Using miles can be tricky and you'll have to try a few different things to see what works best.
If you end up paying for your flight, buy one way tickets so you get more miles. Meaning... Buy your flight here, pay for it and then buy your return flight. You'll get more miles that way.
Heck, they GIVE you a pile of miles just for getting the credit card. It used to be enough to go up and back once for free.
As for the two one way tickets concept? How is that more miles? I think you get double miles on Alaska air purchases and you'd almost assuredly be paying more for those tickets, so I guess that's true.
It's true that the fares vary, even when using miles. If you're cost concious, you can select dates based on that variance. It's pretty predictable and they openly show you the required miles for a ticket.
The companion ticket you get with the credit card is a good way to go, but it doesn't exactly cut your cost in half. First of all, you way you pay $75 a year for the card, then you pay $99 for the companion fee plus the taxes which vary on your route. For example, I am flying on a companion fare next weekend from ANC to MSP and the taxes are $66. Add it all up and my companion ticket costs about $245. I include the annual fee because its the only card I've ever paid an annual fee.
Also, If you use your companion ticket on a one-way, you're obviously only getting half the value.
One downside of miles, is that they don't let you switch to a partner airline. For example, if you have a roundtrip ticket to Kodiak on miles, you won't be able to switch to an Era flight to get back even though they are a partner. They will switch a cash ticket. Alaska flys only one flight per day to Kodiak and the other 6(?) are operated by Era.
The Alaska credit card and mileage plan is a still a good deal, especially for instate travel, but make sure you know the details.
The companion rate is a steal. It sure is nice to use that 6-700$ savings on other stuff.
I fly to AK 6 times a year now and have gotten 3 "free" 1 way tickets just from the sign on bonus and using it for tickets and daily purchases in 6 months. I pay for everything except gasoline with the card and pay it off each month.
Haven't even used the companion tickets yet and will probably use them to go to Hawaii as I won't be taking my wife or kids to Kotzebue.
Remember, AK charges you 50 bucks for your checked bags if you're not a Club 49 member, which requires an AK address to join. There is no wt limit for your carry-on though, so I usually bring a 70 lb carry on and put it over someone else's head.
If you live in SoCal and are hunting out of Kotzebue, I can most likely bring your meat back free as I go up with all my food and come back with empty bags that I check for free with my Club 49 membership.
Buying miles doesn't turn out to get you a cheaper ticket.
I've flown one way from SoCal to Kotzebue for 20K miles, three times now.
You get 25k just for signing up. Use the CC and pay it off each month instead of using your debit card and if you get it now, you shouldn't have any problem paying for your return flight with just miles by June which is when you need to make your reservation.
I also use it for draws. It's great, you book the app in WY (I think NM refunds the card, can't remember in CO) on the CC, get the points, pay off the card, then if you don't draw, they send you your money in check form - pay your house payment with it. Free points.
I use it for everything I would buy anyway and pay it off ASAP to avoid interest.
Going to AZ this year and using the companion fare it saved about $100-150 per ticket when combined and split.
The AK regular fare was a good bit higher than some other airlines to the same place, about the same times. Getting one ticket for $100 instead of $800 was a better deal. But without it their rates were pretty high. AK was going to be around $1600 for two round trips, others were in the $1200 range, around $200 more per ticket.
Unlike razorsharp, I do carry a balance on my card but the Alaska card actually has one of the lower interest rates out there. Not ideal, but others tend to be worse.
One downside of the Alaska card is traveling internationally (including Canada) - they will ding you with a foreign transaction fee of 3%. Better off to get a no foreign fee card for that use.
The rules have changed many times. Not long ago the best deals were use air miles and $'s but that is not good anymore with recent changes.
Watch for sales. They come out on Tuesdays. Sales on ticket prices and purchasing airline miles. The best ticket deals go very fast.
Sometimes I use airmails sometimes just purchase a ticket. Once you learn the website it's not that difficult to figure out the best deal.