Santa visits reserved for shoppers who spend over $2,500 at London's famous Harrods store

Harrods department store on November 29, 2012 in Knightsbridge, London
Oli Scarff | Getty Images

Harrods, London's 170-year-old luxury department store, opens its Swarovski-sponsored Christmas Grotto on Friday — to shoppers who have spent thousands on its products.

In Britain, department stores and malls commonly open Christmas "grottos" around the holidays, where children can visit Santa and are given a gift.

Running from November 15 until Christmas Eve, Harrods' "Secret Forest Grotto" is described as a "snow-covered woodland filled with sparkling surprises," with visitors being promised an exclusive gift from Santa Claus.

But according to Harrods' website, only those who have achieved Green 2 Tier or above in the store's loyalty program are "eligible for an invitation to (the) grotto."

Members of the scheme needed to have unlocked that status by August 26 this year to be invited to the grotto — meaning they would have had to have spent more than £2,000 ($2,566) in Harrods between January 1 and the cut-off date.

Visiting the grotto costs £20 per child, with adults and children under the age of three able to visit for free. The Grotto is already fully booked, according to the booking page.

However, according to The Guardian newspaper, Harrods agreed last week to host 160 lower-spending families in the grotto following anger from customers. The Guardian reported that wealthier families will still be given 96% of the available timeslots.

A spokesperson for Harrods told CNBC on Tuesday that the invitation system had been implemented due to high demand.

"Each year, we are overwhelmed by requests for this special experience, which we make every effort to facilitate," they said in an email. "We care hugely about making a visit to the Grotto as magical as possible, therefore tickets are extremely limited. Unfortunately, we simply cannot meet the demand for places."

The spokesperson added that this year, Harrods offered those who didn't have the opportunity to purchase a ticket the chance to win free entry to the grotto, noting that this arrangement was not "a response to customer reactions of any kind."

A "wishing well" appeared in Harrods' childrenswear department from October 19 to November 3, where customers could submit an entry to the competition.

"Ten winners per day were drawn from the wishing well, and the winners were each awarded one of the 160 booking slots allocated for this purpose," they told CNBC.

Harrods, which was acquired by Qatar's sovereign wealth fund in 2010, has been hosting a Christmas Grotto in its store in London's Knightsbridge since 1955.

Harrods reportedly used a similar invitation system to limit visits to Santa to high spenders last year. In 2017, a spokeswoman told U.K. newspaper The Daily Mirror the grotto was open to all members of its loyalty program.

The department store made a profit of £171.6 million in 2018.

A spokesperson for Harrods was not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC.