cobalt/Five Stars, Accor ALL Limitless, Hyatt Courtesy Card, and GHA Discover Red. It was created for relevancy against other chains to reward those frequent members.

But how can a company afford giving away such high-priced value? It is estimated that most travellers in this elite group would already be staying in suites – therefore not requiring the upgrade. Comparing to other similar programs, it would be expected that these members would be bringing in on average $20K annual revenue – making the tier viable.

The principles behind this successful program

The Shangri-La loyalty program has more than 11 million members worldwide – so they must be doing something right. The Shangri-La has always kept these program elements in mind when designing for their audience:

  • Multiple Tiers: Circle has four tiers – Gold, Jade, Diamond, and Polaris – that offer increasing benefits and rewards to members based on their level of activity and loyalty.
  • Rewarding Engagement: Members earn Points for eligible stays at Shangri-La Hotels, Resorts, and affiliated properties. These points can be redeemed for free room nights, dining, spa treatments, and other rewards.
  • Personalised Recognition: Members receive personalised recognition and service based on their preferences and past stay history. This includes room upgrades, late check-out, and other special privileges. Personalisation creates a more meaningful connection with the member.
  • Partnerships: The program has partnerships with a range of airlines, car rental companies, and other travel providers, enabling members to earn and redeem points for a wider range of travel-related rewards. This makes the program more beneficial for members and possibly more achievable to get to the next tier.
  • Exclusive Experiences: Circle offers members exclusive access to unique experiences, such as culinary events, cultural tours, and sporting events on the higher tier levels.

By keeping member needs front and centre of everything they do, Circles delivers value.

How could Shangri-La improve their loyalty program

There are several suggestions to improve the Shangri-La loyalty program in the future:

  • Personalization: Continue to personalise messages and rewards. By gathering data on each member’s preferences and behaviour, the program could offer even more tailored rewards, exclusive offers, and customized experiences.
  • Gamification: Incorporating game-like features, such as challenges, missions, and leader boards, could increase member engagement and drive loyalty.
  • Social media integration: Shangri-La could leverage social media platforms to reward members for sharing their experiences and promoting the brand on social media.
  • Partnership expansion: The program could expand its partnerships with more airlines, credit card companies, and other brands to offer more ways for members to earn and redeem rewards.
  • Sustainability focus: As sustainability becomes an increasingly important factor for consumers, Shangri-La could focus on sustainability initiatives and offer eco-friendly rewards or experiences to its members.

Overall, these improvements could help to increase member engagement, loyalty, and satisfaction while continuing to keep members at the heart.

Upon reflection

The Shangri-La loyalty program has been well developed and iterated on throughout the years. Many companies should take note of the winning formula and keeping the member at the heart of what the program delivers. With a clear focus on rewarding behaviour, this program makes people covet for the next tier for those highly desired benefits. However, no program is perfect, it will be interesting to see over the next year or so what the next iteration or program partner will be.

<a href="" target="_self">Susan Walsh</a>

Susan Walsh

Susan is a Loyalty Director at Loyalty & Reward Co, the leading loyalty consulting firm. Loyalty & Reward Co design, implement, and operate the world’s best loyalty programs for the world’s best brands. Susan has previously worked in product, marketing and business roles at Optus and Virgin Mobile, Catch Connect Mobile, Coles Mobile, Proactiv Skincare and ABC Shops. Susan applies her skills across all aspects of the business, including implementation and operations, loyalty program design, member engagement and digital marketing.

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